Thomello Matsasa: From Humble Beginnings to Tech Entrepreneur

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Thomello Matsasa Tech Entrepreneur in Lesotho
Thomello Matsasa

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Personal Journey and Inspiration:

Your journey, being from Lesotho starting from humble beginnings to becoming a successful software developer and entrepreneur is truly inspiring.

Can you share some of the pivotal moments or experiences from your upbringing in Lesotho that shaped your entrepreneurial spirit?

1. I never thought I was ever going to be an entrepreneur. My biggest aspiration while I was growing up was to be a Physicist or Astronomer. I was always curious and wanted to learn literally everything, so I landed in the Software development space by chance. When I was 13 years old I was nominated as a child ambassador by the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA Lesotho). As an ambassador I would represent Lesotho children in media, journalism and child rights-related matters locally and internationally.

On one trip to Zambia, I met a friend who told me about this thing called “coding”. He told me I could instruct a computer to do certain things and it would do it. I think this is where it all began for me. Curious as I was – when I came back home I started throwing all my energy into this new thing. Eventually, I gravitated towards it more than physics. It was practical – I could learn something immediately and instantaneously practice it.

At the time when I first learned coding it was on a mobile phone. My family couldn’t afford a personal computer. The first computer I had was a second-hand one I assembled from parts I got from a family friend. It took a few more years for me to really appreciate the power that coding had. At the time I was doing really small experimental projects – games and small websites. The real pivotal moment that sort of woke me up was when a group of friends invited me to a Hackathon competition sponsored by Vodacom Lesotho back in high school. Though we didn’t win the competition we were recognized as the youngest group (teens) to ever take part in that competition.

From there on I took things a bit seriously. I started networking with a lot of people in the space and started charging people for my services. This was still in high school. At the time I also tried my hand at a few businesses. I remember at one point I had an Ad agency that would pay people to post business ads on their social media. In a nutshell, my entrepreneurship journey was not a clearly outlined path that I just followed it took a very long tedious time spent in learning and experimenting. I never believed at any point that it would be as good as it is now, for me it was all just to feed my curiosity.

Lesotho is a country with its share of challenges. How did the circumstances you faced growing up influence your drive to succeed and achieve the level of success you have today?

2. Growing up in this country is not a challenge, it’s a literal write-off. The odds of succeeding in this country are so slim, that even working hard is not enough. For me it was even worse because I grew up in a poor family, the pressure is just too intense. Maybe that is what moulded me, maybe that’s what gave me the relentlessness that I have. By default, I was born into failure. Therefore any form of failure or challenge I face personally or in business can’t threaten me. This is because I have been worse than that. Business is all about that, it’s all about keeping going and resourcefully overcoming challenges was it not for my tough upbringing I don’t think I would be doing what I am doing today.

Many young individuals in Lesotho face limited resources and opportunities. What advice would you give to those who aspire to pursue a path similar to yours, but might be discouraged by their circumstances?

3. I hardly ever advise anyone to be an entrepreneur, it’s extremely hard. And it’s even worse if you have limited resources. The benefits are enormous though and for those who want to take on the challenge. I always advise them to learn to be resourceful and stay curious. There is literally no golden rule or formula just keep showing up every day, keep learning, that’s all you can ever do. Coming up from the bottom is not a long period of being fat and uncomfortable. Then a sudden need to become hungry. It is full of spikes of anxiety about how dire your situation is.

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Balancing Freelancing and Indie Hacking:

You’ve managed to balance freelancing and indie hacking, which is no small feat. Could you elaborate on how you maintain equilibrium between these two demanding endeavours, and do you believe this approach can be adopted by others as well?

4. I will not lie balancing these two camps is extremely hard because they are both demanding. The easy strategy I have employed is I treat freelancing as a 9 to 5 job and then do my indie hacking in the evenings. The hard challenge is when my indie hacking project hits product market fit – when this happens I normally just sell the project to keep my sanity. When my freelancing cup is overflowing I normally just delegate projects to my consultancy firm or give away clients. To say the least, at some point, I still have to figure out what I decide to do – freelancing or indie hacking. But I can bet it’s probably indie hacking.

Freelancing and indie hacking require different skill sets. How do you navigate the transition between these two modes, and what strategies have you developed to effectively manage your time and energy?

5. Well freelancing and indie hacking somewhat complement each other. To freelance all you have to do is have good human skills to talk and win clients and have good technical skills to deliver projects. To do indie hacking you just need good tech skills to deliver projects and they have extra business skills (e.g. marketing and sales) to run the projects.

Most of my freelancing clients end up being friends or acquaintances so I learn a lot of business dynamics from them. To manage my time and energy is quite easy because I love what I do. I love developing software and I also love business. All I have to do is just avoid burnout and to do that I don’t overwork myself. I set clear achievable daily, weekly and monthly goals and then stick to my schedule. I take some time off when I want and then I travel!

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Productivity and Habits:

Your approach to productivity is remarkable. How did you cultivate the habit of intentional breaks and focused work, and how has this contributed to your ability to accomplish your goals?

6. I am honestly sure how I came up with some habits that I have. However, my belief is that most good habits are developed through moments of hardship or breakdowns. I have had my fair share of those moments. I have gone through periods of burnout and stress and I believe it’s through these moments I have learned what to do and what not to do to take care of myself. So the habit of taking breaks followed by intensely focused work didn’t come naturally.

I burned out and that taught me to stay away sometimes. It helps me recharge my batteries and helps me zoom out so that I come back stronger and with different approaches. To this point, I didn’t even realize it was a habit I had developed. But it definitely is and I attribute it to hitting all impossible goals I set for myself –truly profound.

We’re intrigued by your limited use of social media. How has this deliberate choice positively impacted your work and overall effectiveness in your various projects?

7. Social media is perhaps one of the most powerful tools available at our exposal right now. It’s also one of the worst tools that can distract, ruin and alter one’s path. I knew this quite early in life and learned to keep away from it. Social media is really addictive and unfortunately, it doesn’t take away your liver or lungs it wears away your time. Without much control over it, there’s very little one can achieve because goals and aspirations need time. So I keep away. Instead of spending my days aimlessly scrolling on Facebook, I spend it acquiring new skills and working on my goals.

Another important element to his –even more important I would argue, is the “right use” of social media. Most people are really not intentional in their use of social media –they use it ONLY as an entertainment tool. I want to say am a bit different on this. I use social media to empower my career. This helps me manage it effectively and that effectiveness easily translates to the work I do.

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Turning Ideas into Reality:

You mentioned your process of bringing ideas to life, depending on the project’s scope. Could you walk us through the steps you take when pursuing a smaller side project versus a more substantial venture, and how you determine the feasibility of each idea?

8. If I have a small project – I normally don’t spend a lot of time researching and talking to customers. My small projects normally just take a few days to a week – not more. I really just:

  1. Define (through writing) – all specs of the project,
  2. Create simple mockups of possible designs or architecture of the product
  3. Once I have most if not everything figured I just code the MVP away until the project completes
  4. I try to create a MOM version of the app before adding complex features. The mom version is simply a version so simple even my mom can use it. This is really to start onboarding users to get their feedback on the project.

For bigger projects I:

  1. Take some time making research on the market and the actual opportunity
  2. Once I have done enough research about the idea I start talking to customers to hear if this is something they would really use. Where possible I ask customers to start committing their money or emails for early adopters or waitlist. 
  3. If to this point am still convinced that this is worth building I follow the steps I follow when building small projects. The only difference here is I build the project in public in front of my audience on platforms like Twitter.

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Entrepreneurship and Lessons Learned:

Failure, coupled with your determination, played a pivotal role in your journey. What are the key lessons you’ve learned from these challenges, and how do you use them as sources of strength in your current ventures?

9. There are without a doubt a lot of lessons I have learned in my journey. However, the most important one is just to keep going and to be resourceful. I have learned that things tend to work out no matter how hard they get, as long as one doesn’t lose enthusiasm. Like I said I was born into failure, and I still fail to this point. But that is NOT where the point is. The point is to try to stay positive and stay afloat until opportunities come. In fact, I believe failure just introduces opportunities if you care to find them.

Lastly, I am not of very deep Christian proclivity – but I believe there’s a power that transcends all of us. There’s more to life than just the challenges and achievements we go through; we are here for something more meaningful and no matter the challenges I always keep that in mind and that keeps me going harder and harder.

As a co-founder of an IT consultancy firm in Lesotho, you’ve contributed to the local tech ecosystem. Can you share how your experiences have influenced your commitment to support and foster growth within your home country?

10. There are some speculations and predictions that people make that most African countries are over 25 years behind developed countries. I said speculations – but in me, something says these people are correct. I have had the privilege to work locally and also to work in various countries and have experienced firsthand how advanced some countries are compared to our country. This realization through work honestly makes me so sad and gets me discouraged sometimes but it also makes me want to contribute to our growth in both business and tech.

The little info that I share on my social media, and a few connections and relationships I try to create are all towards helping grow our ecosystem and community. I believe we still have a shortage of growth and transformation we just have to do more and my one goal is to get as many people as I can on board. Am hopeful and optimistic – if I can do it I think we can all do it – collectively as a community and as a country.

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Vision for Lesotho’s Tech Landscape:

Your success showcases the potential for tech innovation in Lesotho. What initiatives or changes would you like to see in the country’s tech landscape to further encourage young talent and entrepreneurship?

11. We need a community, a strong tech and business community. By this, I don’t mean a group of friends hanging around and talking about cool watches and market evaluations. I mean we need to have a diverse open dialog among techies and entrepreneurs. We desperately need to have some way to foster innovation through collaboration. It’s the only way we can try to encourage young generations to join these spaces. Silicon Valley, San Francisco did not become what it is because two people did very well and suddenly everything fell into place. It took a whole community and that is what we need locally. If that happens in the next few years – and I hope to work towards this – we can see really great things happen in this country. COMMUNITY – WE NEED A STRONG COMMUNITY!

Impact of AI and future Trends:

AI is a trend that excites you, and you’ve already had experience in the field. How do you envision AI impacting industries in Lesotho, and what potential opportunities do you see for local businesses and developers to harness this technology?

12. It’s very hard to determine how AI can directly influence industries locally because we still haven’t advanced holistically in tech. Artificial Intelligence is only a substrate or tool in tech and it alone can’t influence anything. We still have a long journey ahead to fix and improve our tech infrastructure, on which AI can operate. Assuming we can do this quickly enough then the opportunities are ample. I guess what I am saying is –we are still very much poor even in basic and minute things such as network coverage and delivery. Saying AI can make a huge impact on anything would be a huge overstatement.

What I believe however is that AI can help us learn and implement faster. It is something I can bet on and this is also where the opportunity is for anyone interested. The real AI opportunity locally lies in trying to come up with solutions that can help us stay relevant in the highly accelerated world. We need to try and figure out where we are economically operating as a country and then try to use AI to come up with solutions that can boost our relevance in those parts. So if water is our go-to resource then maybe coming up with AI solutions around that industry can greatly help. If we think we can economically contribute to Agriculture, then maybe we should spend time creating AI models that can boost our performance in those fields.  

Legacy and Giving Back:

Looking ahead, what do you hope your legacy will be, particularly in relation to inspiring and guiding future generations of tech enthusiasts and entrepreneurs in Lesotho?

13.

Well, I think am already living through my legacy. Though not at scale YET. I am very passionate about helping and enriching the lives of as many people as I can and I think I am already doing that. I just want to inspire people to think beyond their current circumstances. Now, I don’t know how my legacy will be narrated once am gone, but if anything I just want to be known for the lives I touched. It can be either through information or just inspiration – that is what I want to be remembered for. I am not sure where life might throw me, maybe I will be fortunate enough to leave a much larger footprint or dent. But, I believe it will all just be for the good of the country, the continent and the world.

Considering your journey, if you had the opportunity to initiate a project or program to directly benefit Lesotho’s youth, what would it entail and how would you envision it impacting their lives?

14. I have put a lot of thought into this over the years. I have always concluded that –an initiative that will without a doubt make an impact on the youth –would be one that helps them think creatively for and by themselves. It doesn’t matter how much money or resources we pump into the economy towards helping the youth. Truth is, if they can’t think “properly” everything will always fall apart, spill and disappear into the ground like water.

So an initiative I would start is an incubation facility that tries to shape how the youth thinks. Also, teach them to come up with and implement solutions to real-life problems locally and internationally. I imagine it to be like an open-source facility that enriches a community of innovators, business heads and creatives. We are in desperate need of such. Many initiatives have been tried before to try and spark and foster innovation locally but they lack persistence. They just wear off quickly.  I believe having an initiative like this would turn things around, and quickly.

Advice and Closing Thoughts:

Lastly, if you could share one piece of advice with the aspiring young minds of Lesotho, what would it be? And what message would you like to convey to those who might hesitate to chase their dreams due to obstacles?

15. To aspiring young minds of this beautiful country I have this advice –
Go get what you want, no matter what obstacles you face – go get what you want. Geographically we are born in what could be regarded as one of the worst countries ever, but that shouldn’t prevent us from dreaming. The little that I have built for and by myself especially at my age should be evident enough that we can actually do more; we can actually get what we want. Lastly, do not go where the path may lead, go where there’s no path and leave a trail.

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Litsitso Sibolla
Litsitso Sibolla, a dedicated writer for Selibeng.com and catalyst for change in Lesotho, possesses an unwavering passion that ignites transformation. His unwavering commitment to empowering the youth and driving positive shifts has established him as a prominent figure youth empowerment. Through his continually growing coffee shop and music company, centered around the aspirations of young people, he has established platforms that uplift and motivate the upcoming generation. Embark on a journey alongside Litsitso Sibolla as he empowers Lesotho's youth and inspires a promising future for everyone.