As an entrepreneur, your aim is to break even and position your business in a sea of profit. With the surge in the number of mobile devices in the global economy, it is becoming increasingly important for the business man/woman to make decisions that would make it easier for the mobile user (with an internet connection) to access information. The problem isn’t that business undertakings, today, don’t have websites, they do. The problem, usually, is that their websites are optimized for the desktop computer. Desktop websites usually take a while to load on mobile devices and time is money especially when you’re on the go. On average, mobile users leave a website if it takes longer than 3 seconds to load.
Web servicing is a form of service. A potential customer waiting for pages to load is equivalent to waiting at a desk for assistance and depending on the personal elasticity of demand one has for the service, the business would, by extension, lose out on turnover to a large degree.
Now, until the mobile device sector can close the gab between their capability and that of the desktop computer at one point in time without losing portability, it’s advisable for business owners to employ the use of a mobile sub-domain of their website to cater to mobile users. Here’s a list and short description of 5 tools I recommend for business owners to use for creation of a mobile version of their website.
Mobify – is a freemium tool that accelerates your website in
addition to any speed optimization technology you may already have.
The paid plans start at US$249 per month per month, and include the
removal of mobify logo and report of website statistics.
Wirenode – is a mobile website generator and a user-friendly editor
for designing your mobile site. Paid plans start at US$19.80, w/
upgrades such as support for custom domains and removal of
Mippin Mobilizer – all you have to do with Moppin Mobilizer isenter your websites RSS feed URL, go through a few steps, install some
code on your site and you’re done. As you configure your mobile site,
the app has a panel that allows your to preview it whilst you’re
Onbile – gives you an intuitive user interface for constructing a
mobile website, you can select one of the 13 templates as a starting
point for your mobile site design.
Winksite – is a web app that helps you build a mobile community for
The benefits of hosting a mobile version of your website outweigh the costs involved in doing so and anything that implies gain maximization and/or cost reduction of a product/service usually means well for any competitor in the business arena. In the end, the decision to create a mobile version of a website all but lies in the hands of the business owner(s).
Last year as an extension of the internally renowned StartupBus competition, a proof of concept bus was ran under the moniker ‘StartupBus Africa’. It was a hugely successful venture spawning new startups such as Sterio.Me (a learning system via SMS), Workforce (a platform bringing together job
seekers and potential employers) and Bribed (an app to tackle corruption by crowdsourcing real time data on bribes) in addition to building linkages between existing technology hubs in Africa and internationally. Continue reading “AMPION Venture Bus is coming to Namibia!”
The StartupBus programme was founded in 2010 in the US by Elias Bizannes on the premise that “Entrepreneurship cannot be taught but we believe it can be learned”. The idea is to put around 40 multi disciplinary entrepreneurs on a bus in a given locale and have them build a company in three to five days after which they pitch their business models/ ideas to a panel of judges and one company gets chosen for funding/acceleration. The big payoff is the networks created by participants who go on to utilize their skills and new found connections back at their respective places of residence and/or business.
Alumni of the StartupBus competition have spawned some notable startups amongst them Instacart which just recently secured 8.5 million USD in funding from famed Silicon Valley tech VC, Sequoia Capital, Branch which was recently purchased by Facebook for 15 million USD and Sterio.Me which has already partnered with schools across Africa to roll out its pilot programme to help students access educational content over mobile.
Fast forward to 2014 and StartupBus competition is now present on three continents with over 200 participants, but we would like to home in on the StartupBus Africa programme. The first StartupBus Africa competition kicked off in 2013 with a southern African leg touching down in Harare in Zimbabwe and Joburg, Bloemfontein, Cape Town in South Africa. This year the competition is aggressively expanding, enlisting a whopping 160 entrepreneurs and will include the following countries on the bus routes:
- West Africa:
- Ivory Coast
- East Africa:
- North Africa:
- Southern Africa:
- South Africa
Last years StartupBus Africa competition spawned Workforce a mobile construction labor hiring platform, funeral.ly a funeral management app and Sterio.Me a free educational platform to help teachers engage more with their students through an SMS activated audible quiz. With this years expanded bus routes and many more entrepreneurs there should be many new exciting startups coming from African soil.
On top of their outstanding entrepreneurial skills, the participants bring sound knowledge in IT, web design, new media and business development. They will form interdisciplinary teams and work on different projects during the journey, with focus in 3 key areas: energy, healthcare and education.
At least half of the buspreneurs come from Africa and because we believe in the entrepreneurial energy of young women, we strive to have 50% of female buspreneurs on each bus.
To make sure that the bus reaches Namibian roads we need YOUR help. There are several sponsorship options for your organisation or company to become partners in StartupBus Namibia. Please click here get into contact with us or send an email to [email protected]
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Namibia has found itself in a strange situation. Our country’s top domain is owned by a private Namibian entity. This is a problem. Although it is not uncommon for private entities to be in administrative control of issuing a certain countries domain name, these entities usually operate within mandates set by a national communication regulatory body or by government itself. But not in Namibia boeta, you just have Ondis. Chessssss!
This private entity comprised of three main individual shareholders called Ondis, in the early 90s saw that the Namibian government and private sector were sleeping on the the internet so they went and registered the .na domain with ICANN and now subsequently own the right to solely issue .na and .com.na domain names. The company has issued all Namibian domain names through its instruments including those of government for close to two decades now at an average rate of 100USD/year for .com.na domains and 500USD for .na top domain. With close to 3000 Namibian domain registrations to date, these guys must have made a pretty penny. All in all, 3000 domain name registrations to a population of 2.3 million people is not very exciting anyway. I daresay the fact that three guys are figuratively holding the whole country at ransom has something to do with that.
The cost of Namibian domain names is prohibitive, many Namibian’s end up purchasing .com and other domains which can be purchased from as little as 5 USD ( NAD 56) from services such as GoDaddy.com and Namecheap.com. Dr. Ebehard Lisse, one of the core shareholders of Ondis, has in the past defended prices saying the high cost was due to size of Namibia’s economy and that you would find similar price schemes with similar countries. A little research shows that this is simply not true.
Globally, domain registration prices for any country average around 10-20USD per year whereas Namibia’s are well over that range as the figure above shows. The Namibian ICT sector has had to make due with this problem but by no means has kept quiet on the issue. Since 2008 The Namibian ICT Alliance has in the past requested Ondis to have a more inclusive board so that stakeholder in the various ICT sectors could have better representation. Ondis has not yet ratified the request and has accused the ICT alliance of exerting political pressure instead of engaging with them. Frans Ndoroma MD of Telecom Namibia has also called for a multi-stakeholder body to be implemented to take control of the domain registration license.
I personally see this as a failure of both government, private sector and just what I can call nothing but greed and short sightedness by Ondis. Government and private sector should have exerted far more pressure to standardise the process and now that the internet permeates nearly every part of daily operation of most public and private entities, easy and cost effective domain registration is becoming a bottleneck to proper representation of those entities on the internet today. Conversely, Ondis should have initiated steps to transfer control of .na domain registrations to a publicly accountable organisation years ago. They have cited lack of expertise in domain management and Namibia’s small population as cause of the slow uptake of Namibian domain names but that is just ludicrous speaking as a private entity sitting outside of public scrutiny. How could they even hope to address those same concerns if they do not have a relationship with civil bodies in government? Their holding on to the ccTLD licence with such fervour, leads one to assume their motive is purely financial, whatever the case may be.
Lastly, where is ICANN in all this? In 2007 at the Rio Internet Governance Forum they apparently had promised Mnr. Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah then Min. of Info. & Broadcast that the ccTLD licence would be transferred over to government. You know what they say about promises. They need to be held to account, whether or not such a promise was made. That they continually allow this situation to pervade by ratifying Ondis ownership of the Namibian ccTLD goes against their own tenets of accessibility and accountability.
There does seem to be a growing amount of talk about the country on this very issue and hopefully the newly established CRAN and ICT ministry will spearhead a task-force to bring all concerned stakeholders together to sort this issue out. With the unveiling of the new domestic IXP, making sure that national internet domain assignments is a transparent and optimised process for the challenges we face ahead in the rapidly changing technological landscape is key
You must expect that from time to time this blog will concern itself with research matters around information systems and issues about their appropriation or adoption in indigenous communities. This is because part of our social development agenda is to create tools that aid indigenous communities. That being said I would like to, albeit at a very high level, deconstruct the implications of participatory computing systems like Wikipedia and the role they play in empowering Namibian communities or the communities of other countries like it. This article is a preamble to a more comprehensive report that I’m working on during the course of the year.
With the recent advancements in ICT4D, Namibia has seen many of its indigenous communities receive huge investments
in telecommunication infrastructure. There are many reports that document the progress of this endeavor and I suspect they form part of a greater discourse about the proverbial “bridging the digital divide”. My concern however is not whether rural schools are getting educational necessities like internet but rather the socio-technical issues that come with introducing “foreign technologies” into indigenous communities.
I recently got dragged into the maelstrom of Wikipedia and what it means for indigenous knowledge systems. I’m going to ignore any academic citation red tape right now and tell you that indigenous knowledge is popularly defined as “knowledge acquired by people who have had a long rapport with their environment”. The Himba of Namibia for instance would typically qualify as possessors of indigenous knowledge since their livelihood over the years has relied greatly on knowledge they acquired from living in Southern African environments for a long time.
Jimmy Wales, one of the founders of Wikipedia has described Wikipedia’s grand vision as “creating a world where every person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge”. I’d like to point out that “sum of all human knowledge” is really where it gets tricky. Currently the regulations that control the commission and omission of information into Wikipedia are laden with what we call a systemic bias. This systemic bias is preventing us from aggregating the sum of human knowledge because generally the curators running the show stem from western origins bringing with them western paradigms. This is being promulgated by a few counter intuitive rules they essentially say everyone is allowed to say their say as long as they do it in erudite English. One rule (notability) for instance requires that any information contributed to Wikipedia is anchored by reliable sources. The problem is reliable sources is defined from an occidental point of view.
To put things in perspective, this essentially means that if you as a Himba wanted to submit an article to Wikipedia documenting a unique customary tradition this article would have to be substantiated by enough notable sources for it to survive Wikipedia’s unforgiving curators. Now, finding reliable source might not be a problem when writing about a particular butterfly in North America since Zoologist or historians have documented the landscape to near exhaustive limits but this is not the case for Namibia. A lot of Namibia’s history or indigenous knowledge is undocumented and what little has been written about it has been written from the view-point of Western settler intelligentsia that introduce a serious narrative bias.
The entire thing is a Penrose step of never-ending issues, not only socio-technical but sometimes behavioural and cultural as well. With strong cultural underpinnings, we see local value systems clashing violently with those embedded in imported technologies. Perhaps I’m being too idealistic but when we leave this planet for the stars one day I’d like to leave with the wealth of its knowledge on a memory stick and I’m not just talking about knowledge on my favorite composer Frederic Chopin, but also how my ancestors made my favorite traditional drink Oshikundu. Currently, many research groups are experimenting with meta tools that make it easy for potential would-be editors to become frequent contributors. The declining retention rate of editors on English Wikipedia doesn’t help the faint glimmer of hope to encourage contribution to the sum of human knowledge. One would think that to overcome local challenges to the meagre repositories of Indigenous Knowledge we have to wait for a top-down solution but if M-PESA is anything to go by maybe we ought to find local solutions by co-opting a Western technology.
(Note the irony in all the wiki links in this post 😉 )
Recently we caught up with Herman Heunis founder of Africa’s biggest social network MXit which now has over 7 million active users. Having made his successful exit from active duties at MXit in 2011, we asked him some questions regarding what it takes to succeed as a tech entrepreneur in Africa today.
TG: You left Namibia for Stellenbosch in the late 70s, how was it being a programmer during that time?
HH: Some background, I was born in Namibia (Rehoboth), my parents had a sheep farm near Kalkrand (My grandparents and great-grandparents were all from Southern Namibia). I matriculated at Jan Mohr in 1976 and in 1977 I started a B.Comm degree at Stellenbosch University. In those years computers filled entire buildings. The 1st time I worked on a computer was in 1977 at Stellenbosch University – Computer Science 101. My career as a programmer started in 1980 whilst I was doing my compulsory 2 year National Service in the SA Navy.
TG: How did you come upon the original idea for MXit? Was it a flash in the pan moment or an iterative process?
HH: It was an iterative process. In a nutshell, the very original idea (root) of MXit was an Astral SMS-based game – I believe it was one of the very first Massive Multiplayer Mobile Game (MMMG) in the world. It did not work due to a number of reasons but the main one, lack to find a sponsor for SMSs. An integral part of the game was communication between players. After several metamorphoses we dropped the game idea and focused only on the communication part – that worked extremely well. Years later we introduced several gaming platforms on top of the communications platform.
TG: What were your biggest challenges as a tech startup in Africa?
HH: Many. Lack of human resources (software developers) was the biggest challenge. Funding, affordable and stable internet bandwidth, unstable platforms (and lack of expertise), the press, mobile operators, etc.
TG: What in your opinion are the main characteristics a tech startup founder should have?
HH: Perseverance, Passion (for tech), Visionary, Disruptive(Rebellious ?)
TG: There aren’t a lot of tech startups in Africa that have reached the kind of success MXit has, do you think there is a specific reason for this?
HH: Timing was perfect and I had a fantastic team. The word “failure” was never an option.
TG: Is there a particular technology that excites you which you would like to see more innovation by Africans in?
HH: Most technology excites me but currently Energy (solar, batteries, fuel cells, etc) is on the brink of major paradigm shift. I think personal wearable devices, monitoring and recording all sorts of data, will be huge. In Africa we might not have the leading (sometimes called bleeding) edge R&D capabilities, but we surely have the in ingenuity to utilize these inventions and take it to another level.
TG: Do you believe that there is an emerging identity of the African tech user or do you think there is a general global homogenisation due to the critical mass movement of technology adoption around the world?
HH: Strangely I think we have a combination of both right now but that will (should) eventually disappear as the tech space (internet access, devices, user savvy etc.) in Africa gets on par with the rest of the world. Then there are more practical issues such as legislation, e-commerce, language, etc. that tech startups need to consider.
TG: Location is always touted as a major component for tech startup founders to think about when deciding to set up, should African tech startup founders be more wary of where they set themselves up in your opinion?
HH: Tricky question – I think starting up is one thing, building/growing the business is another. Access to infrastructure, HR, users, funding, etc. are important – if your location does not have these, you might have a problem. Having said that, some tech startups will depend more on the ideal location than others. Building a large social network on mobile is different to patenting a new type of battery. Coming back to MXit, I think the fact that MXit started in Stellenbosch was a good choice – access to University graduates, access to funding, access to bandwidth, very large potential userbase (with featured phones) and we knew the mobile Operators landscape pretty well.
I think the mistake we made was to stay in Stellenbosch only, too long. My opinion is that we should have moved our head office in 2007 (2 years after we started) to San Francisco. Maybe we could have been the biggest social network in the world today (bigger than Facebook)? Why do I think it was a mistake? 100 times better access to funding, 1000 times better access to software developers and great NETWORKING opportunities with other similar companies.
TG: MXit is Africa’s largest social network with over 40 million users worldwide and as a firm employs more than 150 people now, when you made your exit in 2011 did you have misgivings about leaving?
HH: When I started MXit – there was no exit plan. I started MXit as I was passionate about technology. The ride from 2004 to 2011 was very tough and selling a company that you have started is traumatic. Fact of the matter was, I was extremely tired and burned out and staying on as CEO was not in the interest of the company. MXit needed new blood and new energy.
TG: Do you think more African tech founders should be building their startups with exit strategies in mind?
HH: I do not. Cannot do harm but the question is, are you doing it for the money or because of passion?
TG: You have said in previous interviews that you saw your strength in founding rather than managing large companies, does that make you a serial entrepreneur? Are there more ventures for you on the horizon?
There are no ventures on the horizon right now. Am I a serial entrepreneur? I don’t know if starting 2 or 3 businesses makes you one?
TG: What advice would you give young Namibian software developers/ tech entrepreneurs?
HH: Do as much research as you can possibly do. Ask yourself the question, how will my product/service be different. Will it be chat worthy – will people talk about it?
Surround yourself with likeminded, honest people. A startup is not for sissies – doing it solo is tough.
TG: Do you still visit Namibia? Do you have any hopes for the tech sector there?
HH: We visit Namibia many times a year. Recently (13 Dec 2013) I did the Desert Dash 24 hour 369km Mountain bike race from Windhoek to Swakopmund, solo. In October I cycled from Noordoewer to Swakopmund. We go to Kaokoland on a regular basis to do photography.
If you ask an optimist if there is any hope – the answer will always be YES!
One of the startup initiatives launched on the StartupBus Africa 2013 is this nifty audio over GSM teacher/student bridge called Sterio.me. The founders Chris Pruijsen, Danielle Reid and Dean Rotherham figured that the issue of teachers engaging their students and tracking their students outside of the classroom in rural Africa without the added benefits of feature gadgets like laptops and smartphones could be addressed through providing a simple audio platform which both teacher and students could access through GSM. Continue reading “StartupBus hackcelerates Sterio.Me, a new edu platform for Africa.”
StartupBus is an annual entrepreneurial road trip, during which the ‘buspreneurs’ conceive, build, and launch their startup. This November, for the first time, it will run in Southern Africa, bringing together 15 African and 15 International entrepreneurs for a truly unforgettable journey… Continue reading “Startup Bus Africa! Help us get ready for next year!”