New start-up Zaio platforms student developers for big business

One of the most exciting stops on a recent innovation immersion of Cape Town (arranged for the Digital team of the Investment Banking arm of Standard Bank) was to Zaio. Formerly known as Kazi Tech Solutions, it was a clear window onto the new world of young tech innovators entering business and the workforce.

Zaio, which comes from the Zulu word meaning ‘future’, is a tech startup that gamifies a student developer’s journey to gain real world skills – through coding challenges and practical experience – to help them land their dream job.

Says COO and co-founder Mzwenhlanhla (Thando) Hlongwane: ‘It’s going to boost the much-needed IT skills in the country. Student developers on our platform have access to resources and a community which helps them build their skills. They can then put their skills to the test by taking on coding challenges.

‘Only after reaching a certain level of competence do we allow student developers to apply for opportunities to gain real-world, practical experience.

‘IT’S GOING TO BOOST THE MUCH-NEEDED IT SKILLS IN THE COUNTRY’

‘This happens through building prototypes for startups, attending hackathons and doing internships. Ultimately this builds an IT skills profile which can help IT recruiters make better recruitment decisions, in turn helping our student developers start building their portfolio.’

Thando, an Allan Gray Orbis Foundation Candidate Fellow, and co-founders Mvelo Hlophe and Akhil Boddu launched Kazi in 2017.

While the client-side offering is motivated by value, the student developer side is driven by motivation and gamification.

‘Student developers on the platform earn “Zaion” ratings for coding challenges, completing projects and reviewing the code quality of others,’ says Thando. ‘These Zaions earn developers a reputation on the platform and opens the doors for them to take on bigger projects, earn more for their work and ultimately build an amazing skills profile.’

Added benefits for the ‘Zaionites’ with the highest ratings include tickets to exclusive tech events and conferences.

Thando’s presentation was more than just a glimpse into how businesses can tap into the energy of student developers, he provided invaluable insight into maximising young talent when it moves into the corporate space: If you’re going to cherry-pick the best and brightest from the bunch, you can’t just have them pushing envelopes.

‘YOUNG TALENT NEEDS TO BE CHALLENGED. IT WANTS TO BE PUSHED TO INNOVATE’

‘If you’re at the top of the game in varsity and you’re being stretched and challenged, and you then find yourself in a corporate environment where you’re placed at the bottom of the rung because you apparently don’t know anything, doing the most menial tasks, you run the risk of getting bored. Young talent needs to be challenged, it wants to be pushed to innovate.’

If the corporate space in South Africa doesn’t provide this, he says, other faster, more disruptive tech start-ups and international employment prospects will.

The solution, he says, is to throw your newbies into the deep end. ‘And let them get involved in solving problems under the guidance and mentorship of more experienced staff. Just let them flex.’

Main takeaway: Make use of the resources made available to you by young, eager start-ups that move fast and have big talent, and your organisation will not only cut costs, but will ultimately benefit the ecosystem and support the growth of tomorrow’s tech leaders.


The CLC would like to thank Thando and Akhil Boddu (Co-Founder) for taking the time to host the Digital team for the Investment Banking arm of Standard Bank on 20 August 2018. Thanks to Zaio for also hosting CLC’s Lean Innovation Safari in April. Both the recent immersion and safari provided delegates with the opportunity to explore the innovation ecosystem in Cape Town, begin to integrate their organisation into the ecosystem and get a glimpse of the future.

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