Far From His Native Zambia, Hugh Molotsi Finds A Tech Solution For Creating Extended Family

Ebony Grimsley-Vaz
Written by Ebony Grimsley-Vaz
Extended family
The Ujama platform is inspired by the Swahili word for “extended family.” It’s the brainchild of Hugh Molotsi, former VP of innovation for Intuit, who struggled to find help as a busy father of two. Photo courtesy of Ujama.

From 1970 to 2015, the number of two-parent homes with both parents working full-time increased from 31 percent to 46 percent, according to the Pew Research Center. This means parents are being challenged to balance work and family life. Shuttling kids to school, after-school programs, play dates and sports can be a challenge to busy parents.

Hugh Molotsi, the former vice president of innovation for Intuit, is now the CEO and founder of Ujama, a mobile platform for parents helping parents. He says he believes parenting today is much harder than previous generations. As a busy parent of two living away from where he grew up in Zambia, he understood the need of gathering parents together who have kids with similar activities at the same schools to help them with getting things done. The Ujama platform, the name inspired by the Swahili word “ujamaa” which means “extended family,” is the brainchild of Molotsi and his struggle to find assistance.

“Ujama is about making it easy to connect with and communicate with other parents so you can help each other. When you join Ujama, one of the first benefits you have is a directory of other parents who live in your neighborhood,” says Molotsi. “I like to describe it as the ‘LinkedIn for Parents.'”  

Now, almost four years in and with financial backing from angel investors such as former Intuit CEO, Steve Bennett, Molotsi looks forward to seeing parents worldwide using the platform for things like school pickups and date nights for parents.

Molotsi shared his thoughts on innovation, creating a social media platform useful for parents and helping parents “have a joyful experience raising their kids.”

Many of us who are parents live very far away from where we grew up. Because of that, we don’t have that extended family network of support for raising our kids.

Hugh Molotsi, CEO and founder of Ujama, a mobile platform for parents helping parents.

Moguldom: Why did you start Ujama?

Hugh Molotsi: I started Ujama after a 22-year career at Intuit, the makers of QuickBooks and TurboTax. I started out as a software developer working on QuickBooks, but I spent most of my career creating small business applications. I’m very passionate about technology and what it can do. I really enjoyed spending my time there working on something that had a positive impact on the world.

While working there I experienced a lot of the challenges busy parents have raising children today. My kids are 12 and 13 years old, and I believe it is actually much harder today than it was for my parents’ generation to raise kids. I believe it is because many of us who are parents live very far away from where we grew up. Because of that, we don’t have that extended family network of support for raising our kids.

I also believe the way we raise kids has also evolved and changed. When I think about my childhood between after-school and dinner time, my parents often had no idea where I was or what I was up to. The most important thing was I needed to be home at a certain time otherwise I’d be in trouble. There was no cell phone to track you down so parents just had faith that you would get home when you’re supposed to be home. Parents trusted their kids running around inside their community would be fine. When kids were stranded or got in trouble, somebody in the community would help. Everybody looked out for everybody or as they say, “It takes a village to raise a child.”

Today, we are much more circumspect about strangers. Your kids are not supposed to talk to strangers. We have to not only arrange activities for kids to do in environments we know, but we also have to figure out how to get them to those activities. And so, again, it puts more stress on today’s parents. As I mentioned, I believe technology can be a force for positive impact. And I started to think, “we should be able to use technology in a way in which we can help parents, connect with each other.”

For example, if you go to a school at pick up and drop off time. Typically, there is a long line of cars with stressed-out parents and almost every car has empty seats. To me, that was an opportunity we’re not taking advantage of as parents helping each other out.

extended family
The Ujama platform is inspired by the Swahili word for “extended family.” It’s the brainchild of Hugh Molotsi, former VP of innovation for Intuit, who struggled to find help as a busy father of two. Photo courtesy of Ujama.

I wanted to create a platform where we could make it very easy for parents to connect with each other, discover each other, and basically make it very easy for them to help each other. I felt like this would be a really positive change we could make to help address the challenges parents are having today. We can make it much easier for parents to start supporting each other.

Moguldom: What do the users of your platform receive for joining?

Hugh Molotsi: Ujama is about making it easy to connect with and communicate with other parents so you can help each other. When you join Ujama, one of the first benefits you have is a directory of other parents who live in your neighborhood. These are parents who live within a five-mile radius of your home you can start to reach out to. I like to describe it as the “LinkedIn for Parents.” You can also see parents who are at your child’s school and after-school activities. You can start by messaging other parents. In fact, our app works very much like a WhatsApp or a Facebook Messenger, but we go beyond that because in our app we built enhanced messaging tools. For example, one of the pain points we hear parents talk about is if they’re trying to get multiple families together they say “using text messaging can be frustrating.” These chats can go on and on for an extended period trying to narrow down a date.

We built into our platform a way to offer up a bunch of dates and just by tapping people can say which dates they are available. And of course, we have the ability to help parents share their needs for a babysitter, carpool to games or pickups from school. People can say “yes” to these requests just by tapping in the app. Underlying all of that is “karma points.” Karma points is our reward system for people who are helping others. Whenever you help another family by giving their kid a ride, you earn karma points. If somebody helps you babysit your kids, you’ll be charged with karma points. And so as long as you are helping as much as you’re being helped, you will have a positive karma points balance. We give everybody introductory karma points when they join Ujama. But if for some reason you are unable to help at the rate that you’re getting help you can buy karma points. And also, similarly, if you help a lot of families and you accumulate a lot of karma points, you can redeem them for rewards. The karma points are really underlying the whole system of parents helping each other.

How do you make things better? The most innovative ideas are typically going to be the ones that people are most skeptical about. If you have an idea, believe in it. Don’t get dissuaded by what people say. Try and make it work.

Hugh Molotsi, CEO and founder of Ujama, a mobile platform for parents helping parents.

Moguldom: What type of rewards do people get with Karma Points?

Hugh Molotsi: Things like gift cards for Amazon, e-Bay, and Macy’s. It’s a long list of different gift cards from different vendors. We give people a lot of choices.

Moguldom: Did you always know you wanted to work in technology?

Hugh Molotsi: I was born and grew up in Zambia, which is a country in Central Africa. I came to the United States for college when I was 17 to attend the University of Southern Mississippi, where I got my degree in computer engineering technology. I later got my master’s degree at Santa Clara University in the Bay Area. I ended up staying in the Bay Area and having my career here. I wouldn’t say I always knew. As a kid, I had a lot of interests. I wasn’t exposed to computers as a kid, but I did love electronics and gadgets. Sometimes I would open them up just to see what’s inside and, sometimes to try and fix it. I was that kind of kid that got into trouble that way. As I learned about computers, the concept of them was very attractive to me because they seemed like the ultimate gadget. But it wasn’t until I got to college that I really got my real exposure to them.

Moguldom: It’s been almost four years since starting your company. What have been some of the challenges along the way?

Hugh Molotsi: Our primary challenge has been how to get to critical mass adoption. There’s a chicken and egg problem. Until you have a lot of users on the platform, it’s hard to deliver value to the users that you have. And until you are delivering value, it’s hard to attract lots of users. This is the typical chicken and egg problem a lot of successful platforms have figured out. I am focused on how to solve it.

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I would say half of our challenges have been building a good product. The other part of the problem, maybe even more than half, is going out to the community and explaining what Ujama is about and encouraging them to join. Nurturing a community so more people can join and also encourage other people to join is our focus now. We’re trying to get more supporters who are eager to promote.

Moguldom: What are some of the wins for Ujama?

Hugh Molotsi: I was very fortunate to have three former colleagues be angel investors in Ujama — one of the investors being Steve Bennett, the former CEO of Intuit. In terms of the product itself, when preschools, schools and after-school organizations decide, “Yes, we would like our parents to be a part of it,” that is a big win. These organizations are taking a leap of faith because we’re not yet a big company. We’ve gotten a few schools to spread the word on our behalf. Getting people to buy the vision and recommend others to jump in, is a big win.

Moguldom: You mentioned having angel investors. Can you share how much you’ve raised in total so far?

Hugh Molotsi: We’re still in the seed funding stage. In 2017, I raised about $175,000. We’ve raised a little over $200,000 in 2019. So, a little less than $500,000 in total.

Moguldom: You are a former VP of Innovation for Intuit, have co-authored a book on innovation and have the former CEO of Intuit as an investors. You must have at least one great tip for our readers on how to keep innovation at the forefront when building products.

Hugh Molotsi: When you boil it down, it’s really not that complicated. The concept is just, “How do you make things better?” The most innovative ideas are typically going to be the ones that people are most skeptical about. If you have an idea and it’s very obvious, then it’s probably not that innovative. If it’s obvious, somebody else has already thought of it or somebody’s already done it. But the ones that are not obvious, the ones that when people hear them, they are very skeptical about the idea, those tend to be the ones that have the highest value. My biggest talking point on innovation to people is, if you have an idea, believe in it. Don’t get dissuaded by what people say. Try and make it work. See what you can do. If you fail, even during the process of trying to build the thing, you will probably learn a lot. And it may give you ideas for other things that can have value. I think the key for a lot of innovators is really just believing in themselves and not giving up when people say can’t be done.

Extended Family
The Ujama platform is inspired by the Swahili word for “extended family.” It’s the brainchild of Hugh Molotsi, former VP of innovation for Intuit, who struggled to find help as a busy father of two. Photo courtesy of Ujama.

Moguldom: What do the next five years look like for Ujama?

Hugh Molotsi: Our goals are to have most parents across the country using Ujama and taking advantage of it. Often when I talk to parents, they’ll tell me that they’ve not been on a date since they had kids. That is not good for the relationship. Parents need time as a couple, but getting a babysitter is difficult. But the reality is, in your neighborhood, there are parents who are more than happy to help you. And in fact, in my own experience with my daughters, we have a neighbor who has a daughter the same age as my oldest. They would always encourage us to drop our kids off with them when we would go on a date instead of an hourly sitter. We took them up on it a couple of times, but there were other times we were very bashful about doing. This is actually why we designed karma points with Ujama to try and make it so that people are not bashful about receiving help. The hope is for us to make parenting much more joyful. We want parents to get the time they need to run errands or if there’s an emergency and they can’t pick up a child they don’t have to panic. They know they have a community to back them up when they need help.

Moguldom: So, no plans for world domination?

Hugh Molotsi: We would love to have most parents across the country and then eventually of course, outside the country on Ujama. There are obviously a lot of social media platforms that people use today that are successful. We think ours is the most useful social media platform for parents to connect and have help. We are not creating a platform that makes it easier for people to advertise to you or to intrude into your lives. This is really about making it easy for parents to have a joyful experience raising their kids.