Life on mars

Archie Mokoka
DREAM TEAM: Steve R and staff
  • Local App guns for international big boys

Imagine Facebook and Linkedin, news, real estate and e-stores all bundled up in one convenient application.

Well, this is precisely what MARS – an App created by digital marketing and software development startup, ADH – offers.

Developed and launched in 2019 by Steven Retshabile, shortly after he completed his studies, MARS has the potential to change the online space as we know it.

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Since launching his product, the innovative entrepreneur, 36, has gone through Botswana Innovation Hub (BIH) incubation, landing a life-changing opportunity in the process.

Thanks to BIH’s partnership with United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), ADH impressed enough to be made a beneficiary of the UNDP Business Supply Development Programme (SDP).

The company has since left incubation, set up office and taken meaningful business steps.

The SDP project works to create demand-based, market-driven opportunities for SMEs to increase their competitiveness.

It further connects essential small-scale producers/suppliers to larger markets locally and abroad to strengthen the local entrepreneurial ecosystem, encourage innovation and ultimately create employment.

UNDP-SDP has a targeted approach to engage large scale companies willing to purchase goods and services from SMEs with the aim of integrating suppliers into a strategic relationship that allows them to improve their productivity, competitiveness, and product quality.

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Three partners are brought together in a tripartite partnership: Buyers, Suppliers and Consultants.

The partnership involves large regional and local firms (Buyers) with local small to medium businesses (Suppliers) and UNDP consultants.

The aim is to encourage the Buyers currently importing products to supply the Botswana market, to buy from local suppliers.

Speaking to Voice Money from his new office in Block 3 industrial, Retshabile admits things had stalled slightly since he developed the App, attributing this mainly to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Life on mars
HARD AT WORK: Retshabile

In the small office sit two other members of staff busy at their cubicles.

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He reveals there are two more and another stationed in the second city of Francistown.

Since setting up shop in Block 3, Retshabile says things have picked up, with a number of big clients coming onboard and strategic partnerships secured.

“One such partnership is with The Voice newspaper which allows us to post the online version of the paper into the App. We also have partnership with Gabz Fm to conduct online migration masterclass for businesses,” he states.

Though some of what the company offers is already available on Facebook, Retshabile explains they offer direct communication with clients to avoid getting lost in the Facebook clutter.

Because the platform is dominated by local content and goes directly to the client it is easy to find.

“Notifications are also seen by all 2, 700 users, 400 who are businesses,” he adds.

Without MARS, customers looking to utilize e-stores would have to load several Apps in their devices, which could compromise device memory.

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With MARS e-store, as Retshabile highlights, there is no need for that as they have all stores in one App for the user’s convenience.

Providing a unique service should ideally mean there is not much competition, but slow tech adoption among local companies is slowing things down.

“They have too much faith in Facebook. This is a problem for our economy because they are increasing traffic value for a foreign company. The other challenge is the cost of data bundles which affects us because our app is not yet considered as a social app like Facebook and Whatsapp. We are however in talks with the network providers to remedy the situation.”

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If the current rate of growth is anything to go by, the future looks bright for MARS and ADH.

Retshabile reveals traffic to the App has grown from around 10 visitors a day to thousands.

“Our Facebook page, which is relatively new, has also grown to reach over 10 000 people without boosting,” he states, boldly predicting that in three years they will have created an international market for Botswana.

“Batswana businesses will be able to sell their products and services outside without leaving the country. Small businesses who can’t afford websites will have listings in our e-store. Customers will also easily compare prices thanks to our integrated e-store,” concludes Retshabile confidently.

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