Quick Hits Around African Tech

South African, Matthew Buckland, has launched Memeburn a site that tracks emerging technology trends and has opinion pieces by key influencers.

Amheric/Ethiopic translations have been launched within Google’s applications.

Freedom Fone, a free and open source IVR (interactive voice response) system, which started out of Zimbabwe, has now launched. You can download v1.5 now.

Afrinnovator has launched a news aggregator for African tech news.

I was interviewed by CNBC about the iHub and Ushahidi.

Panacea, a South African mobile phone company has the first (legit) bridge between Africa and Paypal live on the continent. Finally, at least one country is able to send/receive payments via PayPal.

Kahenya, from Virn, is launching a new ad platform, called Metro, that distributes ads to all of their sites and affiliate sites. They anticipate to start Web Marketing Campaigns from as little as 500 Kenya shillings (

African Digerati: Adii Pienaar of Woothemes

African Digerati Interview: Adii Pienaar

Adii Pienaar (aka Adii Rockstar) is the 7th in the African Digerati series of interviews. At only 24 he’s the youngest one on the list – he’s here because he represents the success that can be achieved as a young digital entrepreneur in Africa. Just under a year ago Woothemes splashed onto the stage as a new seller of WordPress (blogging tool) themes.

Rumor has it that this might be the most monetarily successful startup in the new media scene coming out of South Africa… That’s in less than one year. Regardless of whether that is true or not, the fact is that Woothemes is one of the top WordPress theme sites in the world, and it’s grown out of Africa with a lot of work, an eye for design and passion.

Woothemes just launched version 2 of itself, called WOO2. This interview is in response to that, and a chance to take a look at one of the visionaries behind it. After reading the interview, take a look at Adii’s blog. You’ll realize he’s light-hearted and doesn’t take himself to seriously, personality traits that I appreciate.

Woothemes version 2: woo2

When was the seed of Woothemes planted in your mind, and what was it’s genesis? What caused you to go from idea to actually building something, and how did you do that?
I don’t really know… Magnus, Mark & I had been collaborating a bit more loosely and the business was growing quite steadily. So I think it was just a natural progression to formalize the collaborations into a business and brand it as WooThemes. Luckily for us, we had a good following at that stage and the foundations were good all round to launch WooThemes.

What inspires you?
Would I be egotistical to say that I inspire myself? :) Honestly though, I’m inspired by a bunch of different things on a daily basis; and those things are random at best. The “being inspired” bit, along with willingness to act on said inspiration is a result of me absolutely loving a challenge and thus being completely driven to pursue those challenges.

Who are your biggest influences?
Online, I’ve got a lot of respect for entrepreneurs like Ryan Carson & Collis Ta’eed, who are at the top end of this new wave of entrepreneurs. Offline I’ve always appreciated Richard Branson’s way of going about business and marketing his ideas. And then closer to home… I’ve learned a helluva lot from both my business partners – Magnus & Mark – whilst I’d be lying if I said that my dad didn’t influence my business mind a lot – especially when I was younger.

Woo2 is a redesign of the Woothemes site and the community platform behind it. What are the big changes, and why do they matter?
Facing outwards, I think WOO2 signals our intent with regards to further growth and also improving the current experiences on WooThemes.

On a business level, I think WOO2 is more professional and we put a lot more strategic thinking into it. So again, it’s some kind of natural progression of how we’ve grown. WOO2 is the next step and the next part of the journey ahead.

Woothemes is expanding to other platforms beyond WordPress (Drupal, Expression Engine, etc.). What is your strategy here, and when will we start seeing these themes for different platforms?
The strategy is basically one that aims to diversify our offerings (and also our risk of having all our eggs in one basket), along with the growth aspects (new products = new markets = new users). And whilst I’m reluctant to commit to any schedule in this regard, we will start rolling out the Drupal themes in the next 2 / 3 weeks, and we’ve already started work on the EE & Magento stuff.

There’s always been the debate amongst the WordPress intelligensia about some theme providers not honoring the WordPress GPL licensing. iThemes, Brian Gardner and others have changed stances. I noticed you have as well. Is this where you wanted to go, or was it something that the greater community forced upon you? How will this help your business?

I can categorically say that this wasn’t something we did because we felt forced to do so. Way back in August 2008, I told Matt Mullenweg (at WordCamp SA) that going GPL was on the horizon for us and we’d do so when we felt comfortable doing so.

And as for how it will affect / help our business… I don’t know yet. We’ve only been GPL for a day, so I guess we’ll have to wait & see. :)

How big is Woothemes and how active is your community? Can you give any numbers?
This is tempting, but I’d rather not share these numbers… Maybe in the next couple of months, we’ll adopt a more open approach and share some of these numbers, but we’re not into boasting about supposed success.

I can however say that our support forum has racked up almost 45K posts, which means that the community is active. And our free themes (6 of them) have been downloaded about 35 000 times in the last month… :)

You’ve successfully created a web business out of South Africa that has impacted people around the world. You’re tapped into the web in a way that few others are. What’s next? What does the big picture look like from a the Rockstar perspective?
I’m taking over the world, one WordPress installation at a time.

LOL no… I’m very content with what I’m doing at the moment and very happy with the space & freedom that WooThemes has afforded me. I’m still young (24), so at this stage I’d like to think that I’m trying to revolutionize my own life, in terms of how I work and how I act outside of business hours. Beyond further growing WooThemes, that’s probably my main focus, because I want to do this now and not when I turn 30 / 40 and realize that I’ve work my life away.

And a shameless punt… I’m writing a book called Rockstar Business that basically airs my thoughts & experiences within this journey! :)

Finally, what are your thoughts on the impact of blogging in your own continent: Africa?
I’m ashamed to admit this, but Africa is generally a deep dark place for me (which I’m planning on rectifying with a proper journey into Africa – for holiday – later this year). So I’ve honestly not met many Africans who are bloggers.

BUT… In theory I think blogging gives everyone a voice; a voice they didn’t have before. And that’s true freedom & power for me, which we’ll ultimately see itself manifest when Africa becomes one of the strongest nations / economies in the world.

[Disclosure: I’m a customer of Woothemes, having purchased (full-price) one of their themes for the Maker Faire Africa website. I’m very happy with this too, everything is rock solid.]

Meeting Videographer Ruud Elmendorp

Ruud Elmendorp is a well-known freelance videographer in East Africa, and someone I have been meaning to meet-up with while there. Last month while in Nairobi we finally got to link up for a coffee and discuss a little about his business and the kinds of stories he does. When you get a chance to talk to someone who has interviewed the infamous Joseph Kony in person, you don’t pass it up!

Interestingly enough, six years ago he decided to just pick up and move to Kenya to begin his business. It came after having done some work in Southern Sudan, and at a time when life beckoned for him to leave the Netherlands behind. It’s how a lot of first-timers get to Africa, for some it sticks and they thrive, others it breaks them.

Of course, we got started talking about equipment, me showing my little Sanyo Xacti vpc-E1 (an ultra-small waterproof video camera), and I swear I saw a little drool escape him at that point… It’s good to know he’s another gadget-head, and was neat to see how he used his mobile phone for a lot of his work (Nokia E-51).

A Video by Ruud

Here’s a recent video showing MTN’s Village Phone Project in Uganda:

‘I never expected to start a business.’ The 49-years-old Nakakande Uvumba got herself a Village Phone, where people can make cheap phone calls. 15,000 others in Uganda have a new future.

Interesting Facts

Ruud is the national correspondent for RTL (Netherlands) and a regular field correspondent for Rocketboom. He also runs the booming Facebook Videojournalist group.

One of these days I’ll be able to afford Ruud doing an AfriGadget documentary. Until then, I’ll enjoy his videos – doing stories that are interesting and always compelling.

Note: the funny picture above was taken using the Xacti video camera’s still image capture (6 Megapixel). Needless to say, Ruud wasn’t quite ready for it…
(hat tip to James Neal for jogging my memory on this story)

African Digerati Interviews

The African Digerati Interviews

One of the topics that I veer into every once in a while is built around the term African Digerati. My definition of the term is someone who marries experience with Africa and technology. I initially wrote about it a year ago in one of my favorite posts:

Our insights into technology are not the same as the vast majority of those who live in Africa and our knowledge and perspective of Africa is much different than the rest of the world’s. We, currently, are the people on the bridge – maybe even the bridge – that spans the divide of both knowledge and technology when it comes to Africa.

Finally, I decided to contact a number of individuals who I consider members of this group. There are many more, this is only a smattering of the individuals who are bridging that gap. Some bridge the gap directly by actually creating applications, software and tools in Africa. Others are in the African diaspora in the US and Europe, working within organizations and making a name for themselves.

I’ll be the first to admit that there are many others who rightly belong in this series – please forgive me if I have overlooked anyone that you believe should be outlined. Do know that some didn’t reply to my emails, so are therefore not a part of it.

Over the next few weeks, you will begin to see a few of these interviews come to life here on White African. I hope you enjoy them, and that you’ll take the time to open dialogue about their ideas, thoughts and visions for Africa’s technological future.

Interviews:
Emeka Okafor
Neville Newey
“M”
Rafiq Phillips
Ethan Zuckerman
Ken Banks
Adii Pienaar