How Failing Fast was Nomanini’s Ticket to Creative Innovation

How Failing Fast was Nomanini’s Ticket to Creative Innovation


Vital stats

  • Player: Vahid Monadjem
  • Company: Nomanini
  • Launched: 2011
  • Visit: 

Vahid Monadjem missed the world of technology innovation. That’s what made him resign from his position as a management consultant in 2011. Well, that and the huge gap he spotted in the informal market – how to facilitate cash payments.

“Our market was street vendors and retailers,” he says. “There had to be a way to make it easier for them to sell items, particularly as cash transactions are so risky.”

He and his team set about developing a rugged mobile point-of-sale (PoS) terminal which replaced the physical distribution of things like airtime scratch cards with virtual distribution. It’s cheaper, quicker and reduces risk.

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Keep It Lean

The Lean Startup methodology is built on the premise that every start-up is an experiment that aims to answer a question. But the question is not, ’Can this product be built? ‘ Instead, it’s ’Should this product be built?’

“We applied the lean approach to development before we even knew what lean was,” he recalls.

“All we saw was a huge consumer market that was not being served. My brother and I convinced a couple of designers and electrical engineers to do some work for us and we cobbled together a vague approximation of what we wanted. It really wasn’t great, but we launched the proof of concept and took it from there.”

Get your product into the market

It was Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn who said, “If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.”

Monadjem had his fair share of embarrassment. Over a period of six months, he employed a team of students to walk the streets of Cape Town and surrounds during the varsity holidays and on weekends to test the product with informal retailers.

“We put the terminals into their hands, gave them a notebook, and told them to go out there, record the feedback and report bugs while we managed the back-end. On day one, the system did not last for more than three hours. But in one week, it was useable.”

Fail Fast, Fail Often


Product development based on prototyping is not for everyone, but in Nomanini’s case, it enabled the business to ideate, prototype, test, analyse, refine, and repeat.

“Failure is key to creativity and innovation,” Monadjem stresses.

“That’s what gave us the means to get feedback that was pivotal to the success of our product. In many cases, the students returned with the names and numbers of street vendors who wanted to use our terminals.

“Even though they were not perfect to start with, the vendors were immediately drawn to the speed of the transactions, which is important when you have long queues of people buying products that don’t offer a big margin. Selling a lot and selling quickly ups their profit.”

Learn from your customers

Testing their terminals also gave Nomanini real user insight into their product and stopped Monadjem from making unfounded assumptions about what the market wanted. Although many entrepreneurs are understandably protective of their ideas at first, developing a product in a vacuum can lead to great disappointment.

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“Hiding your product form the market until it is perfect may be tempting, but it means you don’t know what customers love or hate about it until tweaking it becomes a difficult and expensive exercise. Exposing it to users early on gives you proof of what people really want.”

By January this year, Nomanini was processing more than one million transactions across partner regions, including South Africa.

Monique Verduyn
Monique Verduyn is a freelance writer. She has more than 12 years’ experience in writing for the corporate, SME, IT and entertainment sectors, and has interviewed many of South Africa’s most prominent business leaders and thinkers. Find her on Google+.