Creating Jobs and Improving Lives
Seebox impacts on multiple levels. On the instruction side, Seebox creates access for students like never before. Implementing Seebox in the classroom does not require a qualified engineer or scientist. With Seeboxes installed, all instruction is delivered by the software, and all tracking of student progress happens remotely, so long as there is an internet connection. A core objective of Seebox is to make engineering education widely accessible. With the built-in tracking feature, it doesn’t take a trained engineer to manage the machines.
As of the summer of 2017, Seebox has 16 clients, including universities, innovation hubs, training centers, as well as individual parents and teachers. Universities use Seebox to augment their programs, and many home school parents find that Seebox offers a great boost in their ability to provide 21st century instruction for their students.
Currently, Seebox finished production on 50 Seebox units. As the word grows about Seebox, Johann expects that number to increase. In fact, three new technical school clients have already put in an order for 20 Seeboxes, each.
Beyond the classroom, the impact of Seebox continues to grow. Johann now has 5 full-time employees, with 3 additional jobs in the pipeline. In addition, local production of Seeboxes ensures 10 more manufacturing jobs sourced through local companies. Still in the bootstrapping stages, Johann has found a way to train young engineers, save money, and increase impact. Over school breaks, intern engineering students help develop software, build, and test machines. Johann says that “With me they get real experience. I don’t give them silly work to do. I give them real engineering work.” The impact trickles down to his employees and Johann sees working with interns as another opportunity for his engineers to move up the ladder and learn valuable management skills.
Marketing Challenges, Bumps, and Pivots
Winning the African Entrepreneurship Award in 2015 brought $150,000 of seed funding to Johann and Seebox, coupled with continued mentoring. The Seebox of today, Johann says, “Would absolutely not have existed” without Award funding.
While the core of Johann’s idea has not changed, other aspects have developed since winning the Award. For the first 12 months after that exciting October day, businessmen helped steer Johann through the early stages market choices. In the beginning, Johann says that the emphasis was all about the product, an area that he was most confident in, even before winning.
Johann says the shift from product focus to marketing focus “was a phase I had to evolve through to learn how to do that. That was a big learning curve for me.” This meant learning which markets to pursue at which time. It meant adding pre-loaded engineering content to the machine, an element that made his product far more marketable and increased employment. It meant a corporate social development feature that tracks live user results so schools and corporate clients see tangible proof that Seebox is helping students, a direct return on their investments.
But, despite this progress, Johann says that “we were expecting to be profitable quicker, but very few of those promises to buy Seeboxes materialized,” despite the robust marketing campaign of his team.
Enter the business pivot and the franchise model.
It all clicked for Johann when he realized that schools are less inclined to integrate a new product without training, and parents are little inclined to pay up front for a new Seebox machine. Johann pivoted his sales model to a franchise model, and he says, “a Seebox franchisee can earn a good income, while we earn a recurring income instead of simply selling hardware.” Johann says Seebox immediately attracted more interest to the franchise model. Certified vendors can buy a pack of Seeboxes and set up anywhere. Johann says that, “For parents, access to a Seebox requires a very small amount of money to pay to give their kids that extra edge. For the person who buys the franchise, it’s an extra income.”
And, the marketing changes didn’t stop there. Johann says that “while developing the franchise model another big market became clear to use – technical skills development in the work place.” For companies, of which there are many, who desire to train their employees, Seebox developed a leasing model. Johann says, “A company can get a Seebox on their premises completely free of charge, and only pay for the hours (sessions) of training.”
First an inventor to help African youth, then an entrepreneur, now a job-creator: the engineers of tomorrow thank you Johann for inventing Seebox, for creating jobs, for improving lives and most of all inspiring other African engineers to become inventors and entrepreneurs.