Category Archives: Strategy

Growing AfriLabs: 14 Labs, a Director, Research and Support

AfriLabs is a network of the tech hubs and labs across Africa. The labs serve as an accessible platform for bringing together technologists, investors, tech companies and hackers in their city. Each lab shares a focus on entrepreneurs, Web and mobile-phone programmers and designers.

Bill has put together an excellent blog post on how we’re growing the AfriLabs network. We’ve moved from the original 5 to 14 labs and hubs across the continent.

iHub – Kenya
Hive Colab – Uganda
ActivSpaces – Cameroon
BantaLabs – Senegal
NaiLab – Kenya
MEST – Ghana
iceAddis – Ethiopia
Co-Creation Hub – Nigeria
iLab – Liberia
RLabs – South Africa
BongoHive – Zambia
Malagasy i-Hub – Madagascar
m:Lab East Africa – Kenya
Wennovation Hub – Nigeria

Applications are open, and we hope to induct more African tech hubs into the AfriLabs Association in the coming months. I hope to see Kinu (Tanzania), OutBox (Uganda) and Jumpstart (Zimbabwe) apply.

An AfriLabs Director

We’re looking for AfriLabs first director, someone who understands the tech hub models and is able to help build the network, connections to it from media and investors and be a general connector for everyone. It’s a challenging position that requires someone who is good at community building, and can speak well with international corporates, foundations and media.

The AfriLabs Director can come from any country in Africa, and the HQ for AfriLabs is wherever the AfriLabs Director resides.

Funding for this position has been provided by our partners at Hivos. We’re seeking further funding and partners as the AfriLabs network grows, so if your company or foundation is interested in working with (or promoting) technology spaces across Africa, do get in touch.

Research on Africa’s Tech Hubs

Since we started the AfriLabs network, tech communities in many countries in Africa have started their own spaces. These range in model and makeup, from incubation and training spaces like MEST Ghana to co-working environments such as ActivSpaces in Cameroon, and community spaces like the Co-Creation Hub in Nigeria. Governments have gotten involved with places like the Botswana Innovation Hub here in Gaberone, and some academic institutions are jumping in as well like we see with the Strathmore iLab in Nairobi.

The iHub Research team has started doing case studies on the labs, and have started a research paper on the Impact of ICT Hubs (PDF) (this first one on the iHub). They’ll need further funding in order to take this to some of the other tech hubs across Africa.

This is estimated to be a 3-year-long study on 15 selected ICT Hubs across Africa. The main objectives of the study are to:

Short-term objectives:

  • Investigate what factors make up the ICT Hubs model;
  • Understand the entrepreneurs/start-ups and the value of the ICT Hubs to their business ideas through a representative sample size representing the different membership tiers;
  • Assess the impact of the Hub to an individual member based on the different memberships categories;
  • Survey the factors that make the members to continue to use the space.

Long-term objective:

  • Compare the different Hubs/Labs and the unique factors in each that make it to work;
  • Study the Impact of the ICT Hubs on the economy’s development that is adoption of new technologies and innovations of employment leading to improvement in the living standards.

Supporting Organizations

Initial funding to get AfriLabs off the ground was through Hivos, who also supported the iHub back in 2009 before anyone believed that a tech hub in Africa could really work. They continue to support the ecosystem through funding the AfriLabs Director position (mentioned above).

One of the organizations that has really stepped forward to help give seed funding to the new tech hubs is Indigo Trust. They recently convened a meeting in London where they flew in a number of the managers from these facilities to meet and talk about what would be needed. This was the same type of discussion that was had in Nairobi with another group of tech hub leaders at the Open Innovation Africa Summit.

Google, Omidyar Network and infoDev have also been strong supporters (monetarily as well as other resources), with multiple hubs and labs. We seem to have reached the point where there is enough critical mass in the number of tech spaces, and enough support for them from corporates and foundations.

AfriLabs serves as a great vector for all of this to come together, applying resources to help liase and coordinate the communications and events between the tech hubs, and at the same time providing that larger target for media, investors, corporate and funding partners to find the initiatives in each country.

Launching the Savannah Fund in East Africa

I’m happy to finally be able to publicly announce the Savannah Fund, an accelerator fund focused on finding and investing in East Africa’s highest potential pre-revenue startups. It’s a partnership between Mbwana Alliy, Paul Bragiel and myself – along with a great list of limited partners (LPs) who are investing in the fund.

The idea is to bring the Silicon Valley-style accelerator model to Africa, seeing what needs to be tweaked to make it work for our region. It’s a small fund at $10m, with most of the activity focused on classes of 5 startups at a time being brought on board and invested in. They’ll get $25,000 for 15% equity, and have 3-6 months to prove themselves. Those who fail either pivot or leave, those who gain traction have a chance at follow-on funding. A portion of the fund will be invested at the $100-200k range where we’ll look at follow-on funding for the startups in our program, and also at other high-growth tech companies in the region.

We’ll be looking throughout the region for these investments, from Rwanda and Tanzania to Uganda, South Sudan and Kenya. You can put in an application now, though the first cohort will not be accepted into the program until the end of the Summer (Aug/Sept timeframe).

At this stage we’ve raised half of the fund, which allows us to get moving. 35% of the fund has been raised from local investors, such as Karanja Macharia from Mobile Planet. We also have big US names on board, such as Yelp co-founder Russ Simmons, Tim Draper, Dave McClure, and Roger Dickey and Dali Kilani of Zynga.

Why I’m involved

The reason I’m involved with Savannah Fund is very simple, I’m focused on getting the foundation of our technology future in place. In East Africa, we don’t have enough mid-cap investment opportunities in tech, and the only way to change that is increase the size of the base of that success pyramid.

Some history. Over a year ago I met with Ben Matranga from the Soros Economic Development Fund who noted that there were a number of interesting small startups, but they were too small for them to invest in. If there was a smaller fund, someone focused on this space, they’d be interested in using them as a vector to stir up the bottom and help uncover more successful companies over the next 3-5 years. At Pivot 25 last year I met up with Mbwana and we started to discuss the fact that most startups here aren’t ready for VC fund and how we might be the right people to create the needed vehicle.

Fast forward to September 2011 and Paul, Mbwana and I decided to go ahead and do it. Hours and months of due diligence, pitching and phone calls later we finally are getting it off the ground.

  • My role is to help find the new companies and to connect them to the businesses in the area.
  • Mbwana’s role is to manage the fund and the startups in it.
  • Paul’s role is to connect the Savannah Fund startups to Silicon Valley businesses and investors.

As Mbwana says, “We’re a fund for entrepreneurs by entrepreneurs”. We’re here for the small guy and our goal is to find those risky tech startups with hungry, passionate founders that will do the hard work it takes to become a successful company.

Find us on Twitter at @SavannahFund

The iHub UX Lab and Supercomputer Cluster

When I look at the tech scene in Africa, there is a single question that consistently runs through my mind.

What foundational parts of the technology ecosystem do we own, and what are we reliant on others for?

What I’m talking about here are the items deeper down the stack, the core components that allow a country to own its own technological future. Here are some examples:

  • Do we build our own software, or are we importing it?
  • Can we prototype and build our own hardware, even if not at the scale of China?
  • Are we investing in our own startups, or is that being done by foreigners?
  • Do we have our own researchers, or are we okay with people parachuting in from abroad to do that for us?

It’s quite difficult for me to do much about any of this beyond Kenya, so I focus on what I can do here and hope that it works and the model can transfer elsewhere. The iHub, m:lab, iHub Research and Savannah Fund are examples of this, where our efforts are focused on local software, startups and funding.

The newest additions are the iHub’s UX Lab and a new high performance computer cluster, both filling a void not just in Kenya but in the continent as a whole. Both of which will come online this Summer. Beyond that, we’re looking at hardware, thinking about what it would look like to have our own hackerspace and TechShop, in a model suited for Kenya.

The iHub UX Lab and Supercomputer Cluster

We are fortunate to have excellent corporate partners at the iHub, one of which is Google, who provided some funding to get two initiatives off the ground.

Creating a UX Culture in Kenya
In the software space design is one of our weakest points. This isn’t just web or mobile design, this is product design and it’s rooted in a lack of understanding or desire to provide a better user experience. Core to providing better products is doing research on what users are looking for and how they are using technology in the first place.

Shikoh Gitau has worked closely with the iHub Research team for the past year, in fact the core ideas that presented the challenge for that space to come into existence was from a paper she wrote, where she showed how little of the technology research done in Africa was by African researchers. Shikoh works with the user experience teams at Google, and started talking to us about the UX Labs that they run around the world.

I had also had the chance to do a workshop with Andy Budd at Tech4Africa, and then chat again in the UK later on. First hand, I got to know Gabriel White through some work he did for Ushahidi. Both of them helped me get to a better understanding of the value of UX research in the product design process.

All of this led to us deciding that the iHub should create a UX Lab, a resource that would serve the region. A place where companies and startups learn about and begin thinking about user experience as they develop new products. We’ll do this through masterclass training on skills, partnering with the top UX experts in the world, and by providing the resources for this to happen.

Mark Kamau has joined the team to lead this initiative.

The iHub Cluster

At the end of 2011 I was approached by one of the iHub Green Members, Idd Salim, about an idea of building our own supercomputer. Why?

Outside of South Africa, there is little to no capacity for cloud computing on the continent. This means that few of the programmers in this region have the skill sets necessary to work and build out this infrastructure. We have a severely limited foundation on which to build future services in an increasingly cloud-based computing world.

Some of the use cases where we see the need for this:

  • Research and training opportunities for super computer enthusiasts and university students
  • Training people capable of being SREs (Service Reliability Engineers)
  • Power-Computing service for local content
  • A host for parallel and resource-hungry applications such as weather prediction, draught prediction and real-time information dispatch.

The initial funding for a small HPC deployment has been funded by Google Africa Inc. Intel have further added to the project a Intel MultiFlex® Server for use as the “master” component of the HPC cluster.

Bob Aman works at Google here in Kenya, and has become a staple at the iHub where he runs his office hours twice per week. He, along with Idd Salim and Jimmy Gitonga are building the first 4 nodes of what we hope to be a 24 node cluster. The most I had done before this was build my own gaming rig, so I’ll be honest in saying that I’m the noob in this group, where most of the conversations are beyond me.

As with the UX Lab, the iHub Cluster will be for people to learn what goes on under the hood of HPC’s by building it, and to learn how to use the power in it to solve big data problems. It will also be made available to the animation and ad agencies in town for rendering services.

In Summary

The UX Lab and iHub Cluster will come online this summer. Both projects have the leadership in place to run them and the resources to build them out. They’ll both be located in the same building with the iHub, and both are being built with the greater Kenyan tech community in mind. Like all of the iHub initiatives, they only work when people from the community are a part of them.

If you would like to get involved in either, reach out to the respective leads: Mark Kamau for the UX Lab, and Jimmy Gitonga or Idd Salim for the Cluster.

Will The Real Payment Disruptor Please Stand Up

Farhad Manjoo makes a compelling argument for why the real winners of the payments revolution are the same players we already know, the credit card companies and the banks, in his, “Don’t mess with credit: Why the future of payments is already in your pocket.

“Nearly every start-up working in payments is simply creating a new front end for your credit card. That’s not a small thing; we need new ways to use our credit cards. But we shouldn’t forget the true winners in this new marketplace—whatever innovations we see in payments over the next few years, there’s a very good chance that most of the rewards will flow to Visa and MasterCard.”

This is true… if you live in the US or Europe.

It’s also why Mpesa is so important, as it represents a new form as well as a new source.

Mpesa destroys the paradigm of payments as we knew it

It’s a good thing that Mpesa happened in Africa. It offered a new way of thinking about money and payments, without the legacy baggage of banks and regulations meant for another century. The powerful banking interest were held at bay, not by great power, but by indifference – this is Africa afterall, who cares about this market?

With Mpesa, and without a bank account:

  • People can send and receive money.
  • People can store up to $1000 in the system, creating a pseudo-savings account.
  • There are no credit card companies involved.
  • There are no banks involved.

Mpesa is big now too, big enough to garner a lot of attention from the the credit card companies and banks. M-PESA has over 14 million users in Kenya, 9 million in Tanzania, and hundreds of thousands in Afghanistan and South Africa now too. It now processes more transactions domestically in Kenya than Western Union does globally, somewhere in the range of 25% of Kenya’s GDP is transacted on it.

The banks actively lobby against mobile-based payment and money systems now, globally, as it constitutes a massive competitive threat that they are unable to compete with due to a multitude of reasons, one of which is simple transaction costs. The credit card companies are watching closely too, and moving. Mastercard and Visa both are working on mobile offerings, seeking to link with mobile operators in order to bypass a would be competitor.

Mpesa isn’t perfect – we need a payment system that works across mobile operators and can be synced (easily) with any bank, if needed. While it could improve, it’s still worth pointing out the really big missed opportunity here is by Vodafone. Like I’ve said before, if Mpesa was rolled out at as an independent company led by Michael Joseph, it could battle the credit card companies of the world and unseat them in many markets.

What’s interesting to me is that in the arguments in the US and Europe on “the future of payments” the real innovation, with real numbers, isn’t being mentioned.

Update. some new blog posts on this topic:
Could we live without cash?
Payments, the more things change…

The iHub in 2012: Freelancers and Presentations

iHub Advisory Board Retreat

This weekend the iHub Advisory Board met with the managers (Tosh and Jessica) to discuss the future direction of the space and what our focus should be for the coming year. The meeting was facilitated by my friend Peter Durand of Alphachimp Studios, who is in town as a part of the PopTech Lab.

The iHub Advisory Boards is made up of 5 people who come from the Nairobi tech community, and represent the community when important, or difficult, decisions have to be made. They are:

  • Riyaz Bachani, Wananchi executive, now in charge of Wazi WiFi
  • Josiah Mugambi, Co-Founder of Skunkworks, works at Nokia Siemens
  • Rebeccah Wanjiku, Tech reporter and founder of Fireside Communications
  • Conrad Akunga, Blogger, co-founder of Mzalendo and highly respected software architect
  • Erik Hersman, Tech blogger and co-Founder of Ushahidi

Looking at 2012

Our overall focus has always been that we should look to serve the tech community first, and that everything else would come from that foundation. As we stepped back to look at what’s happened in the last (almost) 2 years, we tried to identify what worked and where there gaps were.

We first worked through the a “business model canvas”, putting our minds together to find out if we all saw the iHub in the same way, and if what we were doing was what we should be doing. As you can see in the diagram above, we tried to list out all of our partners and community members, then map how we add and receive value from each of them.

A key point of discussion was how do we add value to not just the 250 green members who can come in and use the space, but also the serve the needs of the other 6,000 white members in the “virtual” community. We’ll have more thoughts and announcements on this over weeks and months ahead.

Going Deeper by Improving Freelancer Skills

We delved deeper into this, separating the types of individuals between the startup types vs the freelance types. One of the biggest gaps we’ve found is that there are many freelancers, some of whom are working on a startup on the side, but need the funds from their freelance activities to pay the rent.

Our questions became:

  • How does the makeup of the iHub green membership reflect different levels of what’s needed for projects to be done? In other words, are we diverse enough?
  • How can we help get freelancers more projects?
  • How can we help them become better at delivering on their projects?

In order to do freelance work, you often times have to team up with others who offer the skills that you lack. We’ve noticed that we’re primarily developers at the iHub, with some designers sprinkled in, but don’t have enough project managers or quality assurance types. So, our first order of business is to make sure we’re letting the people with these other skill sets know that they’re welcome to be a part of the iHub community too.

A gap that our sector has in Kenya is that companies who want to get a software project done don’t necessarily want to go with just any freelancer. We’ve discussed for some time the way the iHub brand can be used as a vector to find freelancers, but we’ve shied away from doing anything more than connecting people through the job board or through referrals.

The iHub is now looking into doing the following (and for this, we need some community feedback and help).

  • Standardize a process for clients to interact with iHub freelancers, using the iHub brand as a vector for business needs to be solved by the technology community.
  • Creating a way for developers, designers, project managers and QA people to collaborate and form teams to work on client projects. To be on the “shortlist” of freelancers, each would have to pass a test to make sure they are at the appropriate level.
  • Bring in a very specific and targeted type of mentoring and business skill training to focus on the individuals in this program, so that we can get a better culture of on-time delivery, communications and quality of work.
  • Put in place a system, upon project completion, for clients to rate the team, or individuals, who do the work. This would be tied to iHub member’s profiles, and anyone who under-delivers would be dropped from the pool of freelancers.

If you think you have the skills necessary to be on the initial shortlist for paid project work, and are a member of the iHub, let me or Tosh know as we think through this process. We’re looking for 5-10 people to explore this new area with us. Specifically, we’re also looking for a leader with great project management experience.

What YOU Do

As we stated at the beginning, the iHub is about doers not talkers.

Our final takeaway was on communication by the green members on what they’re doing. To this end, we’ll be putting together a schedule for each of the 250 green members to do a 5-minute presentation, followed by a 5-min Q&A. There will always be a quorum of the iHub Advisory Board present, as they’re the ones who make the final decision on who gets and retains membership. It will also be in front of the other community members who would like to attend so that there is a better understanding in the community of what each of us do.

We’ll subscribe a very tight template, likely 15 slides that automatically progress, much like Pecha Kucha (or Ignite talks). You won’t be required to give up competitive details, this is more for you to give us an overview of what you’re working on, how the iHub is helping with that, and where the gaps are that you need assistance.

Look for more details on this in the near future, and be ready to sign-up for one of the slots. If you don’t do a presentation, you will lose your green membership.

Final Thoughts

The iHub has been operational for 1.5 years and we’re about to celebrate our 2 year anniversary in March. This cushion of almost 2 years has allowed us to do a lot of experimentation, and we’re still in the process of gathering feedback from the community to get a better understanding of how the iHub is doing and what we can do better.

As that information comes in, we’ll do what we always do, and that is double down on what works and throw out what doesn’t. It would help us greatly if you take part in this feedback process, run by Hilda Moraa out of the iHub Research arm.

Finally, a HUGE thank you to everyone who makes the iHub possible!

Kikuyu Grass and the Macro / Micro Problem

Kikuyu GrassKikuyu Grass comes from East Africa, and is heavily used in sporting fields and schools around the world due to it’s hardy nature and ability to repair from damage quickly. It’s also tough, aggressive and spreads like a weed due to how it sends out long shoots. If you know this grass, you aren’t surprised to see one “runner” of Kikuyu Grass dropping in and out of the ground over a 20-30 meter area.

I like the analogy of Kikuyu Grass to discuss an issue that I see as a major issue in certain industries in regards to how technology solutions get critical mass and go mainstream, or don’t.

The Macro and Micro Problem

I call this a “macro and micro problem”, where you have to solve a big overarching issue of scale at the same time as solving needs for individuals at a very hyper-local level. This is a particularly difficult problem for bootstrapped startups to manage, because they don’t have the money or access to infrastructure to scale wide, even though they might have an excellent micro-level solution that individuals want to use.

There are two industries in Africa that I see this problem at it’s greatest, though I’m sure there are more; agriculture and healthcare. In both agriculture and healthcare you need to serve the finite needs of a farmer or someone who is sick or injured, yet it’s difficult to provide that any one solution to millions of people. Academically, you can do it, it’s easy to come up with a solution sitting in a room somewhere with a whiteboard. It’s also feasible to roll out a pilot project and make it work well in one area.

What’s difficult is replicating that same working idea at scale. This only gets more difficult as you take in the hyper-local technology demands and cultural context across a country. In fact, there are few organizations who have figured out how to roll out new technology at a national level, the best being large corporations such as bottling and soap companies, and of course the mobile network operators.

Let’s look again at healthcare. There are some great solutions coming out of the tech community for problems surrounding patient information, clinic and doctor information, medicine supply chain management, drug reminders and more. Some are at pilot stages, but none have critical mass at a national level. They simply can’t build the infrastructure fast enough, can’t market widely enough and aren’t trusted by everyone, everywhere yet. Can they do any of these? Yes, but it takes funding and great execution.

Examples from the payments space

The payments industry is on that has been able to solve this from both a macro-to-micro level, and also from the micro-to-macro level.

Macro-to-micro
The too often talked about mobile money solution in Kenya, Mpesa, is actually a really good example here. The product innovation came from outside the company, but the execution on it came from inside, as did the strategy to focus on getting thousands of Mpesa agents going all over the country. This focus on hyper-local agents solved the micro problem, and the national infrastructure and brand of Safaricom allowed it to proliferate and gain trust.

Micro-to-macro
PayPal began as a solution for small businesses or individuals (and grew largely through use on eBay) to accept payment via credit card, which was expensive or hard to do back in the early 2000′s. They were small, serving individual needs, but were able to grow their brand and scale their infrastructure to what they are today due to large VC investments.

Outstanding Questions

The question is, are there ways to solve this problem in healthcare and agriculture?

In agriculture, how will the Esoko‘s and M-farms of the world do it? Can they do this on their own, will it have to be take in by a larger company to hit critical mass?

In healthcare, will MedAfrica be able to get enough data and downloads for mainstream use? Will mPedigree and Sproxil be able to scale their counterfeit drug solutions?

I think these types of startups can, though some will have to broker partnerships with larger organizations, like the government or the mobile operators to do so. Each of them will also have to work very hard in order to meet the demands of putting a new technology solution in play at a large scale.

Like Kikuyu Grass, which has many touch points to the ground as it’s runners spread across and takeover a whole field, startups trying to solve problems in a big industry vertical need to have many local touch points as well.

What’s on Tap for 2012

2011 was a good year – a great one even. Here’s why:

  • iHub reaches one year, clocks over 6,000 members and more than 100 events. Companies were founded, business got funded and many companies found CTOs and employees through the network. (What makes the iHub work?)
  • The m:lab (East Africa’s mobile lab) was founded, with a testing center, 7 companies incubating and 2 classes of mobile app development trained.
  • AfriLabs was founded and now has grown to see over 15 labs in Senegal, Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Zambia, Cameroon, Ghana and South Africa.
  • The first Pivot pitching competition and conference was a massive hit. Look for regional versions in South and West Africa in the coming years.
  • Ushahidi has over 20,000 deployments in 132 countries, the community grows.
  • Kenya leads an open data revolution in Africa, and we also held the IGF which brought many big names into town.
  • African tech startups start to get some real attention globally.
  • Massive growth in bandwidth mixed with lower costs on smartphones, internet itself and mobile services as well as increases in internet and mobile users across the continent.

PivotNairobi 65

2012 looks to be even better

The past few years have been about building an infrastructure that improves the chances of the technology startups in Africa to succeed. Seeing this buildout in action in 2011 was exciting, but it should be recognized for what it really was: a setup for 2012 and beyond.

You see, all those labs and hubs around the continent, the startups and the media coverage? They’re all about getting attention and increasing the awareness of the pent up startup potential in Africa’s technology space. Media and funders both have a bigger target to hit when looking for entrepreneurs. We were setting the stage to broaden the base of our startup pyramid: finding the local innovators and entrepreneurs and getting more of them funded.

Where we stand now is an order of magnitude beyond what we had just a few short years ago. In 2006 if you stated that you want to be a web or mobile entrepreneur you weren’t taken seriously. Five years later and it’s a legitimate position to take. We now have some successes to point out (think mPedigree, Mxit, PesaPal, Sproxil and Ushahidi etc), which make it a lot easier for the new breed of startups to get started.

This is what we’re aiming for: a playing field that allows more entrepreneurs to startup, get some seed funding and fail fast if necessary. The ones who make it, the ones who get beyond the startup phase and become real companies with cashflow and employees, are why this is being done. This will make some people a lot of money, and it will make millions of others lives a lot better because they have better and more relevant products locally.

2012 is set. It’s the year where we grow the seed funding and early stage venture capital investments so that five years from now we have the ecosystem needed to support a much larger investment and startup community.

My prediction is this: In 2012, if you have a startup in one of the main tech cities in Africa and are unable to get funding, it is due to one of two things: Your idea isn’t viable or you don’t know how to pitch.

The funding is coming, and it’s up to you to create a business and make it succeed.

(To do this, I suggest you read 2 posts on the Afrinnovator blog: “15 Skills African Tech Talent Must Acquire in 2012” and Mbwana Alliy’s “12 Predictions for African Tech in 2012“.)

Thoughts on Africa’s Mobile Operators and Disruption

Generally speaking, mobile network operators (MNOs) were highly disruptive in the 90′s, but have continued to decrease in this over the last decade. Operators are no longer the offensive, attacking force of yesteryear, instead they’re putting up barriers and defensive walls trying to protect what they have and hide.

Instead, the disruption comes from the open web. Whenever the operators put up a blocker to what users want, usually in the form of price or access to their infrastructure, the web finds a way of displacing them. Examples abound in location based services, text messaging, video and photos.

There’s a reason operator revenue is shifting away from voice and SMS towards data. The products that got the operators here are receding in relative value. The user wants what’s available in the open web, and that’s just not found, or being provided, by the operators.

So, what is an MNO to do?

Change. Disrupt someone else. Innovate.

One of the biggest disruptors, even in this decade of MNO mediocrity, has been Safaricom – the 800lbs gorilla in my own back yard. They’ve invested in new technology, products and business models like few others, and are reaping the rewards of those strategic moves.

Do I like having a monopoly player in my market? No.
Do I feel bad for the other MNOs (Orange, Airtel and Yu) who are crying now? No, they did this to themselves.

Let’s dig into their golden-child, Mpesa, the mobile peer-to-peer payment system that’s did $3.15 billion in transaction in just the last 6 months(!). How do you know they succeeded in innovating? Well, the easy answer is looking at their profitability and user tie-in that they get from Mpesa. Look more closely and you’ll notice the other signal, all of the bank lobbies in other countries have put up huge walls, blockading an aberration like Mpesa from having sway in their country.

[Sidebar: A warning to everyone who wants to see innovation in their country. Over regulation of telecommunications and banking strangles it. South Africa and Nigeria are cases in point.]

So, Mpesa sounds to everyone like a huge success story. It is, and it’s not. What we think of as an amazing disruptive product is really only halfway up the mountain. There are too many corks being popped while money lies sitting on the table. This stems from 2 main things, which seem to be an issue of Vodafone primarily, since they own the IP for Mpesa and own a 40% stake in Safaricom:

  1. The lack of leadership by Vodafone to NOT open up an API that other businesses could build on and increase usage. They’ve stifled innovation on their own product.
  2. Their lack of vision in the global payments space. Their shortsideness in not spinning out Mpesa as its own company to take on Visa and Mastercard directly. This was one of the few products and business models that could do that.

More MNO Innovation

So, Safaricom might be stifling its own product, but they’re still not short on disruptive features and products. They do fall prey to bureaucracy and political infighting, but they’re also one of the most aggressive MNOs globally, always trying new things. Three more examples:

  • Creativity in 3g data pricing and accessibility down market.
  • First-movers in 3g and exceptional data coverage countrywide.
  • Okoa Jihazi, their product that gives a loan of credit from the operator to users who are tight on cash.

Other examples of MNOs who are innovating in Africa are:

Airtel Madagascar working with Movirtu with their new Cloud Phone, a way for people to share a phone, but keep the SIM card in the cloud.

MTN, testing Mobile Phonebook by FeePerfect out of Cameroon, a product that puts a phone book into everyone’s phone.

Small + Big

Clearly, innovative products can come to market through MNOs. What’s the common denominator on these products though? Most of them came from small companies and were then incorporated into the MNO.

Ideas come from outside, they come from the edge. Scale comes from inside, from the massive infrastructure provided by the MNO. They have to work together to succeed.

I work with, and talk to, hundreds of entrepreneurs. They have ideas, prototypes and products that just might be what the users want. They lack the access to the infrastructure to roll it out.

As an MNO, you boost your chances of success in this increasingly chaotic space by not walling everything off, but by opening it up.

What makes the iHub work?

I often get asked what the iHub is, what happens here, and why it has worked. Often followed by the question of whether or not this model could work elsewhere in Africa. Here are my thoughts on the matter.

The iHub is Nairobi’s nerve center for technology; a place where we can grab coffee, create apps, find funders and build businesses. It’s where the community of web and mobile programmers connect with each other, businesses, the government and academia.

[TLDR version: Championed by credible people, alongside advisors from the community. Experimental mindset. Strong connections to corporates. Strict community focus.]

A brief history

Juliana, Erik and David

There was a discussion at Barcamp Nairobi 2008 about how valuable it would be for the Kenyan tech community to have a static space of our own. No one would fund that idea. My organization, Ushahidi, decided that we liked it the idea enough that we would fund it. It fit with our overall thoughts on being “open”, it would serve as Ushahidi’s home in the region, and most of all, we thought we could use our good fortune to find and help the next startups in Kenya.

Thus, I moved back to Nairobi in 2009, with funding from Ushahidi via Omidyar Network and Hivos, to build the iHub. I quickly selected a space, and picked the energetic and gifted Jessica Colaco as the Manager. In March 2010 we started work on the space, and in June it was open for use.

Though we had provided funding for the first 2 years, the iHub is an independent Ushahidi initiative. Meaning, that it runs outside of the normal Ushahidi operations and organization. Though the Ushahidi team has full access for the space, we have a very light footprint, and use it the same way everyone else in the community does. We knew that even though we were the most neutral of parties, with a ton of local credibility, trying to “own” the space would fail – just as it would if it had been named the “Google iHub” or the “Nokia Innovation Hub”. It had to be owned by the community, and that meant name and usage both.

The community

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At the heart of all that happens at the iHub is the community. They designed the room layout and logo, run the network, hold events, built the website, create the house rules and drive the direction of the space. The management of the space is there to provide basic infrastructure support, a foundation, which the community then builds on to make the space what it is today.

What’s important to understand is that we come from this community too, we are it. We knew it could work because it was ourselves we were building for. When people ask me if I could do the same thing in another city, I respond that it would be questionable. A space like the iHub needs to be put together by someone from that community of techies who understands at a basic level the needs and has the credibility within it to make it happen.

As the iHub grew, we realized that all of the administrative duties, mixed with community interaction, were too much for one person. Thus we brought on Tosh to be the community manager, where he is in charge of working with people, memberships and events. His job is to aggregate, translate and enable the communities needs.

The advisors

That “being part of the community” was what drove me to start looking for a small team of advisors who could help make decisions, especially early on. This iHub advisory board was made up of 4 influential and highly credible technology players from Nairobi, plus myself. The greater community could appreciate that they were being represented well, and it provided a small enough team to move quickly.

Initial roles for this team were to make the final decision on build out design, logo and name, as well as figure out how to deal with an influx of members in a tiered membership model if the need arose (and it did, quickly). With over 4,300 white-level members, this team is also responsible for making the decisions on who gets green-level membership, the people who ultimately get to have free and unfettered access to the iHub facility.

The design

IHub Nairobi Incubator 3D

The design of the space was very important, and we were lucky to have Fady Rostom and Kwame Nyongo to lead the design team. They spent a lot of time listening to the ideas and thoughts of the advisory team before they started drawing, and it shows in what was built.

We needed a place that was open, and could be flexibly turned from community commons to event space. We wanted a subsection of the space to be rentable desks, for pre-incubation and co-working activities. At no time was a coffee shop not included – it was seen as core to the vibe and culture of what would happen here. We’d need a secure server room, and plenty of ethernet and electrical points, both inside and outside.

Most of all, the iHub needed to be a place where Kenyan techies were proud of. A place that was uniquely ours, and that we could show off to our visiting friends from abroad. It had to have the feel of being any high-tech community space in the world, with a Kenyan flavor. And it is.

The sustainability strategy

Early on we had no idea how we would pay for things beyond the first 2 years. We projected costs, but didn’t know where the revenue would come from. We had some ideas, but instead of creating a grand plan, we decided to take a very experimental approach, iterating on what worked and killing ideas that didn’t fit.

Right now the iHub has revenue coming in from red members (co-working desk rental), events and the new research arm. Events and desk rental were obvious and worked from very early on. The R@iHub arm didn’t come into being until January of this year, and was very much a big experiment – which appears to be working marvelously well. Jessica’s background is as a technology researcher, and she’s built a brilliant team around her to focus on this. Already we can see that 50%+ of future income will come from this initiative.

The other experiment was taking lead on the m:lab, a space the same size as the iHub which sits one floor beneath us. It’s an incubator. It plays the iHub’s foil, where upstairs is about community, openness and fun, the m:lab downstairs is about professional tech companies building quality products and making it into the market. We took the lead on the consortium behind this, and it is seen as a sister-facility to the iHub, with many shared services between the two.

The corporates

Both the iHub and the m:lab have strong corporate partners. Early on, before the first brush of paint was dry in the iHub, we had started talking to big technology corporates who call Nairobi home. Large tech corporations need an active dev community, and the dev community needs them. Luckily, Kenya is geographically well-positioned for some great companies to make it their home in the region, which worked well for us. We also happened to know a number of them personally, which sped up the discussions and interactions considerably.

We didn’t want to just have corporate partners who were sponsors. We made it very clear early on that their money was less important to us than what value they could add to the space that would help the dev community, but that it was a 2 way street. If we couldn’t facilitate a strong value back to them from the local tech community, then it was a no-go.

Fortunately, despite our lack of a clear idea of exactly how things would work, or what our metrics of success would be, we found some great patners. Nokia, Google, Wananchi and Microsoft are corporate partners with the iHub, and downstairs we have MIH, Nokia and InMobi working with us.

A small aside here, which isn’t corporates, but we’ve also nurtured strong connections with the Kenyan government, though we take no money from them. This also applies to academia.

Final thoughts

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By the end of 2010 people were already claiming that the iHub was a model for technology engagement, aid stuff (gah!), etc… in Africa. I thought that was a premature statement, it was an experiment and it still is. The success of the iHub has come from a strong foundation of advisors and community members who understand their city, their peers and their region.

The success of other tech hubs across Africa will be based on leadership credibility, and ability to engage their community.

Much of the iHub’s success comes from a community that works together. In that spirit of “harambee” that is so much a part of our Kenyan life. While there is always healthy competition, we would rather work together and celebrate each others success, and ultimately help each other along with the knowledge that if more of us succeed, then we all benefit.

I hope to see many more labs and hubs across the continent, and we’re seeing them grow too, in Cameroon and Ethiopia, Uganda and Nigeria. Though some of them will need financial assistance to get going, like Ushahidi did with the iHub, they’re organic growth is what makes them viable.

Africa’s First National Open Data Initiative: Kenya

Today Kenya becomes the first country in Africa to launch a national open data initiative. There have been many people pushing for this, over many months, and it’s been an exciting process to watch unfold. Foremost amongst the drivers on this has been Dr. Bitange Ndemo, the Permanent Secretary of Information and Communications. This is indeed a very proud moment for Kenya, and a leading position to take on the continent.

The Kenya Open Data Initiative (KODI) goes live this morning in a big event that includes President Kibaki, as well as many politicians, government officials and local technologists. The World Bank, who has been instrumental in organizing and helping publish the data is here as well, along with Google, Ushahidi, the iHub community and a large selection of youth.

Data Sets

The data is available online through the Socrata platform, which allows users to view different data at national, county and constituency levels. They can compare different data sets, create maps and other visualizations.

Data sets are categorized into 6 main categories: Education, Energy, Health, Population, Poverty and Water & Sanitation. It includes data from the national census, the ministry of education, ministry of health, CDF projects and many more.

Here’s an example of that data, “county expenditures by administration”:

Mashing up the Data

This all came together rather quickly, starting about 3 weeks ago. The tech community was immediately reached out to, and as the data sets have come online over the last week, we’ve had access to them early in order to show what can be done. Here’s a few samples of that.

The Ushahidi team is taking the census data and overlaying healthcare institution data on top of it into our Huduma site. It’s still very beta, but it shows what can be done in just a few days.

We’ve also built a simple SMS query tool. If you’re in Kenya, send an SMS to 3018 with the name of your county or constituency and you’ll get back an SMS with the demographics and MP of that location.

The Virtual Kenya team has built an app that shows which MPs refuse to pay taxes.

The iHub community has done some things around tracking CDF fund usage in the constituencies. There’s a mobile app called “Msema Kweli” that allows you to find CDF projects near you, and for you to add pictures of them.

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What Should Google Do in Africa?

This week I’ll be speaking to a delegation of around 30 Associate Product Managers (APMs) who are exploring leadership positions within Google. Along with them is Marissa Mayer, VP of Location and Local Services. Like I did when I addressed Nokia’s Africa leadership last year, this is a chance for them to hear from more than just one person with one opinion.

I will bring them your answers to the questions below:

  • What is Google doing well in Africa that they should continue?
  • What should Google be doing better, differently or new in Africa?

A Few of My Thoughts

Google has done what few other tech companies have done on this continent. Having 54 countries to scale across isn’t easy, so anyone trying it gets a lot of credit.

  • They’ve invested in people; both their own and the community in general.
  • They realized early that there was a need for tech policy change, and put time, resources and energy into that.
  • They have surfaced content, from maps to books to government data that wasn’t available before.
  • They have localized search into multiple local languages, made their services more mobile phone friendly and experimented with services for farmers, health workers and traders.
  • Their Google Global Cache has sped up the internet by upwards of 300% for some countries.

Here’s are my suggestions:

Double down on Android. Do this in two ways; first, keep driving the costs down, like what was done with the IDEOS handset. Second, help your partners (Huawei and the operators) push the spread of these beyond the few countries they’re in now (and at the same price as in Kenya).

Gmail ties everything together. Google has been the beneficiary of most other companies ignoring Africa. Facebook is the only challenger in the chat, mail and social spaces. Get started on zero-rating Gmail with the mobile operators, figure out how to make Google Voice work here, and extend Gmail SMS Chat beyond the 8 countries that it currently works in.

Figure out payments. It’s still difficult to get paid if you’re running ads or making Android apps, you’re not on an even playing field with your counterparts in other areas of the world. It is clear that Google Wallet is a strong personalized LBS play on consumers in the US. Take that same energy and figure out how to crack Africa, realize just how much money there is in a payment system that spans the continent.

Keep experimenting. Many don’t know of the apps and services you build and test out in various hyper-local areas. Some work, some fail. This curiosity and willingness to try something innovative and new is what makes the open web such a great space, and it is what helps us all overcome the walled gardens of the operators. Don’t stop.

Finally, though you have all the power and brand name needed to make things happen, remember that it’s the local devs and companies who need to own their space and especially their data. While flexing your muscle, especially with government types who own vasts amounts of data, do push for local ownership over taking it for yourself.

[Notes: hat tip on this post goes to Steve Song who started thinking through this years ago. Image credits from Memeburn.]

Broadening the Base of the Startup Pyramid

While in London at the RGS event I spoke about a different way that I’ve been trying to explain the startup and successful ecosystem needed in places like Africa. Specifically, in the major technology hubs for the continent, these are cities; Nairobi, Jo’burg, Accra, Lagos and Cairo. There seems to be enough funding available for SMEs. How do we get more of them?

It goes something like this.

We have a few good success stories in any one of these cities. There are a handful of great tech companies and organizations that have “made it”. This can be seen as a success in innovation or in business (or in both). Everyone wants to be at the tip of this, and these are the examples we hear of at international conferences and read about in the media.

In the middle we have everyone else, the guys who are still slugging away. They have some clients and revenue streams, but they’re not at the top (yet).

At the bottom, that’s what we deal with in places like the iHub and m:lab. These are those scrappy startups that might or might not have any right being in the place. They’re risky, probably don’t have a solid business model yet, and only a few of them will graduate into the SME space above them.

What to do?

To make the tip of the pyramid bigger, to have more success stories in the tech space, there is only one option: you have to make the base of the pyramid broader.

If your job is to see more innovative new tech companies come out of Africa, the recipe is quite simple:

  • Invest seed funds into local tech entrepreneurs.

(that’s my only bullet point, it’s that simple)

Ushahidi Strategy Meeting 2011

[Reposted from the Ushahidi Blog]

Yesterday Ushahidi won the Kenya ICT Award for “Social Equity and Poverty Reduction“, which we’re extremely grateful for. None of us were able to attend the conference in Kenya due to the whole team being at our big annual meeting.

The Ushahidi core team works from 7 different timezones ranging from Kampala to Louisville, soon expanding to places like Brazil and Korea. One weekend a year we’re able to get together, in-person, to solidify our connections with each other and talk through the big strategic topics that are best done face-to-face. It could be argued that it’s the most important 3 days of the year for us.

The First XV

2010 was a big growth year for Ushahidi, where we got up to 12 core team members – doubling in size from 2009. We’re adding 3 more people this year, which brings us to 15, a fortuitous number for the team as many of us are big rugby fans. :)

(Caleb decided to have a little fun, putting us all in our positions based on the date that we joined the team.)

12 Months Later

Last year we met in Miami, as we are this year, and a lot has happened since then. To name the big ones:

  • Plugins – extensible way to add new functionality without bloating the core
  • Crowdmap – maps for non-developers, also a means to quickly collect reports giving deployers time to install their own server
  • SMSSync – simple and robust alternative to Frontline and Clickatell
  • iOS – rich smart phone experience
  • Checkins – opens platform to entirely new uses
  • Stand-By Task Force – game changer in disaster response
  • J2ME – extending reaching onto older devices
  • Community Site – fantastic documentation
  • Map Geometry

Looking at the historical record, it’s been a good year. However, there’s a lot more to do. At this meeting, besides drinking a Mojito on South Beach, we’ll get into some of the big future-looking issues, such as:

Visual Reporting: What’s the perfect Ushahidi dashboard? How do we surface “power stats” for Ushahidi deployments and metrics. Swift-Ushahidi integration visuals on the front and back end.

Knowledge Management: How do we come up with a plan to capture information that we know internally, so that it is shared with deployers and developers better?
The inverse, how do we handle and capture information that our *users* know regularly?

Crowdmap Scalability & Migration: Making sure that even the biggest deployments work on Crowdmap. Adding in new a la carte features, etc.

Of course, this is a chance to discuss some of the more mundane items as well, around operations, funds and how we work towards organizational financial sustainability as well. It also means that we’ll be offline from today until about Tuesday of next week. We’ll be a little slower on email and other communications mediums, but bear with us as it’s for a good cause.

The Afrilabs Association

In 2008 a couple of tech guys sitting around a table after Barcamp Nairobi first discussed the idea that eventually would become the iHub. In January 2010 there was another group, this time of people trying to setup their own labs, hubs and coworking environments in other countries across the continent.

It was there that the idea for Afrilabs was born: an association of these facilities across the continent. The association is for linking the spaces for learning, growth, and to provide greater mass for the entrepreneurs that we work with.

The labs serve as an accessible platform for bringing together technologists, investors, tech companies and hackers in the area. Each lab shares a focus on young entrepreneurs, Web and mobile-phone programmers and designers.

Spaces and Models

The founding 5 member facilities are the iHub in Kenya, ActivSpaces in Cameroon, Hive Colab in Uganda, Nailab in Kenya and Banta Labs in Senegal.

There aren’t many spaces like this across Africa, and there were even fewer a year ago, though we hope that more will quickly be added from many other countries. Already we’re hearing about new spaces popping up in Nigeria and the Ivory Coast, with planned ones in Tanzania and Ghana.

We’re all experimenting with our models. Some are pure coworking, some incubators, others provide freelancers a chance to act as a collective agency, while some serve as a community commons where tech serendipity happens. My take is that we’ll end up having as many models as the unique city cultures that spawn them, mixed in with the ethos of the founders. And there’s room for many more, even in the same city.

Why Afrilabs?

The Afrilabs Association serves a few purposes:

  1. Provide an association that is easily accessible by lab and hub managers, where they can learn from their peers, understand the different models and connect easily.
  2. Provide a bigger target (continent vs country) for attracting outside investors for the entrepreneurs in the labs. Possibly with an Afrilabs fund, accessible only through the filter of an entrepreneur’s local lab.
  3. AfriLabs seeks to build on this common vision and further promote the growth and development of the African technology sector.

I’m excited to see the dawn of this new open and accessible model of coworking, incubation and community spaces for Africa’s tech industry. Not only will the labs receive greater visibility, but businesses and investors now have a channel to more easily source talent and investments within Africa’s tech community.

If you run a tech lab or hub in Africa, or are putting together one, make sure you contact Afrilabs.

Tackling Africa’s Classified Listings Space

Just over a year ago I was frustrated. We had just moved back to Kenya and I was trying to outfit our house with a few necessities. Just finding sellers of the items we were looking for was a pain, as there were no options for classifieds services online that had much to offer.

Being a builder and a problem solver I wanted to better understand what was going on here. Why, in 2010 did I have to go to one of 7 large shopping centers across town, in Nairobi’s terrible traffic, in order to look at a notice board to find products? With this in mind, I sat down and penned a strategy paper that I thought could address the problem.

(Below is the overview, the full document is to long to post)

The Overview

No organization or entity in Kenya has come up with a good classifieds network. There is little, to no, traction in the online space and the offline arena is a fractured market where each group protects their fiefdom and doesn’t share their ad content. This is seen in the popularity and reach of the classifieds at major shopping centers like Sarit Centre, Yaya and Village Market, but also in the newspapers and mailing lists.

There is also no good option for digital classifieds, even though there have been multiple attempts, including Nation Media Group’s N-Soko, Craigslist Kenya and eBay’s Kijiji as well as many small operations by Kenyan developers.

This fractured landscape, as well as a missing digital nexus point for classifieds in Kenya, creates a large and open opportunity. Real money is ready to be made, as there are many frustrated buyers and sellers who need an outlet.

In order to succeed at making real money with classifieds listings in Kenya, one needs to have a strategy for both the analog and the digital sides. It’s not enough to make a great classifieds website – as N-Soko and Craigslist are showing us. Neither is it good enough to have just offline newspaper ads or shopping center message boards.

The document went on for another 5 pages outlining a solution that I thought married up what was needed: a way to mix Kenya’s analog community habits and the efficiencies of a digital solution.

Our Solution

A couple months later I was discussing this with David Kobia, my colleague at Ushahidi, talking about how there are wide open opportunities like this in Kenya where there is a clear void that no one is filling. It’s not hard, it just takes focus on a simple platform that’s both web and mobile enabled, along with a way to bring in the analog side.

Fast forward a couple of weeks and David built a little site for this purpose over the weekend, called Pigia.me. A place for us to experiment with, and we did. We spent some time gathering classifieds from the shopping centers and the newspaper. We did some Facebook ads. It worked, we quickly got up to over 3,500 listings and traffic was increasing. Total investment 3 days coding and $300 in ads.

But we didn’t have the time. Ushahidi keeps us way to busy, as does the iHub.

Enter Dealfish

About 3 months ago Dealfish, the big classifieds site owned by MIH in South Africa, launched in Kenya. Simultaneously it launched in Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda and Ghana (English). And in Francophone Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Senegal, and the DRC. They scooped up well-known tech entrepreneur and blogger Moses Kemibaro from Dotsavvy to run East Africa’s operations, while Neil Schwartzman overseas all Sub-Saharan Africa for Dealfish and Stefan Magdalinski presides over Dealfish as well as Mocality and Kalahari for all but South Africa.

They’re now at approximately 12,000 listings (in Kenya), serving the major urban areas and have about 6000 “answers” per month (which is what they call it when a buyer tries to contact a seller). The top areas are auto, home and jobs – like most classified sites.

Until critical mass is reached, classifieds are something that you have to put a lot of energy towards on a constant and consistent basis. Thus Dealfish has chosen Kenya and Nigeria as their first focus-countries, where they have dedicated personnel.

MIH has deep pockets, and they’ve decided that there is a future in investing in digital arena in the Africa outside of South Africa. They came on strong with online ads by Google, Facebook, Inmobi, Admob and Buzzcity. Inmobi has given them the best return, with Google ads in second place. However, it’s the Dealfish team notes that the Inmobi traffic doesn’t have nearly the same intent to buy or sell as the Google traffic – it’s blind coming in.

Offline Dealfish used radio, in-store advertising, posters in malls and in club bathroom stalls. The form of advertising dictates the type of user, whether they use mobile phones or PC web. In the beginning mobile users were their predominant type, but now it’s split 50/50 between mobile and PC web users.

Dealfish is doing well, and will continue to do so, especially as they have enough financial backing to continue seeding the market. Their competition comes in the form of verticals that are specifically created for a niche market. In this case, autos with Cheki, jobs with Brighter Monday and homes with Property Kenya. And that’s just in Kenya, they’ll fight that same battle in the other markets as well.

Tackling Africa

The only other classifieds system that has made a dent in Africa is Kerawa, operated out of Cameroon. They have thousands of listings in quite a few countries. They’ve done this over the last 3 years, bootstrapped and growing organically.

However, there’s a danger in trying to go after everyone and everything. In the broad classified space there is only a single winner, no prizes for second place, except in niche areas. Whoever reaches critical mass first wins, and the rest can go home. It’s better to win in a couple countries than to lose in all.

Both Dealfish and Kerawa have to fight the very real issue of spam listings. Just letting anything to so as to get bigger numbers only decreases the value to the user. How customer service and clarity of use and value play out to the listing companies and people is where a lot of time and resources can be spent.

[Update: Google Trader launched in Ghana and Uganda to mixed success. As long as there was a lot of marketing put into the effort, they had a lot of listings, as soon as they stopped there was a big drop-off. It's yet to be determined if Google Trader is a failure or success, or if Google is still putting any more effort into it.]

Urban then Rural

Finally, you have to start in the urban areas due to users, devices and general “mass”. However, if you think that’s enough, then you haven’t learned the lessons taught by the mobile operators. That is, urban is your anchor, but rural is your long tail, your reach.

Any attempt to get enough critical mass to make serious money off of traffic or transactions has to reach beyond the cities. The towns and rural areas are untapped and ripe for the approach. Phase 2 of this approach should look a lot like what I wrote about back in 2009, on how village billboards should be leveraged alongside the mobile phone shops in smaller communities.