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I didn’t let lack of money stop me, says student founder of proptech managing 3500 beds

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By Daniel Mpala

Ever come up with an innovative idea you were sure would turn into a great business? Did you stop pursuing it because you couldn’t get any funding to develop it?

Last year, 21-year-old Zimbabwean accounting student and The Housing Hub founder Marvellous Nyongoro (pictured above) found himself facing a similar problem.

Nyongoro, who is a student at Midlands State University in Gweru, came up with the idea for the startup in response to the lack of student accommodation that he and other students at the institution faced while searching for off-campus accommodation.

The Housing Hub enables tertiary students to book and make payments online for off-campus accommodation.

The Housing Hub founder Marvellous Nyongoro is a 2019 Anzisha Prize top 20 finalist

“At first I didn’t want to start because I told myself I need funding, I need money for me to be able to start,” said Nyongoro speaking on the side lines of the Anzisha Prize Forum in Johannesburg last month.

A 2019 Anzisha Prize top 20 finalist, Nyongoro realised one day that he’d been telling himself that he couldn’t start on the idea because he needed capital.

It was then that he decided to take a chance, pull together the necessary resources and just start the business.

“I was like, you know what, I’ve been telling myself for four months that we are starting, let me just start because I’m not growing any younger and the problem is still there in the community,” he said.

Finding a balance

Funding was not the only obstacle he had to overcome. Nyongoro also had to figure out how to manage his time between running a startup and studying.

It all came down to having the right mindset.

“If you set your priorities right and you know what you need to do, you won’t lose focus. You dedicate yourself.

“I sat down and I asked myself how many hours do I need to study per day, how many hours am I putting into Housing Hub and how many hours am I doing other things that are not necessary?” he said.

Nyongoro even downloaded an app to find out how much time he was spending on social media.

He said he then discovered that most of his time was spent doing “things that were not necessary”.

“So, I then re-looked at my timetable and I rescheduled my life. I told myself if it’s time for studying then I’m going to be studying, if it’s time for business then I’m going to be pulling these certain hours into the business,” he said.

However, he says despite finding a way to balance school and business, managing the two is still “very taxing”.

“It is not as easy as it sounds, but then it’s die once and then live good forever,” said Nyongoro.

The Housing Hub, which has 12 full-time and 40-part time employees, currently caters to students in four Zimbabwean universities — in Bulawayo, Chinhoyi, Gweru and Masvingo.

Nyongoro explained that the 40 part-time employees are also students. They work as agents and are responsible for getting the properties, doing inspections and listing them on the platform.

The Housing Hub charges students a five percent booking fee on the platform, while landlords are charged a two percent fee for listing rooms on the platform.

A good business in a challenging economy

So far business has been good, despite a difficult start.

“It still is very difficult but then it’s been growing organically and we are very proud. Last year in October we had just about 40 beds on the platform, but today we’ve got over 3500.

“So, I think we’ve been doing very good in as far as so many dynamics are involved, the economy is difficult and all but we’ve really been pushing. So far so good,” he said.

The startup has received a $1000 investment from Unicef Zimbabwe and another $7000 from financial services conglomerate CBZ Holdings.

Nyongoro pointed out that many investors are deterred from investing in the country because of the current hyperinflation and the weak economy.

“But I believe that if an investor finds a good business — like our business is a good business – a business with a good model and everything, then their investment is safe and they can get a guarantee that they will get their investment back,” he added.

He explained that the startup intends to capitalise on the home market. “We really want to grab the entire Zimbabwean market. Our eyes are also set for Zambia, Botswana, South Africa in the next year or two,” said Nyongoro.

Featured image: The Housing Hub founder Marvellous Nyongoro

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