Archive for the ‘startup’ Category

Mobile Money will not die by 2020 but Evolve to Survive

Nicholas Kamazi has an interesting perspective in his article, 5 Reasons Mobile Money Is Going To Die By 2020, which I fundamentally disagree with. While he caters for challenges with Mobile Money (MM), he does not take into account who uses MM and why, which are the reasons for the pervasive nature. Rebutting each reason for the death of MM:

  1. Death of Feature phones:
    • Battery life: smartphones are no where near the battery life usage of feature phones, and in areas where there is little availability of electricity to charge the phones, this becomes a deal breaker
    • Cost: I do not see $35 dollar smartphones becoming that popular
    • Rugged: Feature phones can take alot of abuse, falls, drops, plus general wear and tear which current age smartphones cannot match
  2. Digital Currency: Africa in general and Uganda in particular, are cash economies. MM just allows people to move money from one place to another very quickly.
  3. Unnecessary Charges:
    • The cost of sending MM is usually less than transportation and time for moving to acutally deliver the money without the risk.
    • Most transactions are between UGX 50,000 to UGX 150,000 (US$20 to US$60) usually under urgent situations
    • Urgency of transfer – most transactions happen with a need for urgency for example school fees, social functions, emergencies of different nature. Which can happen at any time of day or night, until there is an option which is that flexible MM is here to stay
  4. Capital Investment:
    • MM is a defensive option for telecoms as their core business is getting eroded, and will evolve in order to remain relevant.
    • I do not see any startup having the size, and capabilities to compete with the telecoms in this market, Uganda in particular and Africa in general.
    • Even in Asia the agents are the key, however managing them is not an easy process so the incumbents will remain in play for the next 5-10 years.
  5. Business environment shift: the telecoms are here to stay, and MM will evolve along with the business environment.

Mobile Money is here to stay as it is:

  • Pervasive with 20,000+ agents and counting
  • With the telecoms opening up to 3rd parties for utility payments, diaspora remittances, merchant transactions
  • Rural-urban social dynamics which form the bulk of MM remittances within a country
  • Infrastructure challenges such as roads, railways which also provide a conducive environment for MM as an option for money transfer.

Your thoughts?

Mara Foundation Business Hackathon Pre-Launch – Startup Reality Check

This was the theme of my presentation at the January 25 pre-launch event for the Business Hackathon event organized by the Mara Foundation (http://www.mara-foundation.org/) and Mara Launch Pad (http://www.mara-foundation.org/entrepreneurship/mara-launchpad.html).

This would be my second hackathon-style event after the Startup Weekend that I had participated in April 2012 (http://wp.me/pXn3W-5v) where I pitched an idea that had been cooking, baking and squirming in my head for a coupla years. When Nigel Ball (@nigel_ball) asked me which side I wanted to be on, I took the opportunity to sit at the end of the table to mentor.

So back to the prelaunch event, assembled were the following (in the order that they presented):

  1. Reinier Battenberg, @batje, Director Mountbatten and Open Source Evangelist, Drupal, mapping et al
  2. James Makumbi, @jmakumbi, Software Developer and Founder of Billable Hours Uganda, a cloud based law firm management solution, and one of the first Ugandan developers on Stack Exchange (my inspiration to join and become active)
  3. Simon Kaheru, @skaheru, Director Business Convergence SMS Media is one of Uganda’s first enterprenurs in the tech scene through SMS Media and a though leader in the mobile technology space
  4. Solomon King, @solomonking, Web Solutions Provider and Founder of Fundibots, a non profit to encourage passionate African children (and adults) grow and experiment with machines, gadgets and technology – do I hear soldering, garage workshops and Sky net development in basements.
  5. Christine Ampaire, @axtine831, Founding Team member MafutaGo, GirlGeek, Geekprenur
  6. Davis Musinguzi, @davisthedoc, Health IT Developer and Enterprenur, Mentor for the WinSenga team that won the Microsoft Imagine Cup in 2012

The first presentation (below) was a reality check on what the enterprenurs are to expect before the event, and after to provide context with regard to what opportunities are out there and what to take advantage of.

 

 

Additional lessons that were given by the other panelists are summarized below:

  1. You do not have to start a business with a product, you can provide services to customers by packaging and supporting existing software solutions 
  2. Tech startups do not have to be about software and hardware, they can provide laptop sleeves, covers, and other accessories using local materials
  3. Look at alternate revenue streams by leveraging the brand and buzz created by your core product or services
  4. Do not be afraid to pivot your business, from Eric Ries of the Lean Startup: Pivot or Reboot (http://to.pbs.org/WaCA9w) or Pivot Do not Jump to a new vision (http://bit.ly/TAFZ36)
  5. Not all the people you pitch to will have the same vision as you do, listen to them, do not give up, learn from them
  6. Leverage and use the simplest technology you can
  7. Use other people’s money, 100% of $1,000 is way less and more risky than 10% of $25,000 investment – watch the numbers, allow investors to let you  grow to sustainable levels
  8. Develop credibility – register a legal entity, track the total cost of ownership to client (licenses, hardware, warranty and support costs), have a person who watches the money (revenue and costs)
  9. You need teams of people to support your vision, you cannot do it alone
  10. Complete your education and take opportunities that arise when they do, those papers “may” help you get to the next level
  11. Get out of the office to the street and into the lives of the people who use your product – listen to them and learn from them

What are your opinions, what did we miss? Leave a comment

MeetMTN – MTN Uganda Executive Management Town Hall Meeting

Well 2012 is upon us, and the incubmbent US President Barack Obama, has started his battle for a second term in office, so that he can complete the change that he promised the American people. The battle for his first term was epic, first against Ms. Hillary Clinton, which intially changed from a David vs Goliath story to a battle of titans that he won. The one against the Republican was a massacre as Mr. John Mccain shot himself in the foot and head one campaign after another.

Why all this about President Obama, well one of his campaign tactics was town hall style meetings in different towns, and constitencies in order to connect with the people in the ground, and hear what they have to say directly.

Teleport straight to Uganda the Pearl of Africa, home to great beauty among other things, as well as to multi-national corporations which are running a large chunk of the core economy activities. Well these corporations have been facing a backlash with regard to service delivery over the last few years (which was terrible), the wrath of most was directed to UMEME the national power distributor due to the incessant power shortages which sort of brought the economy to its knees in 2011. At the height of the backlash, UMEME started to reach out to the populace to inform and educate the general public who did not understand their roles, challenges and strategies for attacking the rampant power problem. One of these events was a Tea Party for social media enthusiasts – bloggers and tweeps covered here https://ssmusoke.wordpress.com/2011/12/09/umeme-tea-party-quick-and-dirty-review-and-perspective/.

Well MTN Uganda, the largest telco by market share, numbers and revenues, has also reached out using a similar strategy this time called MeetMTN, where tweeps and bloggers were invited to meet the MTN executive management to discuss issues pertaining to service delivery and what is being done to work around the known issues.

Here is a summary of the major issues raised during the meeting, and responses from MTN executives who attended:

1. Provision of an API for Mobile Money and development of a partner ecosystem – information on when an API will be provided for mobile money as the largest provider and one with the largest reach. From the recently completed startup weekend, 12 of the 13 startup ideas depend on Mobile Money for payments. However no details of the availability of an API for 3rd parties were given citing a need not to commit to predefined dates. .The API is coming soon

2. Staff Attrition – there are rumours in the grapevine that there is a higher than normal attrition rate of talent over the last quarter, and whether this is one of the root causes of the recent outages and lowered quality of service delivery. The CEO mentioned that MTN leverages its regional strengths, but focuses on developing the local talent within the countries that MTN operates.

3. Service Health Dashboard – whether its possible to provide a public dashboard on the health of different services, inspired by Google approach. Also whether it was possible to spread information on service slowdowns and outages through different channels, Facebook/Twitter/Website/SMS, Radio/TV and customer service centers for extended service outages.

4. Lottery Games – there was a game which involved amassing points by answering questions for a chance to win UGX 10,000 (~US$4,000), and one of the attendees played the game using his family resources, and his wife almost divorced him. He was wondering how many points were needed to win the prizes so that he would be contented. The executives thanked him for playing and wished him better luck next time.

5. Unsolicited, Spam and Junk SMS messages plus hidden charges from content providers licensed by MTN and the company itself – There are many SMS messages for caller ring back tones, both from MTN and licensed content providers both as spam and also unknown activations which charge user numbers. We were informed of a blacklist code to enter I seem to have forgotten it, but this is not publizied … similar to US “Do Not Call Registry”

6. Does MTN Sell Customer numbers to content providers – MTN does not sell numbers to content providers, however these numbers are collected as part of normal usage for example promotions etc which may be done by friends, relatives. Ms. Maureen Agena of Text-to-Change also provided her organization’s experience with collecting targetted numbers which corroborates the information and policies from the executive.

7. Postpaid Service upgrade – customers on post paid services cannot upgrade data bundles in case they run out on a pay-as-you go service once the post paid bundle runs out. The executive informed us that the billing platform for all services is converged therefore this should be cleared in the very near future.

8. Hoax Promotions – there are cases when a promotion sale of phones or devices is announced, but they are not available because they were gobbled up by MTN staff. Management promised to look into this

9. IPV6 Migration – internal testing is in progress, but roll out to all customers is not confirmed until the services are confirmed as stable

10. SME Pricing – there seem to be no plans geared towards the SME sector as the current plans are either consumer (too expensive for SME at retail rates), or Enterprise (capex and opex costs too high for SME)

UPDATES – from Reader Feedback:

11. Simcard registration process and charges – there are claims of some agents charging for sim-card registrations, bu there is no charge for sim-card registrations. Also MTN intends to use this exercise as a “Know Your Customer” exercise and to deal with the spam/junk SMS message problem highlighted above.

12. Mobile Hotspots – the internet is not usable in a few parts of the country, and it would be better if there were hotspots at least in the urban areas, so that customers do not need dongles but just connect, and pay for usage. The technical team informed us that this was something that they were considering.

13. Internet Bundles using airtime once they expire without approval – currently once the Internet bundles expire the user’s airtime is charged which is the default option. There are ways around this and MTN intends to educate its customers on how to use these options

14. Slow Speed of the Website – the website is too slow, actually one of the slowest in Uganda, and the website self service features do not work. The website is currently being upgraded for speed and features, and a new one will be unveiled soon (BTW this is very embarrassing for multi-national telcom company).

Overall the interactions were excellent, and the available MTN staff were knowledgeable of subject matter they were discussing, which left a ray of hope that finally the behemoth is listening to its customers. Obviously the gift packs at the end made the trip worthwhile too. In closing I would like to say again as I did on Twitter:

“The only way @MTNUGANDACARE can support #startups and #enterprenurs is to provide a #mobilemoney #API #MeetMTN”

If I missed anything, just let me know …

Startup Weekend Kampala – Day 1 – Ideas, Pitches, Teams

This was my first time at a Startup Weekend or a Hackathon so I was looking forward to the experience and to see what really goes on under the hood at this event. So why was I here, well I have had this idea brewing in my head for a long time and so I decided why not take a shot at it and see what it is.

The idea was an “opendata” platform similar to Google Public Data (http://www.google.com/publicdata/directory) and lack of any government initiatives in Uganda leaves an opportunity for such an intervention.

I got to the venue at 4pm, started mingling with the people who were already there, some whom I had met the previous night at the Google Sponsored Pre-Event Bootcamp ( http://startupweekend.org/google/google-sw/) whose focus was Gaming on Android. As more people walked in the energy in the room became intense, with excitement, “geek” words flying left right and center, and a concentration of geek activities, game consoles out, rock music, movies as we waited for the “festivities” to begin.

The introductions were led by Richard Zulu, GTUG lead, and there were presentations by Ben Maina, CEO Rupu Limited who provided excellent ideas for how to manage startup growth based on lessons from a stratup then Apiyo Laboke, Mara Foundation on how startups can receive support from VCs.

Nextup were 60 second pitches for the different ideas available, well being my first time, I decided to go first with the Databud pitch. 60 seconds is a very short time and I was not able to complete my pitch, but it seemed to be well received. There were 34 additional pitches made by the end of the evening.

Next step was voting for the pitches, where each attendee was given 3 stick-it notes to place on the projects they are interested in. This was the moment of truth for the product pitches since those without sufficient votes would be whittled down … Of the 35 pitches available only 16 were selected to move forward ….

Now that the work was done, the next step was to attract teams of which DataBud attracted 3 members and we were ready to get to work …

Unfortunately we lost Internet connectivity and so there ended Day 1 … It was exciting, high tension and now crunch time …

UPDATE:
Follow the rest of the days actions at

  1. Startup Weekend Day 2 – Platform, Mentors, Coding, Product Positioning, Decisions during Execution
  2. Startup Weekend Day 3 – 60 sec pitch, Customer Validation, Business Value, Wrap Up and Lessons Learnt

Databud – Startup Weekend Kampala – April 27 to 29

I will be attending my first startup weekend in Kampala, on April 27, 2012 to April 29, 2012 and well I thought that why not share my pitch and get advice on how to refine it. No idea is great unless shared right?

In the absence of #opendata in Uganda, there is a whole lot of data locked up within individual government systems, documents, in non standard formats which needs to be unlocked, the data set free so that it can grow (Data Bud) – the data buds and grow

A picture is worth a thousand words right – below is the whole concept

Data Bud Concept

Data Bud Concept

Comments, additions, advice? Looking forward to seeing ya this weekend

Application Solution – Outsource, Incubate Potential Providers, Fund Startup or App Challenge

This is a question where I have no knowledge but would appeal to organizations of all sizes, and in all sectors.

You have identified a need for software based solution for a project, however at the stage that you are, the details of the solution implementation are not known at the time, and you do not have sufficient internal resources to develop the solution. However you have a window of time to refine the potential solution, but only have one shot to get it right.

The options that I see are:

  1. Outsource – to a potential long term partner to develop and implement the solution. Of course this has an inherent risk in that costs may spiral out of control, you do not have much insight into the development process, and well you depend on all their processes
  2. Hold an App Challenge – these have become very common, however in this case you would define some requirements for and leave the problem solution to the competitors – I am yet to see this done
  3. Hold a Start-up Weekend – I am not sure how this is different from an app challenge but I would like to be educated
  4. Fund Start-up – question is how do you select the start-up, from app challenge or start-up weekend? How is this much better than outsourcing to an established company with prebuilt processes.
  5. Incubate potential start ups – Is this is an extension of the Fund start-up option, where by instead of owning the start-up outright you provide a space where start-ups can innovate and grow around your problems

Please comment and let me know what pros and cons for each of the options are.

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