Lately I’ve been talking a lot about the Sasai mobile app which is a chat and payments app developed by Cassava Fintech International (a subsidiary of Econet Global). Strive Masiyiwa has been quite clear on the fact that Sasai was inspired by the popular chat app called WeChat in China. In fact, he says they employed the fast follower approach in coming up with the Sasai mobile app. Cassava indicated that Sasai is being officially launched this week. However, before that has even been done someone has come out claiming that Econet stole his Sasai idea.

Artwell Makumbe’s Account

Artwell is the CEO of Hiclicker and says that he officially launched the Sasai mobile app in August of 2015. You can read his account in full as reported by TechZim. He approached Econet in order to discuss how they could enter a strategic partnership agreement. Artwell says he engaged Econet’s SA offices in the hope of getting a meeting set up for him with Strive Masiyiwa. That didn’t happen but instead, he managed to have a voice call discussion with Strive on the whole idea. Following that it was then arranged for Artwell to meet with the Risk Management and Commercial teams for Econet.

He went on to do presentations to the Econet team whose team leader was the Chief Commercial Officer. He unpacked the remarkable array of apps and services that his company Hiclicker was working on. He says Sasai was one of those apps that he talked about during the presentations. To substantiate this claim he actually has the PowerPoint slides that he used during those presentations.

After the presentations, he says that no substantive agreement was reached and that there were lots of delays on Econet’s end. Owing to Econet’s dragging reaction (despite having been impressed by the presentations), Artwell resolved to rollout Sasai on his own – that was back in 2015.  To substantiate this claim there are screenshots available of his Sasai app. The other piece of proof he pointed out is that around 2015 he did interviews with ZBC and on radio – he was even featured during prime time news on ZBC.

During the interview on ZBC, the on-screen caption was ‘New mobile chat messenger’. Though as of now you won’t be able to access his Sasai mobile app because he has revoked the apk file links for the app that were online upon instructions from his lawyer. Essentially he had made the app available online on certain sites in the form of an apk file. This means the app wasn’t yet available on the usual app stores.

So a while after he launched the app on his own he decided to go back to Econet. His intention was to enter an agreement in which the apps and services under his company Hiclicker would be re-launched under the banner of Econet. Econet then responded by offering him 10 terms 6 of which he and his Hiclicker team were opposed to. The terms they were opposed to were as follows, 70% Econet and 30% Hiclicker revenue share ratio, Hiclicker was to be confined to Econet users only, Econet would have exclusive rights over the entirety of Hiclicker and Artwell would get 4% Econet Wireless Zimbabwe shares (whilst Econet would get 60% Hiclicker shares). The other unfavourable term was that all Hiclicker employees would become employed under a fixed employment basis under a joint department headed by Econet. The last term that they were opposed to was that Econet were to pay 50% of the converged license. Following this it meant no meaningful deal could be struck and everything just hit a dead end. So this wraps up an overview of Artwell’s account of what happened. In the meantime, Artwell indicated that he would be approaching the courts on Monday the 29th of July to take legal action against Econet. Confirmation of this has not been received thus far.

My Thoughts

The amount of detail Artwell has to back up his version of the story is quite comprehensive I must say. However, I don’t really want to get ahead of myself by concluding the matter because we’re yet to see whether or not Artwell will file his papers for the case in which he is suing Econet. Secondly, we’re also yet to hear the response from Econet pertaining to Artwell’s account. However, I’ll point out some interesting things that I noted from Artwell’s account. You know, when I initially heard the story I thought to myself that Artwell probably dropped the ball in as far as protecting his idea is concerned. A subject I believe I shall be discussing in one of my upcoming articles i.e. how to protect your business ideas.

Anyways, after a closer look, I noticed something interesting on one of his opening PowerPoint slides. There’s a slide where he pointed out that all details to be discussed were to be classified and also that no technical details were to be discussed. He also pointed out that no details about his presentation were to be discussed with 3rd parties and all these conditions were subject to non-disclosure agreements (NDAs). That somehow shows diligence in protecting his idea but I would be curious to know if (1) the NDAs were signed and (2) the NDAs were well-drafted to cover all the bases. I say this because supposing, Econet did steal his idea would they have risked that knowing full well they would have violated certain legal aspects? These and other grey areas are some of the issues that shall become clear when we finally get to hear Econet’s side of the story.

Once we get Econet’s side of the story we shall give an update on the matter. It’s still too early to judge on whether or not the idea was stolen. Though the fact that Artwell actually named the app Sasai (which Econet used) might seem indicative of a stolen idea. However, like I said it’s too early to conclude – we now eagerly wait to hear Econet’s account.