|FRONT COVER TITLE: Eric Mutta - A Tanzanian Billionaire in the making|
You’ve been labelled as ‘Dar’s own Bill Gates in the making’. What’s your perception about this title?
It is a very grand title, which is perfect because I get excited about grand ideas and thinking big. It was this very headline, appearing on the front page of The Citizen, which brought me to the attention of the Financial Sector Deepening Trust (FSDT – www.fsdt.or.tz) where I would share my story and eventually participate in their SME Finance Innovation Challenge.
Problem Solved Ltd (a small software company I established 5 years ago) entered the challenge, competing against 13 other companies many much larger than mine. In June 2013, I emerged the sole winner of the challenge and received a grant worth over half a billion shillings ($328,000).
Bill Gates is well known as being a billionaire and as the richest man in the world. His success in the area of computer software has been thorough and total. To be labelled “the next Bill Gates” is a call to arms. It helps me develop a billionaire mind set and I have every intention of living up to the title in the decades to come.
|DOUBLE PAGE SPREAD: the interview in print form.|
Creative ideas are there in the minds of many, but few take the necessary next step to turn these ideas into reality. Can you tell us how you went about turning your creative idea to launch Minishop into the success it is today?
I have been writing code (i.e. creating computer software) since I was 14 years old. My field is quite unique in that you can go from idea to implementation in a matter of minutes because all our creations exist in the computer. I don’t have to buy land, build factories, and hire thousands of people to create a software product as you would with other inventions. A laptop and a brain are the only raw materials required.
Minishop, the most affordable, user-friendly accounting system for Tanzanian businesses, started three years ago in 2010. After seeing some of my friends with supermarkets struggle to use other systems that were complex, expensive and outdated, I decided to make my own. It took about six months to create the first version and it has been going from strength to strength ever since, winning $15,000 from the US Department of State in 2012 and $328,000 from FSDT this year.
My general formula for success has been to use my talent in software engineering, enter competitions to win and get recognised, then use the recognition to move up higher into the halls of power. It reminds me of Proverbs 18:16 which says “A man’s gift makes room for him, and brings him before great men”.
Great innovation tends to solve an existing problem. What problems are Minishop solving?
Minishop is solving one of the largest global problems today: the difficulty faced by small businesses in accessing credit.
A 2010 study titled “Two trillion and counting” (joint effort by the World Bank and McKinsey & Company) estimates that there are over 300 million micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) world-wide, with unmet credit needs exceeding two trillion dollars. In plain English, that is a very large number of small businesses struggling to get loans required to start or expand their operations.
One of the main barriers to getting loans is poor record-keeping on the part of small businesses. A 2012 SME Baseline Survey conducted by FSDT puts the number of MSMEs in Tanzania at 3.1 million. More than half of these (57%) do not keep written business records and find it very expensive to get an accountant to help them.
Minishop is an affordable and user-friendly accounting system that helps businesses keep better financial records. These records are an important starting point when applying for loans. I believe in the long run, Minishop will help more businesses get the money they need to grow and make a difference in the world.
Since its (Minishop) launch, how far have you succeeded in reaching out to small businesses?
We officially launched a few months ago in June 2013 after securing the FSDT grant. The response has been extremely positive and overwhelming. Demand has come from all parts of the continent (e.g. we made headlines in Kenya), well beyond the borders of Tanzania. Sales have grown by over 442% and with plans to reach over 150,000 businesses in the region, we have barely began to scratch the surface.
You mentioned once
I believe that there’s a lot of talent in Tanzania in all kinds of fields and we have a few ways of recognising/rewarding it. In the area of beauty we have the annual Miss Tanzania competition. In the area of music we have the annual Music Awards. In the area of innovation, especially innovation in information and communication technologies, we have…nothing! That needs to change.
If we are going to foster innovation – innovation we desperately need to realise the full potential of the sleeping giant that is Tanzania – we are going to need a national platform that seeks, recognises and rewards innovators. The FSDT is already doing this for the financial sector through its SME Finance Challenge that gives grants as large as 800 million shillings. I would like to see others step up to the plate and do the same in sectors such as healthcare, education, media, transportation, energy and agriculture.
You’ve related your dream to that of Bakhresa’s in Tanzania.
Bakhresa is the king of high-quality low-cost products. I am greatly inspired by the way he does business with the Azam branded fruit juices. Whether you buy the beautifully packed 1 litre box for several thousand shillings or the tiny triangle pack for a few hundred shillings – it’s the same juice, same great quality. Bakhresa finds ways to make it so that everyone can afford it.
I want to do the same with business management software. Large companies can afford to spend thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars on powerful business software to help run their operations efficiently.
Small companies can only afford to spend a few dollars, if at all, and usually get very poor software products. I am changing that. For example, Minishop – the user-friendly and affordable accounting package can show percentage growth or decline in assets on a balance sheet. This functionality is typically only found in more expensive solutions useful to larger businesses, but Minishop now makes it available to everyone.
What have been your highlights in the year 2013?
The year has been an amazing one so far. The biggest highlight was winning the FSDT SME Finance Challenge and getting over half a billion shillings to deliver Minishop to over 150,000 businesses. Other highlights include hiring a team of passionate people to join me in fulfilling the mission to have Minishop used in every shop, of every street, in every city across the world. Releasing a new version of Minishop after 11 months of working on it was also exciting, and so was crossing $1,000 per month in sales which continue to grow very quickly.
Enlighten our readers on the other side of Eric Mutta, what do you do to relax and unwind?
I am a lover of good food, eaten in the company of a good friend. I also enjoy film tremendously and hope that someday I will produce and direct my own movies!
What is the one thing that very few people know about you?
You wouldn’t think it if you hear me break out into my usual “I will take over the world” speech full of people, but I really don’t like crowds. Most people don’t realise just how much of a shy person I am!
Finally, as an innovator, what words of advice would you give an aspiring innovator who wants to create or design something unique?