Founders Spotlight: Try Gaothobogwe (Founder,Vaisa)

For Try, problems that seem impossible to solve are his favourite. When he realized that SMEs in the country were commanding high prices for their products because of marketing expenses, he and his team came up with the idea of Vaisa, a free-to-use marketing platform. In this interview, he shares his vision for Vaisa and e-commerce in Botswana.

In your own words, tell us who Try Gaothobogwe is

I am a young entrepreneur from Tutume village. I incorporated my first company in 2020 called Tlaseleng (Pty) LTD and that’s the vehicle I use to address most community problems. Vaisa is one of the projects under it. I am currently studying Mathematical Physics at the University of Melbourne in Australia. Open-mindedness and curiosity are my two most defining qualities. I find joy in problem-solving, the whole process of just breaking down a complex problem, subjecting it to different variables, analyzing the various outcomes then finding the most efficient route of solving it is quite satisfying. I have a higher affinity for problems that are seemingly impossible to solve. I generally orient my life to avoid mental comfort.

Briefly take us through your journey to a career as a tech entrepreneur

My journey is fairly new. I have spent a lot of hours debating and discussing a lot of issues surrounding Botswana. The thing that I always found anticlimactic was at the end we leave it to someone else to address the issues. So, incorporating Tlaseleng was a way to take initiative to start solving some of the problems. Technology often provides a lot of efficient solutions. In August 2020 we finalized the implementation plan of Vaisa and contracted a software development company to build the platform. Its been a few months now since we launched it and we are happy with the progress we have made.

Your background is in Mathematical Physics. What inspired you to pursue E-Commerce entrepreneurship?

Well, Mathematical Physics is a theoretical degree. It arms the degree holder with a systematic approach to problem-solving and data modelling. There is an appreciable number of mathematical physicists working in banking and finance institutions for that particular reason. So, it does not come as a surprise to find someone with a mathematical physics background in e-commerce.

The role of e-commerce in bridging the distance between the seller and buyer in developed countries is quite amazing. It is making life more comfortable and convenient. In some cases, it reduces start-up costs due to centralising resources. When properly implemented and allowed to grow, it can offload warehousing costs, the need for every business to have a point of sale and develop deep efficient delivery networks. Basically, e-commerce is an aid to trade in many ways. The role big platforms such as Alibaba play in supporting import and export trade cannot be ignored by anyone. For trade to take place, information must be able to travel between sellers and buyers effectively. There must be infrastructures in place to ensure goods and money can be exchanged. I believe e-commerce is the link that connects the buyer and seller. That link does not stop growing and improving as new technology comes to light every day. 

Please tell us more about your platform,Vaisa

Vaisa is a marketing platform and it is free to use. We have two main types of users; Sellers and buyers. A seller on our platform is anyone who has the capacity to consistently supply goods or services. The business does not need to be registered with CIPA. Sellers provide us with information regarding what they sell, price, where they are located and how their target market can get in contact with them. We then publish this information on our website to be viewed by the business’s target market, the ‘buyer’. A buyer on Vaisa is anyone who is trying to find a certain service or product provider. Once a buyer has found the product or service provider on our website, they can get in touch with the seller using our website messaging feature or they may choose to call or email them. Vaisa is consumer regulated, meaning it allows the buyer to review the sellers, this builds a healthy commercial ecosystem because the businesses in our platform receive feedback that they can use to improve service delivery. Word of mouth advertising is a powerful way in which businesses can build their reputation. Good or bad. As the buyer leaves behind a review, they are essentially advising the next prospective buyer whether to use this particular seller or not. Therefore, building the seller’s reputation. This ensures that buyers are generally less frustrated by service providers.

Our role is to ensure that there is adequate traffic to the website so that we generate leads for the sellers. We do that in two main ways; increasing the number of listings, which ensures that buyers are rarely disappointed when they search for a service on Vaisa. We are hoping to be known as the one-stop plug for anything in Botswana; the website that always knows a guy. We have been steadily growing our listing database since we started. Secondly, we have a rigorous approach to marketing. As Vaisa, we have a monthly marketing budget, strategy and objectives. As time goes on, we are hoping to launch marketing campaigns that have a longer duration. 

What was the motivation for starting Vaisa?

We realized a problem and an e-commerce platform seemed to be the best solution. Certain retail products in Botswana (especially those sold by micro-businesses) tend to be a bit pricey even though they are in high supply. Logic dictates that competition among such businesses should drive prices down. We looked closely at this and upon further research, Vaisa was created. It has a very simple aim; to take the burden of marketing from businesses. In principle, this should give business owners a certain level of confidence to produce or order in larger quantities (since Vaisa would help assure market) in turn making it possible for them to benefit from economies of scale. When you have a lot of small-scale businesses that buy and sell retail products on-demand, chances are that they incur high operational costs which trickle down to the consumer. The value chain for such products is very inefficient. 

How receptive have Batswana been to the Vaisa platform?

In general, most businesses that we have approached have been more than willing to use our platform. Vaisa is easy to use and there is no negative effect of using it. Moreover, there are fewer chances of scams occurring in the current version since we try to moderate all listings. Thus the business and its clients are protected. We have close to 200 Users, 60 listings at the moment and we strongly believe these numbers will keep on growing for the foreseeable future.

As an online market platform, what challenges have you come across operating in a country with a low internet penetration and logistically challenging place like Botswana?

The current dynamics in the country have made us delay introducing some of our plans for the platform. For starters, Vaisa does not have a checkout yet because we are still looking at the delivery logistics. We believe improvements could be made that would make it cheaper and faster. Information access is still a big challenge, especially from the government’s side. This makes it difficult to conduct comprehensive desktop studies. Slow and expensive internet means there is an automatic niche to our market. Meeting with clients and potential partners virtually is often not smooth. 

How have you been approaching these challenges?

We have a team based in Botswana that helps us gather some of the information we need in person. We have employed sale’s representatives to represent us in meetings with potential clients on the ground. We can only hope that in the long run, the relevant stakeholders will invest more in developing infrastructure that boosts fast internet connectivity. In the meantime, the website was designed with a very minimalistic approach to ensure that it can load information in the least amount of time and ensure that clients are less frustrated when trying to access it. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the growth of e-commerce platforms like marketplaces. As Vaisa, how have you been leveraging this fact for the growth of your platform?

Due to the pandemic, more people are often on social media for various reasons; work, entertainment etc. We take this opportunity to occasionally launch social media campaigns. Social media marketing is cheaper compared to other available options which mean we can redirect more of our capital towards improving our platform and addressing other problems. We have also introduced broader services that are aimed at assisting businesses with digital marketing. Competition is good. As more and more platforms are created, we do not see this as a problem but rather as a way to increase our clients’ standard of living. As marketplaces compete, it means they are higher standards that each platform must meet in order to win over users. This is good because then people’s opinions about marketplaces will generally be positive meaning, they become receptive to more opportunities when we come knocking. Most platforms that do not meet the standards will die naturally thus culling the herd. Moreover, it means in the long run there is room for us to join with businesses of similar interest to push generic advertising thus increasing usage and building a positive narrative about online shopping.

As the pandemic simmers down, the logical expectation is that online shopping will also slow down as people go back to physical shopping. As an online marketplace, how does Vaisa plan on maintaining an upward growth trajectory even after the pandemic?  

As previously noted, Vaisa is solving a marketing problem. This problem does not disappear with the pandemic. We are here to help with information flow as far as commerce is concerned. People will still need to find information on where to buy what, for how much. Instead of having a rack full of shopping catalogues they can check Vaisa. Instead of asking around for recommendations on a good supplier, visit Vaisa. Are you looking for partners in a particular line of business, check Vaisa. Vaisa will always remain relevant as long as the narrative is about convenient information access to commerce. We complement both online and in-person shopping as it is. One thing we will do post Covid19 however is augmenting social media marketing with other modes of advertising.

With many E-Commerce platforms having launched in the country in the past two years or so in the country, what is your differentiating factor from the competition?

I cannot speak in comparison to my competitors, but I can say that at Vaisa, we are concerned with adding value to the businesses that we work with while making the life of the consumer easier. Vaisa in its early days had a blog section that was updated weekly. The reason for this was to do our part in making information accessible because we know firsthand the challenges entrepreneurs go through to find information. These blogs will certainly continue soon. Entrepreneurs get into business to solve problems and often they end up getting caught with aids to trade such as advertising which end up diverting their attention from their original plan. Vaisa exists to alleviate such distractions. In our own way, we are reducing the risks associated with starting a business. Furthermore, we are transparent in how we do business. We link the seller to the buyer and it’s up to the seller to close the sale as we do not charge any commission. Lastly, the kind of future we envision with Vaisa in its prime is one that promotes an extensive lifestyle comfort. We want to see a newlywed couple being able to access information about houses for rent throughout Botswana, property for sale and the development plans for the area all from the comfort of their couch. 

What else is in the pipeline for Vaisa in the near future in your quest to increase your market share in the competitive online marketplace scene?

We are continuously trying to get meaningful partnerships that will reduce marketing costs for businesses. We have partnered with some influencers in Botswana to improve social media reach. This means you can now get more reach out of each pula you invest in social media campaigns. This service has been available since the beginning of the month. We are also still developing some partnerships with other stakeholders to that effect. I am positive we will have more good news to share soon on other ways we can help a business get more from their marketing budget. We are also working to make Vaisa more interactive while solving more commercial problems. I am really excited about what we are developing at the moment.

Vaisa’s future growth will in one way or another depend on the increase of internet penetration in the country. In your professional opinion, what can be done to improve internet access in the country so that platforms like Vaisa become the norm?

Across all the network providers in Botswana data is generally expensive and internet speed is slow and to some extent not reliable. This implies the telecommunications infrastructure is a limiting factor. First world countries have started putting in place 5G infrastructure. It is up to the relevant stakeholders to ensure they constantly upgrade technology that has been faced out thus making internet access cheaper and faster.

You are currently based in Australia running a business that services Botswana. How has that experience been? If you have had challenges, how have you dealt with them?

I like being informed about whatever I am working on. It’s difficult to find information on a lot of things that are specific to Botswana online. Something I am hoping websites such as this one will bridge in the near future. Melbourne is 8hours ahead of Botswana and this creates big scheduling problems for me, but over time I have grown to adapt to the challenge.

You are also currently a student. Please share tips with our readers about how you are able to balance studying for a Mathematical Physics degree and running Vaisa

You have to be comfortable with being busy and unavailable because these are all time-consuming activities. Leisure tends to be a luxury. A good support structure goes a long way. Mathematical physics has a lot of abstract concepts, so it helps to have someone to digest them with. A big strong foundation in whatever you are studying makes it easier to learn new concepts. I spent years taking advanced classes in mathematics all of which come in handy when Vaisa comes calling and there are tests to get ready for. When it comes to business endeavours, it’s good to surround yourself with the right people. The choice of your partners and employees will either lessen or intensify your workload. I want to believe I have a good network support structure as well; these are people who can openly suggest my name or business for opportunities in my absence, creating room for me to grow as a person and expand my business. I should clarify that Vaisa is a big team that I have been entrusted with leading. The structures that we put in place have ensured all wheels can run independently with a common goal.

What advice would you give to local entrepreneurs who are still slow and hesitant to move their businesses online by availing their products on online marketplaces like Vaisa?

Before electric cars, there were steam locomotives and before that, there were animal carts. You see there has been linear progress in how goods are moved from A to B. The technology and methods keep getting better. The people who are central to this progress are entrepreneurs; the risk-takers who have believed in unorthodox solutions to problems. Now Botswana is entering an era of e-commerce boom which is another improvement on how goods are being moved. The baton of ensuring progress has now fallen on their hands and I hope they do not miss the opportunity to one day say I was part of the entrepreneurs who helped Botswana’s e-commerce ecosystem grow.

Lastly, please share with our readers where you can be reached if they are interested in getting in touch



NB: Interview has been slightly edited for clarity
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