First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Hugh Molotsi: We are doing well all things considered. I have two daughters who are distance learning from school, and by now, we’ve gotten the hang of all being around the house 24/7. We know we are blessed compared to other families dealing with the pandemic.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Ujama
Hugh Molotsi: I spent most of my career (22 years) at Intuit, where I started as a software developer, and when I left in 2015, I was VP of Innovation and Engineering Fellow.
I decided to start Ujama to help overburdened parents. Ujama’s approach is a community-based messaging platform where we get people to help each other vs. gig-economy solutions where you pay someone to help you. This year, we’ve expanded our aperture beyond parents to help micro-businesses and community organizations. We’ve formed partnerships with groups like the Blackout Coalition and the Mamahood.
How does Ujama innovate?
Hugh Molotsi: Our platform includes mobile apps for Android and iPhone. We are constantly in learning mode by responding to feedback and opportunities we discover as we expand our membership. We release app updates almost every single week. We like to think this keeps us agile and always getting better.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Hugh Molotsi: As mentioned earlier, we decided to expand our target audience beyond just parents. In part, this was motivated by how the pandemic meant parents were no longer driving kids to school and after-school activities. Parents were no longer scheduling playdates or asking for babysitters. These were all kinds of activities we were enabling parents to help each other with. However, our user acquisition has accelerated significantly during the pandemic, so we’re quite happy with our response to the pandemic.
One incredibly bright spot is how our messaging platform has become a great free solution for nonprofits who have been forced to move their fundraisers from in-person events to virtual events.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Hugh Molotsi: Running an early-stage startup requires frequent difficult decisions. We’ve had to find more effective ways to get things done and find partners to help us make progress. In a few cases, this has meant making difficult staffing decisions.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and Ujama in the future?
Hugh Molotsi: I believe exercise is essential. A healthy mind requires a healthy body! I’m also a big sports fan so watching a game is a great escape from stress.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Hugh Molotsi: Our competitors are all the ways communities try to connect and collaborate today. This includes messaging apps and group software. But our real challenge is getting people to help each other more, something that we believe is a big opportunity and our way of making a significant social impact.