5 do’s and don’ts for African tech startups

The first year of founding a startup is a gruelling ordeal in our experience, mostly because 90% of the time we did not know what the hell we were doing. While there are plenty of resources online that document the success methodologies of Silicon Valley startups to guide along budding founders in the developed world, material on startup advice for African tech entrepreneurs is not as ubiquitous. In retrospect, we can see how the lure of Silicon Valley success stories drives many tech entrepreneurs in Africa and across emerging markets to approach the startup founding process with a flowery naievity. We had to wake up and smell the coffee on more than one occasion.

dos-and-donts

This is Africa. Norms in governance, infrastructure, business and culture are NOT the same as western and other developed nations across the globe. Strides in development Africa has made must not be overlooked but we still face huge challenges such as raising internet penetration from around 20%,  empowering 50% who still live below the less than 1 USD/day poverty line and despite success in mobile payment platforms still 70%  of Africans remain unbanked further hindering economic participation. The opportunity to create profitable technologies for energy, transport, education, healthcare and banking are nowhere as lucrative in potential as Africa IMHO.

From our experience the (ongoing) quest of developing a ‘product’ not only involves groin-kick hard and confidence-shattering business lessons but also valuable lessons in cultural understanding and our responsibility as Africans. We had to learn that as fascinating a technology might be, if there is no local context to your solution or if you are not solving the big problems of instilling core competencies in the various baseline economic sectors of African economies then you should probably pivot (or cop out and move to the Valley). The dominant narrative of Silicon Valley’s slew of cloud and mobile success stories (Snapchat, Whatsapp etc…)  lull many an African entrepreneur into the false sense that creating an African equivalent of Facebook will make them rich tomorrow and cure all AIDS in the world. Any tool is only as good as its user and there are many tools created outside of Africa that can be repurposed to solve a problem in Africa but tech startup founders must be prepared to think critically about their solutions by really looking at local and cultural context.

Despite the challenges we face as an African tech startup, we are firm in our belief that harnessing technology to solve Africa’s big problems and create new ecosystems is the single most inspiring aspiration but it requires focus, critical thinking and rigorous planning/execution. We hope that by sharing some of our startup do’s and don’ts(in retrospect after we did the don’ts and missed the do’s) other founders may be able to avoid some of the early pitfalls of founding a tech startup in Africa. AFRICA IS NOT A COUNTRY, conditions differ greatly from country to country so please attempt to see the information through your own local context before applying this advice.

Do’s:

1. Write a business model canvas!

If you have not familiarized yourself with the business model canvas or BMC, it is high time you do so now. Once you have gotten the hang of it, act on it and then use feedback to iterate on it. Until success.

2. Document your process!

Keep track of your development process, even if you are following your own rules. There are many free tools that allow you to set up some sort of workflow from Trello, Asana, Slack, PivotalTracker the list goes on, a web search can go a long way. Documenting your process also has the added benefit of allowing you to hone your process as you go along identifying problem areas  in retrospect and making your workflow more efficient (which believe you me is something you REALLY want to do).

3. Keep the local tech ecosystem informed of what you are doing, stay active on the ground and on social media.

The tech ecosystem in many African countries is only starting to begin to take shape and many  of its pillars such as open data and digital bridges to civil sector are not in place. Community initiatives between startups and startup activity hubs can be used to foster the much needed open source sector of a local tech ecosystem. Engage the players in the tech ecosystem, even if you are competing. Chances are that somewhere in the near future, you will both need access to the same data sources.

4. Prototype fast, then go and talk to the potential user/customer base and your competitors/stakeholders.

Often we spend too much time hypothesising on the hypothesis, developing our blueprint ideas in isolation without getting feedback from users and stakeholder/competition. It might be that in some places engaging stakeholders/competition could be considered against the norm or counter intuitive but it is important to get as many perspectives from relevant product stakeholders concerned. This includes the people who are to use/buy it and the companies that could potentially compete against you.

5. Dream big but start small!

Identify the big problems, look at your local situation and identify where people are not being included, food agriculture, banking, energy, transport, health and education are usually a place good start. Then PICK ONE problem to solve and focus on it by working it from the ground up. Don’t do everything at once, baby steps!

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Don’ts:

1. Don’t assume trends in technology application from the west/developed world are applicable in your local market!

Keep abreast of the happenings in the global tech ecosystem but do not be mislead by nice looking informatics in a The Verge or TechCrunch article. There is a lot of information in western/global tech media that is just not applicable to your local situation. Be inspired by the stories of success but do due diligence when researching feasibility of your startup.

2. Do not prototype before figuring out who your customer/user is!

Identify your target market before you develop a product prototype. ‘Everyone’ is NOT a market. Use local statistics to identify at least one demographic that is reflected in reality. Your prototype might end up serving no one but your own ego if its use is not targeted at a user/customer base.

3. Do not get too enamoured with your idea.

Do not fall so-in-love with your idea that you are unable to let go of it when it needs to change. Your startup must be adaptable to changing conditions as they arise.

4.Do not operate as a non entity, register your business.

Especially in the case when looking for funds in African countries which at many times will come from government sources, they will not understand how you are trying to ‘go lean’ by cutting registration costs. This is of course relative to your locale and situation, still we recommend it for accounting and protection of IP purposes.

5.Do not do set unreasonable deliverables!

Don’t put yourself up to building ‘A Wall of China’ and then cry in deflated pride when you cannot meet the project deadline you set for yourself for end of the week. Be realistic with your milestones, make them doable. If there are 10 deliverables on the project checklist for the week, set yourself up to finishing one rather than four a day. After having built the habit for completion by having small successes, then increase your workload. This ensures you won’t be discouraged by the enormity of your dream and just how far you are from achieving it after hitting your first big obstacle. Small careful steps chained together make a long journey.

Moore’s Law no longer our performance oracle

Integrated Circuit, photo courtesy of http://wonderfulengineering.com

With the debut of technology theories like the technological singularity and the realization of “the internet of things” on the horizon, there has been clamorous panic among technocrats as they debate whether we can continue to accurately predict or control technological advancement. The optic we have used to predict computational power for the last fifty years or so has been Moore’s Law. Without getting into the highly intellectualized rigmarole of digital electronics, Moore’s law reads like this, “the number of transistors that can be placed inexpensively on an integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years” but is interpreted to read like this, ” the number of transistors that can be placed on an integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years increasing computational power or performance exponentially without diminishing returns”.

How did we get here? a simple thought experiment called the Sand Heap Paradox can be used to put things in perspective. We have a heap of sand and we continuously remove one grain from it. The change in the size of the heap is nominal, so much so that we fail to realize that it is reducing in size, although very slow and on a miniscule scale. Fast forward a few years and there is only a single grain of sand left and no heap. Think of the end of Moore’s law as the moment we realize that there isn’t an infinite amount of sand available and that all predictions have their limits. Sand of course is almost poetic in our case since silica is used to make silicon which is a key ingredient found in every microprocessor transistor.

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This is where we find ourselves. The number of transistors you can cram into a chip can’t increase forever because of the physical limitations of silicon based chips. Some research is suggesting that this was already the case at 28nm(nanometer) but microprocessor giant Intel reported a 14nm achievement in 2014. The biggest hurdle to keep shrinking transistors to tiny atomic sizes is heat and leakage. At 5nm the laws of physics turn the chip into a frying pan and quantum mechanics at that size scrambles the atom and disrupts information flow (ability for signals to travel through a logic gate on a silicon wafer in a coordinated fashion). So Moore’s law falls short at postulating leaps in computational power primarily because the axiom is untenable at a certain size and that limit is fast approaching. Cutting edge research is instead looking at quantum and molecular computing to foster in the new paradigm for processing power with post silicon transistors. In this TED talk Ray Kurzweil gives the silicon based transistors another 10 years before we reach the performance apex. I need to mention that Kurweil has an impeccable history of predicting trends in technology. Renowned futurist Michio Kaku also echoes Kurzweil’s sentiments. The more closely we examine Moore’s law or its inaccurate interpretation the more it appears that it is a rule of “dumb” or self-fulfilling prophesy that merely coincided with Intel’s success in the microprocessor industry, Moore’s law for any scientific purposes is already dead and is only used purely for marketing purposes. So really the question is not whether Moore’s law is still valid, but for how long it will be be the conceptual framework we use to fuel our postulations of computational processing, pundits say 10 years but add on some reverse engineering with 3D transistor arrangement and we have roughly fifty years more.


mooreslaw_660In conclusion the debate on Moore’s law can be polarized into two camps, those that think computational power on silicon based transistors will keep increasing forever under the Moore paradigm and those that think the days of increasing computational power using silicon based transistors are numbered. Now you’re probably wondering whether all of this matters to you as a consumer, the answer is it probably doesn’t but the next paradigm which we think of to conceptualize computational performance leaps will probably give rise to greater computational power. When we move from Moore’s law and believe me we will, this will punctuate a transformation of our technological civilization. Think positronic brains and human like interactions with virtual personas. The silver lining on the dark cloud of Moore’s law might be as Ray Kurzweil puts it, that

“the dwindling of any paradigm is that it creates research pressure to come up with another paradigm that improves on and supplants the previous paradigm”.

Moshe Y. Vardi who wrote an article (Is Moore’s Party Over?) also seems to agree, adding that the death of Moore’s law will plunge us into a time when we will have to become creative with algorithms and systems in order to leverage the stagnation. Exponential growth of computing power under Moore’s law will definitely slow, perhaps to continue under molecular computing or some other far out concept.That is it for now, time to retire Moore’s law to the same place we put Ptolemaic planetary theories.

You can read Intel co-founder Gordon Moore’s original paper here

How To Speak Startup in Africa

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Many a times have I sat with various people across myriad entities we engage with locally in Namibia and in broader Africa and have been met with incredulous stares followed by ‘Say What Now?’ at the language that we employ.

If you work in the tech startup space (or have recently binge watched HBO’s Silicon Valley), you will notice that people speak with terms and abbreviations which might lead you to wonder if programmers have applied Zip compression to the English language while speaking.

In Namibia, and I suspect most of the emerging economies around the globe, this lingo tends to leave even IT managers of large scale firms scratching their heads. That being said, there is a lot to say for tech startups in Africa creating their own set of flummoxing abbreviations but let’s leave that discussion for another day.

However, The Tech Guys is here to demystify startup lingo into a more common lingua franca. The tech startup nerds in Africa, after all, are worth trying to understand as they’ll probably be the integral puzzle piece for African prosperity in the 21st century and beyond.

So, without further ado, I give you How To Speak Startup(Try not to be too serious about it….seriously though.):

Tech Startup – An unfunded group of people with an idea that potentially solves a problem using technology. They probably don’t sell or fix your PC’s or do email server installations. Not to be confused with your workplace IT helpdesk.

Code – what software engineers/programmers do.

Disrupt – To make a previous way of doing things look bad by using technology to do it a new and vastly better way.

MVP(Minimum Viable Product) – A prototype of your startup idea, that usually is little more than a Powerpoint presentation.

Acqui-hire – A strategy for acquiring talent pioneered by Google in the mid-2000s that happens when a bigger company thinks your team is good but your idea is hilariously bad. Also called a “signing bonus.”

Failure – A bad thing that has recently put on a pedestal as something to be celebrated.

Cashflow Positive – Someone gave us a dollar.

Pivot – What happens when a company realizes its course of action is not living up to expectations. (See also, Failure.)

SaaS (Software as A Service) — It loses money.

Pre-Money Valuation – A number you made up.

Post-Money Valuation – A number that you made up alongside your VC with the addition of some cash. Your burn rate is probably too high.

“I work in PR.” – I am, in fact, in possession of several journalists’ email addresses.

Exit – Exits come in two different flavors for entrepreneurs: good and bad. Good exits happen when you’re “killing it,” your company hasn’t killed you yet, and another company comes along to buy yours. (See possibly, acqui-hire.) Bad exits are another way of saying you failed to disrupt much of anything besides your VC’s portfolio performance.

“I’m a serial entrepreneur.” – Person who had two ideas, both of which failed.

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The Space – Because calling the field in which they’re operating an industry, vertical or even genre is too hard, entrepreneurs like referring to their company as being a player in a given space. They especially like doing this when they know they’re in a crowded market. We don’t know why they do this either.

VC – 1) Venture capitalists raise money from wealthy individuals and institutions and dump lots of said money into young companies in exchange for a cut of the company. 2) An institutional dealer of pharmaceutical-grade Opium. (See also, Opium.)

Opium – OPM, or “other people’s money,” is an incredibly addictive substance to entrepreneurs that’s rarely respected or missed until it dries up.

“We’re doing great.” – We are not doing great.

SF / The Valley – 1. The place you refer to when convincing government officials that investing in tech initiatives is a good thing. 2. A place that VC’s and tech luminaries talk up as the greatest place on Earth that you must move to if you’re from anywhere that isn’t San Fransisco or The Valley.

“We’re growing 500 percent week-over-week” — Last week we had one user, today we have six.

“We’re not currently raising capital.” — We’re currently raising capital.

UI/UX – A portmanteau of UI (“User Interface”) and UX (“User Experience”) often used by design-challenged entrepreneurs when referring to the aesthetics and usability of their product when actual understanding of good design principles is fundamentally lacking. Used in a sentence: “Our Push for the ‘Find My Goat A Date’ app is crushing it because of our design wizard who is slinging some hella dope UI/UX.”

“We’re a design-centric organization.” – We don’t know how to code.

Non-GAAP Profitable — What companies that are very unprofitable like to claim. The idea that non-cash costs don’t count is usually the sort of sickness you see here.

“I’m the business guy.” – (See: Growth Hacker.)

Gravity — What The Tech Guys is trying to escape using maximum thrust. (Yes, we are going to build rockets.)

Growth Hacking – Sales, marketing and associated activities, but with a label that incorporates the word “hacking,” because nontechnical people want to call themselves “hackers” too.

“We’re seeing great gross margins, and so are investing in growth given our strong, SaaS unit-economics.” — We lose money.

“We’re stomping on the gas pedal, given our strong SaaS unit-economics, and are actively seeking additional capital to power our sector-leading growth.” — We have lost all our money and need some of yours, please.

“We’re Killing It!” – Your dreams and investors’ dollars are probably being killed.

We hope this helps you navigate your encounters with tech nerds or wannabes.

This is a modified version of TechCrunch’s Alex Willhelm and Jason Rowley’s 2014 article with some adjustments to locally contextualize things ;-)!

AMPION Venture Bus in Namibia

The AMPION Venture Bus competition touched down in Windhoek on the 10th of November with the participants accommodated at the Safari Hotels (who were generous enough to sponsor us a conference hall and free wi-fi on short notice). The actual event hosted by us which included a hackathon and startup pitch sessions took place the next day(11th November) at the NBII Mobile Lab located at the Polytechnic of Namibia Innovation Village.

Ampioneers arriving at the Polytechnic of Namibia's Innovation Village
Ampioneers arriving at the Polytechnic of Namibia’s Innovation Village

36 participants came together to travel from Harare to Cape Town and build 9 startup teams of which E-Maji, a device to monitor biological water contamination at source, was chosen as winner at the final pitch held at AfricaCom 2014 in Cape Town. This year saw an awesome batch of participants with various backgrounds from MIT graduates, former Vodacom managers, investment bankers and of course developers from Africa and around the globe.

A total of six Namibian participants qualified to board the bus. Two of those, Anastacia Shipepe of team MEM(a platform to facilitate growth for SME’s in Africa)  and Harry Moon of team DaMark.com (a platform to bridge the gap between formal and informal business sector in Africa) represented Namibia in 2014.

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Ampioneers at the AMPION Venture Bus event in Windhoek.

With help from SAIS, Microsoft,  NBII, Red Bull, Intouch Interactive Media and information.na we managed to host a great event where participants got to hone their startup ideas during the day’s hackathon and a gruelling afternoon pitch session presided over by a local and international panel of judges.

We had the chance to meet some awesome people and facilitate the first Namibian participants and make some noise about startups to get interest in Namibia going. To follow up on the bus coming to Windhoek, we will be facilitating meetings between Namibian and SADC tech hubs to find points of synergy in the upcoming months. We will also be working with local players in innovation to expand the Venture Bus idea in a local context.

Prof. Jurgen Sieck of the Berlin University of Applied Science giving a talk on innovation in the mobile space at the AMPION event in Windhoek.
Prof. Jurgen Sieck of the Berlin University of Applied Science giving a talk on innovation in the mobile space at the AMPION event in Windhoek. Juha Miettinen, CTA of SAIS to his left.

We are also happy to announce that SAIS, Leap Namibia, information.na and Microsoft are already onboard for next year’s bus. We’ll keep you updated on how the movement grows going forward and thank you for your support!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

APPLY NOW FOR THE AMPION VENTURE BUS 2014!

 

What is Venture Bus?

 

40 entrepreneurs on 1 bus for 5 days through 4 African countries! Designers, business experts and developers meet on the Venture Bus and team up (usually into 8 groups) to create innovative startups providing solutions to local challenges in Africa, specifically Namibia in our case. Yes, the Venture Bus is coming to Windhoek! Whoop!

Continue reading “APPLY NOW FOR THE AMPION VENTURE BUS 2014!”

How To Format Your Website for Mobile

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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-logo

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.

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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
advertisements.

 

mippin

 

 

 

 

 

 

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
progressing.

 

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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.

 

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Winksite – is a web app that helps you build a mobile community for
your website.

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).

AMPION Venture Bus is coming to Namibia!

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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!”

StartupBus Africa 2014 getting ready to kick off!

 

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.

Startup Companies
Companies started by StartupBus alumni.

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:
  1. Lagos
  2. Benin
  3. Togo
  4. Ghana
  5. Ivory Coast
  • East Africa:
  1. Kenya,
  2. Uganda
  3. Rwanda
  4. Tanzania.
  •  North Africa:
  1. Morocco
  2. Tunisia
  3. Algeria
  • Southern Africa:
  1. Zimbabwe
  2. South Africa
  3. Botswana
  4. Namibia
Startupbus Africa
The Buspreneurs on last year’s trip.

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.

StartupBus Africa
The StartupBus process.

 

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.

Namibia!

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]

 

A chat with founder of MXit, Herman Heunis.

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.

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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.

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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!

StartupBus hackcelerates Sterio.Me, a new edu platform for Africa.

Sterio.Me

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.”