Posts Tagged ‘social-media’

Tech Tip: Websites on Github with Jekyll

We have been facing a challenge on how to manage the Styx Technology Group corporate website without having dedicated resources to host, deal with security, updates and maintenance. Having been in the website business for over a decade at the turn of Y2K,  having an easily maintainable solution was key for the long haul.

Enter GitHub pages (https://help.github.com/categories/github-pages-basics/), of course any decent software developer and team are using some form of version control, but the beauty is that it allows projects, users and organisations to have self hosted sites that are managed through a repository.  That in combination with Jekyll (http://jekyllrb.com/) supports content management without a database.

To further speed up our development process, we leveraged existing themes for the website look and feel that were close to our need, while keeping the site design very simple so that we focused on solving the problem at hand.

It was suddenly music to our ears as the team did not have to leave their IDEs (random plug for Jetbrains IDE tool suite that we have standardized upon)  in order to make updates to the website. Just create a new markdown document, verify and push … And bam!! the updates are done, version controlled and all, no more hassles with database configurations …

Need help getting your website up and running in such a fashion do shoot us an email at consulting at styxtechgroup dot com and we shall be happy to help and engage…. Have a great weekend

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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

HTC Desire HD – My Journey

HTC Desire HD

HTC Desire HD

This is a review, a journey of enlightenment (that sounds so Zen), learning, and eye opening experience for a techie who has not used a smart phone at all. I am still in love with the Samsung SIII, and that is essentially my next smartphone …. but in the mean time I will love what I got, the HTC Desire HD. I still have my Nokia C200 which well works for 3 days, without need for a recharge, has primitive Facebook and Twitter so hey I got lots to compare with 🙂 Did I mention that the HTC and Nokia phones use the same data cable, well now that is a welcome feature since I can cut down on the cabling on my desk and travel bag.

The first thing I do for any computer that I get is upgrade it, thankfully the phone has inbuilt WIFI so all I did was turn on WIFI, and use the office wireless connection, now that is really neat. When I checked the HTSense 3.0 was upto date and the Android version 2.3.5 was the latest. There was no way to go any higher due to the 512MB ROM which was too small, again acceptance. Next step was to install Tweetdeck, yes, no Facebook since I am on a 30 day no Facebook diet, and I seem to be handling it very well btw.

Email next, both my work and personal email are Google, so I just fired up the pre-installed Gmail APP and we are off to the races. Syncing took a long time and later I found out why, my personal Gmail box is “big” with all sorts of emails, Linked In, Twitter, Newsletters, GitHub, MojoLive, GeekList, etc, so I configured my personal Gmail to only show emails from the priority inbox which makes it manageable.

Next test camera, but oh no, it does not work. Seems like the delivery man (who brought me the phone) decided to take the only thing that would not be missed, the microSD card, really!!! Now I gave up on that one till I bought a 2GB card, then wow!!! The camera is really good! Crisp clear photos

Still on the battery problem, seemed like I had turned on background sync for Twitter and Gmail so now I turned them off, installed Juice Defender following steps at  http://www.stephenjackel.com/2011/04/16/how-to-fix-battery-life-problem-on-htc-desire-hd-android-2-2-mobile-phone/ I still got my eye on the battery life.

Oh yes next battle, sharing my contacts with my Nokia, it has been my primary phone for over a year now (lovely feel and battery life), so I have a couple hundred contacts, which I have rebuilt after losing them a few weeks ago when the battery went dead and deleted everything. Using Google I found instructions at http://leetstreet.net/blog/2011/05/nokia/ which let me export all my contacts from Nokia into Google Contacts, and just sync them into the HTC. So all I need to do is add new numbers to the Nokia and HTC, and I am done, how so handy it has become that I add business cards as I get them from meeting to meeting ….

It seems like I am a fanboy, but I love the contact linking between Skype, Whatsapp, Google and my contact list, and I assume that once I get another Android gadget they will all be transferred to it, which is nyce given that all is then stored in the cloud.

Customizing the screen pages, well I love my right menu on my Nokia which gives me quick and easy access to the same menu items I have used for the last 10 years, Inbox, General Profile, Silent Profile, Task List, Calculator and I am done. I have mulitple tabs on Android so on my main screen (like my old feature phone) I have got Gmail, Twitter, Messages, Call historry, Contact list, opera mini and the default browser, Whatsapp (I find myself using it more and more). Now on the second screen I have got other common utilities, Camera (great quality), Gallery, Reader found books on here though I have failed to connect to Kobo for more books, iStoryBooks (a gold mine, my kids are loving my phone and wait eagerly to get at each book that I have downloaded), calculator, wordpress statistics for my blog, Google Talk, Flashlight, Google Playstore, Calendar, Evernote (trying to use it to share notes across everything), and Skype.

I also ran into a problem of syncing my calendar with my phone with the creation of duplicated events. This puzzled me till I remembered that I already have 2 way sync between my Google Calendar and MS Outlook, so syncing both with my phone creates two events. This one was cleared using instructions from http://sysadminspot.com/phones/delete-pc-sync-calendar-on-htc-desire/ So once that was done all I had to do was turn off the Outlook calendar event sync from HTC sense on my laptop and voila!! It was all good to go. So now I create an event in Outlook it ends up in Gmail and on my phone and vice versa, and I love it. So no more birthdays forgotten or events missed.

And oh yes I have been introduced to the pain of Internet bandwidth data caps, I found that I ran through 100MB in a week, yet I only use the mobile data when I am out office, I use the office WIFI when in office. I found that the cheapest bandwidth 30MB which is valid for 24 hours for 10 days is the same cost as 100MB which is valid for one month. So I will need to find a way to automate my daily purchases so that I do not have to go through the 6 steps to get around the USSD codes.

The major challenges, that I am still running into are battery life which dies after an hour or two of heavy use, when I go out for meetings so it’s tied to a USB port on my laptop, left the 240V power charger which uses USB too at home to make sure I have my bases covered. Also I found that using the power charger gets it full while the USB charger does not move it along as fast.

So HTC love your phone, but there is terrible battery life …

Samsung Galaxy Pocket Launch in Uganda – Thoughts, Coverage and Opinion

Well there I was for another product launch, this time for the Samsung Galaxy Pocket launch, for those who do not know, its one of the youngsters of the Galaxy line of phones and tablets, and hyped it has been through my social media channel, Twitter, where I got the invite. The best thing for me was that I was to meet 3 different potential partners for a work focused market assessment study I was doing, talk about mixing business and pleasure.

As is my tradition, I was there ahead of time, why so early in the morning, I have to drop off my kids to school before the traffic picks up at 6:40am, so by 7:00am I am either at my desk slaving away (I love what I do), or waiting for any morning appointments to show up. So back to the launch,  the background was a relentless video advert reminding us that the phone provides access to over 400,000 Android apps from Google Appstore, plus a faster internet connection, and great look. With all the hustle and bustle I am hearing rumors that we may actually get a chance to play with the phones and test them out.

The lounge was well done up, in Samsung blue, thankfully I was decked out in the same so we blended. I took a few photos, using the webcam of the 17″ HP Envy 3D laptop I was lugging around (now that is a review for another day) since I had no camera. While the photos were not award winning, they pretty much captured the mood for the morning.

As we waited I had a chance to catch up with Joyce Tonda, Managing Editor of Enterprise Technology magazine, whom I had not seen for quite some time. Then came another media opportunity, in walked Ernest Bazanye, one of the few Ugandan writers I admire, very witty satirical and a social critic. I asked him what he was doing at the launch, and what his expectations were, well the video is http://youtu.be/BnY1dmLDlMI

Once that interview was done the official ceremonies began with MC, Crystal Newman (https://twitter.com/CrystalANewman) intended to keep the event young, hip and energetic. The welcome note was by the head of Marketing based out of Nairobi, then a quick word by the Uganda Country Manager. This is where it became interesting, some users had got the phone a few days before and were to share their experiences:

  1. Richard Zulu (http://twitter.com/richardzulu) – enterprenur, business person  – he was happy with the battery life, available disk space, and response time
  2. Duke Danny (https://twitter.com/dukedanny4)  – chef, geek, mobile application developer – said it was snappy, did not have to charge it all the time, and could test his apps
  3. Karungi Terry (https://twitter.com/Kashweeti) – student – downloaded many learning apps, used it for entertainment, accessing social media and down right loved it
  4. Navio (https://twitter.com/naviomusic) – musician and entertainer – runs all his email, schedules contacts in one place

There were a few challenges, and winners of phones for best photo, most tweets, best rendition of a song with Navio. All in all it was an interesting launch

Obviously you did not expect me to stop there, now what is my take!! This is an interesting battle for supremacy for the smartphone bragging rights, and also for growth especially in Africa and the rest of the developing world. While only few can afford the high end smartphones, Iphone, Samsung Galaxy SII and SIII (okay I want that one), HTC One X, Motorola Droids (hmm have not heard of one in a while), the real mover and shaker for the adoption is in the $100 range which was dominated by Nokia Symbian feature phones, but is not being relentlessly barraged by the Huwaeii, ZTE and other Chinese/Asian manufacturers. The Samsung Pocket, is a baby in the family but in my opinion is a great starting point for users to upgrade to the higher end smartphones. As with all smartphones, battery life, touch issues (we have lots of dust, and dirt with little access to cleaning agents), are key.

However growing the ecosystem to add value will increase uptake, with Android the operating system and platform may be available, but useful applications in the local context are key to pushing adoption and usage. That is the one area, Samsung and Google need to cooperate with local developers, government, NGOs to develop a value proposition for acquiring and using the phones not forgetting pushing the local telecom network operators to push down data costs to make the application usage feasible.

What are your thoughts?

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 Day 3 – 60 sec pitch, Customer Validation, Business Value, Wrap Up and Lessons Learnt

Day 3 of the weekend was entirely focused on validating the target customers, revenue numbers, business models and completing the proof of concepts for the pitches to the judges at the end of the day.

How did the morning begin, well we found out that we did not have to develop a platform as there was one tried and tested platform, so it would make it easier for the team to develop a proof of concept. This also opened up an alternate revenue stream for implementation and hosting which was really great as that was one big business risk.

We also had a great discussion with one of the mentors, Sean Krepp of Grameen Foundation, who is currently involved in a lot of data collection and monitoring, on the business models, value propositions, risks and how to laser focus on a customer problem.

Dry Run for Final Pitch

Dry Run for Final Pitch

The strange thing about Day 3 – Sunday was that the energy levles were ebbing towards empty as the timelines etched towars the finish line. The first checkpoint was at 12 noon where we had to present the first draft of the final pitch presentation to the mentors who were around as a “dry run”. Thank God for the mentors because they were relentless in their pursit of information, updates, validation of customers, revenue models and business justification.

The afternoon was slow as we got all ready for the presentations with finalizing the documentation for the presentation. We emptied the rooms and organized the ares for the last pitch. Well finally the judges arrived, and it was with great fanfare that the final pitches began, and of course Databud was the first off the tracks, and we had a great time “first presenters” always do.

The Guest of Honor, Hon. Ham Mulira, arrived during the pitches, and from my vantage point seemed to enjoy the energy and vitality that was going on. He seemed to be going back in time to when he was younger I think, coding in C on those UNIX machines.

Databud Final Pitch to Judges

Databud Final Pitch to Judges

Well after the speeches, the judges went to to deliberate and we had a few words from the Guest of Honor. Just as Hon. Ham Mulira was getting up, one of our mentors, Reinier Battenberg, did a Kanye West, and asked the attendees in the room to give the lead organizer, Richard Zulu, a round of applause for organizing such an event and being such a community leader.

Hon. Ham Mulira was eloquent, in touch with the times and gave a great rendition of his days, but his take away quote as “You do not have to be great to be start, but you have to start to be great”. After he introduced two of his guests, great manners for a big man.

Once the speeches were done it was time to wait for the judges to come back and announce the top three apps of the evening which were Sonda, MyZiki and BetOM.

While we may not have won we had a great time, for me it was a great learning experience and a once-in-a-lifetime event. Of course now I will be attending hackathlons and similar events whenever I can get a chance to improve and further develop my skills.

Final Pitch to Judges - Front View

Final Pitch to Judges – Front View

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

UPDATE:

Follow the experiences from the first two days at:

  1. Startup Weekend Kampala – Day 1 – Ideas, Pitches, Teams
  2. Startup Weekend Day 2 – Platform, Mentors, Coding, Product Positioning, Decisions during Execution

 

Startup Weekend Day 2 – Platform, Mentors, Coding, Product Positioning, Decisions during Execution

Day 2 started well, but what I can say is that it was a rollercoaster of a day I must say with ups and downs but well here it is. The day started early as there was a lot of energy from the night before, I got to the venue by 8:00am checked in and setup my laptop as I waited for my team mates to arrive.

The plan of the day was to develop a navigable prototype as a proof of concept that this is possible. Once I had a cup of caffeine, oh yes so much of this stuff is needed for such events that a dedicated coffee maker is inevitable … it was off to meet the mentors who were moving around and talking to the different teams.

The first mentors, Reinier Battenberg and Deborah Elzie, offered the first blow of the day, we were not the only players in the market and a new player had just launched 3 weeks prior to the startup weekend and they had lotsa datasets. This was the first crushing blow to our flight in the clouds, however on talking with other mentors the advice we got was “differentiate yourselves from the competition” – now this is the beauty of having mentors around because they help you navigate the valleys as you find them.

Well back to work we went, as we prepared for the 12noon checkpoint with renewed energy. The focus of the 12noon checkpoint was to practice the 60 second pitch, and sent targets for the 4pm checkpoint. This checkpoint provides a valuable status check from the “code product” to focus on the business model, value proposition, revenue and cost projections, etc … basically the business side of the apps.

Well it was back to work code, revenue models, more research on how to differentiate ourselves from the competition. Between noon and 4pm, all I can say is the rooms were intense with coding, thinking planning, etc.

In summary Day 2 was execute on the run, re-think and refine while on the run. What an experience … we worked long and hard into the night getting ready for the final sprint towards the finish line …

UPDATE:

Follow the action for Day 1 and Day 3 at:

  1. Startup Weekend Kampala – Day 1 – Ideas, Pitches, Teams
  2. Startup Weekend Day 3 – 60 sec pitch, Customer Validation, Business Value, Wrap Up and Lessons Learnt
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