At the age of six, Itumeleng Garebatshabe recalls being the only one wearing a watch in his classÔÇönot as an accessory, but as something he fully understood. That’s the earliest memory he has of his love for technology and how things work. Now a pioneer in his field and the only Motswana to ever create over 200 mobile applications, Garebatshabe has reached a remarkable milestone of having his ‘apps’ downloaded more than 20 million times.
Mobile apps are in high demandÔÇösomething Itumeleng foresaw before the exponential boom of smartphones in Botswana and Africa. In 2010, he attended a game at the World Cup which set motion to countless opportunities.
“While attending one of the games, I got to interact with some visitors from Finland who asked me where I was from. Coincidentally, most of them had smartphones, and at that point I had already designed two apps; Biz Direct and Tour Botswana. They actually looked them up. I got their contacts and it is through that encounter that I started developing content for Nokia,” he said.
It all began in 2005. Having being turned down by countless potential investors, who described his aspiration as ‘not viable’, Itumeleng did not succumb to the lack of support.
“Before my breakthrough with Nokia, everyone was turning my proposals down locally from individuals to big investors. It’s difficult when you have a vision, but are under-resourced and no one realizes it’s potential. Nonetheless, I was persistent as my intention was to build an industry that encourages home grown solutions,” says Garebatshabe.
He got promoted to premium developer by Nokia after beating his target of 100, 000 downloads ten times to reach a million downloads. This, according to him, was an epiphany that made him believe in the potential of Botswana content as viable and buyer worthy. Even amidst lucrative opportunities to work in America and other countries, this young innovator chose to stay in Botswana and build his dream into a tangible project.
“I was the only developer outside the four major markets in Africa who were producing content for Nokia and that was the fuel for my perseverance. It’s important that I created these apps, while in Botswana. It was all possible for me,” he explains.
Stirred by his appreciation for local music and heritage, Itumeleng fused his interests with his knack for developing apps. “I didn’t want to be just any app developer, I wanted to create mobile content that would set me apart. This is why I chose to exclusively design apps on Botswana content.” From apps that sell local artists’ music online to apps on learning local languages and even corporate content, Garebatshabe has revolutionized the developer landscape in the country.
Following the success of his venture with Nokia as an app developer, Itumeleng got the attention of Blackberry and Apple amongst others. On his highlights, he says he was promoted to a premium developer by Nokia and named as the ‘face of Blackberry’ as a product evaluator in Botswana. In 2013, he organized Botswana’s first hackathon in collaboration with Blackberry.
“Blackberry has really impacted my life. When I was selected to be part of their turnout strategy, I did not expect to be one of its 1, 500 product evaluators in the world,” he enthuses. “Getting reviews from people all over the world is a worthy compliment.”
Up to this point, he has mentored upcoming developers such as Kabo Raditladi who recently won the Orange Developer Challenge and Keneilwe Mohutsiwa who is behind the Learn Setswana app which has been downloaded over a million times.
Garebatshabe is currently working on what is to be Botswana’s first digital marketÔÇöBW Made. He continues to place Botswana at the cutting edge of technological developments. Through his innovation hub, Intellegere Holdings, he wants to turn Project 120 into a reality; an opportunity for Batswana from different professions to come together with developers to create apps.