African Apps in a Global Marketplace Ideas, observations, tips and some gripes about the African app industry
By Andrew Mugoya
Freely distribute and share this publication under the terms of Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License. ÂŠ 2011 Andrew Mugoya Layout by Asilia 2
Introduction ........................................................4 Apps vs Traditional Software ..............................8 The World is Knocking .....................................11 Take a Look Around .........................................13 All About the User ............................................16 Being Proudly African .......................................22 Funding .............................................................26 Clever Marketing ..............................................33 Measuring Success ............................................36 The 10-Point Takeaway ....................................40 About The Author ............................................44 Acknowledgements ...........................................45
Introduction It has never been easier for THE DAWNING OF A NEW AGE African app developers to gain African technology is in an exciting and vibrant phase: there a global market for their apps are numerous opportunities for technology to make a significant difference; there are many talented developers in, or joining, the industry; and, more excitingly, it has never been easier for African app developers and entrepreneurs to gain a global market for their services and products. Sounds all good. As exciting, promising and potentially lucrative as this seems, it is not a situation that is unique to Africa. Developers all across the world are experiencing a similar environment and have access to the same global opportunities. What this means for African developers and entrepreneurs is that they are not only competing for the same global market, but also facing competition from afar for their local markets. To be able to compete in this new world â€“ to be able to survive â€“ African developers and entrepreneurs need to understand and appropriately adapt to this reality.
WHAT THIS BOOK IS ABOUT Firstly, what this book is not. This is not a book about the state of African technology in general. It is only concerned with the app industry (I describe what I mean by ‘app’ in the next chapter). It is also not a step-by-step recipe for success in app development. For that, I encourage you to refer to the vast wealth of articles and blogs that attempt to address this subject. This book is a collection of ideas, observations, tips and some gripes about the state of the African app industry. It is an attempt to collate several good ideas (some mine, most from others) that have been put forward in disparate places including blogs, news reports, tweets, conversations, conferences and many other sources. It is my hope that the ideas presented here can contribute to the success of app developers and entrepreneurs in Africa. The aim is to share these ideas with others and constructively participate in the ongoing conversations about the state of the industry.
WHAT DOES ‘AFRICAN’ MEAN? The African continent has an extremely wide variety of people, cultures, languages, economies and nuances. Attempting to give a one-size-fits-all view would be futile. 5
This for-the-love-of-it attitude is This book generally refers to the sub-Saharan countries. Why the reason behind the mainly these countries? For one, their cultures tend to be industryâ€™s vibrancy similar, although not the same. Secondly, many of them have a shared colonial and post-colonial history. Thirdly, their political and economic situations also share numerous similarities. And lastly, to most of the rest of the world, sub-Saharan Africa tends to be lumped into one area so many of the countries within it suffer the same prejudices.
WHO THIS BOOK IS FOR This book is targeted towards app developers, entrepreneurs and investors in Africa or those interested in Africa. It is intended to be particularly relevant to those in the African app sector who are attempting to forge a niche in the global marketplace. Majority of app development is done for the fun of it or because an idea excites the developer. This for-the-love-of-it attitude, particularly among young developers, should continue to be encouraged as it is the reason behind the industryâ€™s vibrancy. However, this book deals with an analytical and objective approach to app development. It is for those that want to take their idea a step further and achieve a bigger objective such as monetise their app or build a sustainable business. 6
Although this book is written from a sub-Saharan perspective, many of the ideas presented may be relevant across the entire continent and perhaps even globally.
Apps vs Traditional Software Apps are lightweight and WHAT IS AN APP? simple enough to install with The term â€˜appâ€™ means different things to different people. almost no technical knowledge Clarifying what it means in the context of this book is therefore necessary. An app is a lightweight application or piece of software that can be deployed remotely over the web or offered remotely as a service (software as a service). Apps include the familiar mobile apps found on app stores; web applications and web platforms; and easily deployable, lightweight desktop apps (like those on the Mac App Store).
SPOT THE DIFFERENCE Although there are many similarities, there is a significant difference between apps and traditional software. The dynamics of developing, marketing and maintaining traditional software are distinctly different from those of app development.
Traditional software often requires complex installation and maintenance processes that mean the developer or a local expert has to physically be present. Think operating systems, enterprise software, custom business software and so on. Apps on the other hand are built to be lightweight and simple enough to install quickly and with almost no technical knowledge. This is the main difference between apps and traditional software. More differences are evident in how the two types of software are built, marketed and priced. Traditional software is built for techies to install and manage for their clients. Apps are built for non-technical users to be able to install and update directly. Because traditional software is built for techies to install and manage, it is marketed mainly to them with technical specifications being given higher priority over User Interface (UI) design and usability. Additionally, whereas traditional software could cost anywhere from a few hundred US dollars to millions of US dollars, apps are mostly free or cost only a few US dollars.
Apps are a distinct industry One problem of requiring a techie to be physically close to the with unique skillsets end user is that it puts limits on having a global presence. This
is not a problem that apps suffer from. It also means that traditional software does not have to contend with the same level of global competition that apps face. In Africa in particular, this has sometimes led to traditional software developers still being able to succeed even though the software they provide is internationally sub-standard. The traditional software industry can afford to be relatively insular and still thrive whereas the app industry does not have this luxury. These differences between traditional software and apps mean that the mindset, skills and resources required to succeed with each can be vastly different. All the same, most developers and entrepreneurs can, and do, straddle both worlds and the dividing lines can be blurry. It is precisely for this reason that highlighting the differences is important to avoid developers and entrepreneurs assuming success in one field automatically translates to success in the other. Lumping apps in the same technology pot as traditional software and telecom companies is akin to grouping bicycle manufacturers with car manufacturers and road builders because they are all road-related. App development deserves to be recognised as a distinct industry and afforded the due credit that its unique skillset requires.
The World is Knocking African app developers are not only competing for global market share, but also facing global competition for their local markets
The African app sector has a dilemma on its hands. On one hand, the internet has given developers a level of access to global markets that African governments have failed to achieve for other industries. For example, without having to worry about the bureaucracy associated with international trade, an app developer in Senegal can easily market his or her apps to customers in France and a developer in Namibia can remotely build an app for a client in Brazil. In the space of a decade, the potential market for African developers has grown from their local towns and countries to literally the entire world. Unfortunately, there is a flip side to this coin. African developers and entrepreneurs are not alone in having access to these global markets. They face stiff competition from app developers located in other parts of the world. These developers have equal â€“ if not more â€“ access to the same global markets. More importantly, it is equally easy for the global marketplace to access African customers, as it is for African developers to access the global marketplace. Local customers now have a wider variety of apps that they can access from across the world and many of them are taking full advantage of this. 11
How do developers take advantage of the global opportunities now available to them and at the same time handle the increased level of competition they face internationally and locally? This question is being asked by app developers across the globe and African developers and entrepreneurs are being forced to do the same. The following chapters aim to assist in finding some answers.
Take a Look Around Learning from the mistakes or successes of others is a good way to minimise the costly process of trial and error
Any African developer or entrepreneur with an idea for an app ought to start by looking at what is already available in the market. There is plenty that can be learnt from what others have done and are doing, either successfully or unsuccessfully. If the developer is not planning on doing things differently or better, then time, effort and money can be saved by not replicating what is out there. With funding being a particular problem for many African developers, learning from the mistakes or successes of others is a good way to minimise the costly process of trial and error. One common mistake that many app developers make is they attempt to replicate successful businesses without having a good understanding of what it takes to be successful. On realising that they can easily rewrite the code behind a successful app, say Twitter or Facebook, a temptation for some African developers is to go ahead and do exactly that, in the hope that they can also replicate the success. As many that have tried will confirm, success cannot be copied and pasted.
The secret behind successful The code and functionality behind many successful apps is not apps does not lie in the complex and can easily be reproduced if not improved upon. complexity of the code This should be an indication that the secret to their success does not lie in the complexity of their code.
Unless a developer or entrepreneur is proposing a new angle to social networking or has an idea on how it could be modified and improved for a niche market, it is advisable not to take on Facebook or Twitter. And the same applies for many other successful and popular apps. For example, I recently came across a very talented developer who, a couple of years ago, created a video conferencing and chat application literally from scratch. The app was so impressive that he managed to secure a big client who was willing to buy a copy after a few custom enhancements had been made. A few weeks prior to installing the finished product and getting paid what was to be a hefty fee, the client discovered Skype. Needless to say, the contract was swiftly cancelled and the project terminated. Although the developer was compensated a part of the fee, his dreams of going on to take the market by storm sadly came crashing back down to earth. The lesson for him and others is simple: Do not develop software that already exists unless you have a clear and evident added-value proposition to offer your clients.
DIGGING DEEPER Studying the marketplace should be more than just a review of apps that are available. The developer should be asking several important questions about other apps: • What are their business models? • How successful are they as a business? • Why have they succeeded or failed? • How long has it taken, or will it take, for them to recoup their investments and start making profits? Finding even cursory answers to these questions could easily give the developer an indication as to whether a good idea for an app translates into a viable business.
LOOKING WIDER African developers should be looking beyond Europe and America for both their competitor analysis and inspiration. India, China and many other parts of the world – including other parts of Africa – have vibrant app industries, each producing many innovative and successful apps that are not covered in the mainstream channels. What opportunities they offer and what challenges they pose should not be ignored.
All About the User Apps need to be user-friendly enough to be installed and used by non-technical users, yet still be highly functional
IT’S NOT ABOUT THE TECHNOLOGY It is not difficult to see why the code and functionality behind majority of apps is not complex and can easily be replicated. Many software frameworks, platforms and libraries are now standardised and freely available, mainly due to the growth of open source software. Additionally, the need for apps to be lightweight means that there is a limited amount of code and functionality that you can cram into them. This is why marketing of apps is rarely about the technical specifications of the software. As mentioned before, traditional software, on the other hand, is mostly about the technology and is marketed as such – which explains why consumers tend to be bombarded with technical jargon that they barely understand. The marketing of an app requires a layman’s demonstration of how functional, simple and user-friendly the app is. Apps need to be simple, robust and user-friendly enough to be installed, used and updated by non-technical users, yet remain highly functional. Those that get this balance right are more likely to succeed. 16
To achieve simplicity and APPS ARE TO SOFTWARE WHAT TWEETS ARE TO subtlety requires a significant WRITING amount of effort and restraint Think about what micro-blogging (e.g. on Twitter) has done for writing. Creative writing has never been about the use of complex words or the quantity of text. Micro-blogging has taken this concept further and made simplicity and brevity mandatory. Good tweets are those that convey their message concisely, but are still clever enough to include subtly creative and effective writing. App development is about doing the same for software. Great apps are those that manage to be light and simple, yet incorporate innovative features to improve the user experience. In writing, simplicity and subtlety are difficult to achieve. There is often a strong temptation to want to impress by saying more or by adding more facts and complex words. It is no different for app developers. They face the temptation to want to add as many impressive features and as much functionality as possible. To achieve the simplicity and subtlety that great apps possess requires a significant amount of effort and restraint.
â€œDesign is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.â€? Steve Jobs
DESIGN IS KING ... The challenge of being innovative while maintaining simplicity and ease-of-use is where design comes in. App development is mainly about taking existing features or functionality and finding new ways of using them to give the user a better experience. This implies that design is not just a task in the development process, but the main task. More than the technology and functionality, apps are about the design and user experience. A common misconception is that design is solely about making things look pretty. Granted, part of the role of good design is to give the app a visually aesthetic appearance. However, the user experience is about much more than simply what they see. The role of design is to ensure that the entire experience of using the app is functional, intuitive and enjoyable. Design should drive not just what it looks like, but what it does and what features it has. The design stage should be where the essence of the app is defined and specified. As such, design cannot be simply viewed as a final add-on to the app development process. The outputs of the design stage should not only be visual graphics, but use-cases, specifications, wireframes, sequence diagrams and more if necessary.
... AND QUEEN An art painterâ€™s job is to select colours from an endless spectrum of possibilities and creatively mix and match them in a way that gives the audience not just a collection of colours, but a satisfying experience. Good design does the same with technology and functionality. An app should be more than simply a collection of cool functionality. It should be a creative use of features, functionality and aesthetics to enable users to achieve a specified goal in as simple and enjoyable a way as possible. Owing to the importance of the design process, almost everyone in the team should be involved or should contribute to it. This includes the developers, graphic designers and UI experts. Ideally, it should also include the opinions of some potential users. There are many apps that have succeeded without going through a detailed design process. However, what is quickly evident is that although they may have began with poor designs, to achieve sustainable success they have had to revisit the design stage either by iteratively incorporating user feedback or by seeking the services of professional designers. That apps such as Facebook and Twitter find the need to continuously revisit their design and user experience is a testament to this.
Your service, content or functionality would have to be exceptionally good for users to accept it with a poorly designed user experience. Some apps fall into this category, but for the majority this will not be the case. In a crowded marketplace, poor design can be suicidal.
BUILD IT RIGHT The development or coding stage should ideally come after the functionality and features have been decided upon after proper consideration during the design stage. This helps avoid the common coding pitfall of randomly adding unnecessary or potentially distracting features. For the app to deliver on what it promises, it has to be built right and based on well thought out specifications. Poorly written code, even if overlaid with great aesthetics, will often result in a poor experience for the user. Regardless of how many cool features the app has, if the basic functionality does not work, the app is likely to disappoint users.
Unless the app is in beta testing, it should work as described to the user. Any features or sections that do not work should be hidden and not included in the app’s description. As much as possible, ‘coming soon’ or ‘under construction’ messages should only be used when describing secondary functionality scheduled for a later release. Using ‘coming soon’ in place of unfinished functionality adds no value and only highlights that the app is incomplete.
APPS INFLUENCING TRADITIONAL SOFTWARE The design of apps has taken on such great significance that it is influencing the design of traditional software. Users are starting to expect their traditional software to be as simple to use and as user-friendly as their apps, regardless of the complexity of the code behind the software. Whereas in the past traditional software mainly competed on functionality, design and the user experience are becoming important factors. Good app design can and has been revolutionary. Investing time to get it right for your app is highly advisable.
Being Proudly African A niche for African app developers is presenting itself in the very place they should be looking: Africa
AFRICAN APPS FOR AFRICAN PROBLEMS Just as with app industries in other parts of the world, the African app industry is having to find its niche. Going head-tohead with Silicon Valley and its financial might is neither sensible nor practical. Fortunately, this niche is presenting itself in the very place African developers should be looking: Africa. The problems faced by the continent are either unique or have local nuances that only local developers and entrepreneurs can appreciate. It is difficult to argue against the assertion that the problems that Africa faces are primarily down to inefficient use of funds or resources, not the lack of them. The abundance of human and natural resources has few rivals globally and the pouring of billions of funds in aid, over the last few decades, has proven that the problem does not lie in funding. The inefficiency is mainly down to people and manifests itself in mismanagement, corruption, misuse of resources and, sometimes, plain laziness.
Solving Africaâ€™s problems will be down to Africans being empowered to bring about the necessary changes and improvements. Any solution that requires a change in the way things are done can only be successful in the long term if it comes from within as it requires an understanding of local customs and cultures. African problems will only be successfully solved by Africans. This provides a lucrative opportunity for African app developers. Apps in themselves cannot solve cultural and human inefficiencies. However, understanding local customs and cultures gives African developers an almost unassailable competitive advantage in developing apps that meet local needs and help to address Africaâ€™s problems.
LESSONS FROM NOLLYWOOD African entertainment presents a perfect example for African app development to learn from. Local entertainment in local languages and about local issues is a thriving industry in almost all of Africa. Local productions are relatively successful despite the overwhelming competition they face from Hollywood, Bollywood, Europe and cheap imports of pirated music or film. In some cases, the artists are as successful as their international counterparts. More importantly, these local industries have been able to forge their own niches and also export their artists and material to audiences all over the world. 23
Like Nollywood, international As I write this, Nollywood films have been screened in a success may have to begin with mainstream Odeon cinema in London for the first time. local success first Outside of mainstream theatres, Nigerian cinema is thriving across the African continent and in homes across the world. Cable and satellite TV networks in Europe and America now have several channels dedicated to Nigerian cinema. This is an impressive achievement.
One reason for this success is undoubtedly the authenticity of the material which is usually unashamedly local in content, language and style. Rather than try to copy and compete with Western cinema, Nollywood films address local issues using Nigerian dialects and settings. The high level of success of the industry in its local, core region has made audiences across Africa and the rest of the world to take notice. Many fans, both Nigerian and non-Nigerian, find that they are drawn by the authenticity of the films and by messages that directly resonate with them. The lesson for African app developers is clear: In order for the industry to realise international success, there may have to be a focus on achieving local success first. Not only would it secure for African developers a niche that they can call their own, it would also enable them to collectively benefit when this niche starts to become distinctly identifiable in the global marketplace.
LETTING AFRICAN CULTURES SHINE THROUGH African countries have many unique, rich and vibrant cultures, each with distinct artistic styles. As well as forging a niche by solving African problems in an African way, proudly showcasing these local styles in African apps can create a strong, visually strong identity. This could go a long way in helping African apps to stand out in crowded app stores and marketplaces.
Funding Funding is a chance at success, A MEANS TO AN END not an end in itself A worrying trend among entrepreneurs and developers, not just in Africa, but globally, is the equating of funding with success. To many entrepreneurs, getting investors is seen as the end goal. There is no doubt that acquiring funding is a major step on the road to success. However, it is merely a chance at success, not a guarantee of it. Capital is simply a means to a bigger goal and should always be viewed as such. One unfortunate result of funding being seen as the end goal is entrepreneurs believing that they have to get outside investment, regardless of whether they need it or not. Chasing funding for the sake of it distracts from the more important task of properly designing and developing your app and also shifts the focus away from your clients and customers, the main people to whom you have to prove your concept.
For most investors the goal is THE MIND OF AN INVESTOR simply to make money Understanding what motivates an investor to bankroll a business helps to determine what they will be looking for in a potential investment. For most investors, the goal is simply to make money. The riskier the proposition, the more they will expect to make. They may hope to make money from operational revenues or from the sale of their investment (exiting the investment). For other investors, the motive may be to acquire a venture that complements a business they own. The venture that they are investing in may not necessarily make money independently, but it may help the investor achieve or work towards certain strategic goals. Finally, there are altruistic investors who do not invest to make money or for strategic reasons, but simply for charitable reasons. These investors can respectively be categorised as capitalists, strategists and philanthropists.
The capitalists For entrepreneurs targeting the money-makers, the business will need to have a viable revenue or exit strategy that investors can buy into. Among other things, they will look at the following: • The amount of revenue that the app or business can generate and when it can start to generate this income • Current and/or expected expenses • Current and/or expected profits • Your competitors and the difficulty of others entering your line of business (i.e. barriers to entry) They may also, or alternatively, look at the possibility of the business being a strategic fit for other investors to whom they can later sell their stake. To this kind of investor, the numbers (users, sales, revenue, profits, etc.) tend to be more important than the technology. Therefore, having a demonstrable track record may be necessary.
The strategists Going after the investor who may view your app as a strategic fit for another business involves identifying money-making or money-saving synergies between the two businesses and highlighting them to the investor.
The philanthropists Targeting the altruistic investors almost always requires the venture to have an altruistic or charitable goal. This may include helping a disadvantaged group or helping to empower communities. Less emphasis is placed on the ventureâ€™s potential monetary gains.
All of the above investors will look at the reasons why you are seeking investment, i.e. why you need the money and how it will be used. They will also look at your track record and how likely you are to succeed. Finally, being able to prove the viability of the venture, usually by showing a significant customer base, is a basic requirement.
AID MONEY The story of aid and its impact on African economic development is well documented. The damage it can wreak on entire industries has been adequately covered in books such as â€˜Dead Aidâ€™ by Dambisa Moyo. Further, as local industries such as entertainment and mobile telephony have demonstrated, economic development and growth are possible without the need for aid. Attempts to introduce aid into these industries, however well-intentioned, would likely have lead to more damage than good. For example, despite the cheapest mobile handsets and price plans being relatively expensive for the average person (often costing several dollars), the mobile phone industry has prospered throughout Africa mainly through trade. If, on the other hand, there had been a charitable supply of free phones, this would have put phone traders out of business and left the local phone industries perilously dependent on charity. Despite these reservations, aid may still have a role to play in African app development. The individual entrepreneur in particular is unlikely to be fussy about where he or she gets funding from. And frankly, where funding comes from has never been the problem. The problem has mainly been how the funds are used.
Aid money can be more effective if there is a mind shift in how it is dispensed. Charitable organisations can channel their funds as investments by employing the same evaluation techniques used by venture capitalists. This means investing in viable apps with a proven market need. The apps and businesses would be required to generate profitable returns with which they could sustain themselves. This requirement would force entrepreneurs to focus on providing quantifiable value to their customers and clients rather than focusing on wooing donors. It would also ensure that the size of the investment is in proportion to the expected market returns thereby avoiding the dangers that overfunding can have on local economies. This approach is already starting to take root in the aid industry. Many private donors, such as the Gates Foundation, are demanding a business mentality of performance and accountability from the causes they support. Obviously, not all apps are built to make money. Some are designed for social justice and community empowerment purposes and not to generate profits. For these types of apps, unless there are viable and sustainable commercial alternatives, it is difficult to argue against charitable funding.
The power and benefits of BOOTSTRAPPING bootstrapping should not be For most entrepreneurs and developers, self-funding is often underestimated the only option, especially when starting out. Although it is prevalent, its benefits can sometimes be underestimated or overlooked. Firstly, it forces the entrepreneur to keep costs as low as possible during the initial stages of their appâ€™s development. This means they can test whether the app is viable prior to committing a high amount of resources. The need to keep costs low further means that there is a focus on the essential features and an avoidance of unnecessary elements that may overcomplicate the app. Finally, bootstrapping means the entrepreneur maintains full ownership of the business as they seek to prove their concept. Once proven, the app can command a higher valuation from potential investors.
Clever Marketing Market when ready, to the Marketing apps is a challenge, not just for African developers, right people and in the right but all across the world. The explosion in the number of apps way has meant that it is very easy for an app, no matter how good,
to disappear into the crowd. Designing and building your app well is not enough to guarantee success; how you market it and who you market it to are also important factors. Understandably, one of the reasons some entrepreneurs seek funding, regardless of whether or not they need it, is because getting an investor generates a good amount of free publicity. Entrepreneurs may also seek the services of Public Relations (PR) firms that aim to get the app mentioned in the relevant press. Some entrepreneurs take out advertisements in the media or blogosphere. Unfortunately, these options are often expensive and not available to the majority of African app developers. Old-fashioned word of mouth and self-publicity, through networking events and social media, are the options available to most.
DON’T MARKET UNTIL YOU ARE READY There are many developers who opt to publicise their apps prior to, or during, development. Although there may be some mileage to be gained from early or premature exposure, this approach could easily fail for the following reasons: • The idea could be stolen, improved upon and released before the app is ready • Raising expectations before overcoming the unforeseen challenges of development is risky • Finally, we live in a world of instant gratification; publicity about an app months before it is ready quickly becomes background noise
MARKET TO THE RELEVANT AUDIENCE Marketing is a costly and time-consuming process. Thus, the wasted effort of marketing to the wrong audience should be minimised as much as possible. A common temptation faced by developers is to want to publicise their app to fellow developers, showing off cool features and functionality. An app is ideally meant to solve the problem of a specific group of users or appeal to a specific demographic. Marketing to anyone outside the target market is likely to end up being wasted effort and may also result in the wrong kind of feedback. 34
Not all feedback, positive or Different demographics have different channels that reach negative, is constructive them and the appropriate ones should be identified and used.
Some users may be reached via blogs, others via newspapers and others still via social networks. Whichever channel is used, one rule to follow is to avoid spamming your target market; it is likely to do more harm than good. The best approach in engaging users is to genuinely participate, not intrude, in the discussions they are having and to find relevant points in the discussion to identify yourself and openly explain the benefits of your app.
HEAR NO EVIL Outside their target market, entrepreneurs should not expect much love. A common and unfortunate feature of online communities is the amount of negative and sometimes hateful comments that participants are able to make under the cover of anonymity or distance. Even within the intended target market, opinion is likely to be split. The aim of an app is not to be a solution for everyone, but to be a solution for enough people within your target market to make the business viable. Being able to accept both good and bad feedback as well as being able to turn negative feedback into positive motivation, are important qualities to have. 35
Measuring Success Know what success looks like As previously mentioned, many developers and entrepreneurs and how to measure it mistakenly equate funding with success. Other measures
wrongly used as success metrics include press mentions and awards. More recently, Facebook Likes and the number of followers on Twitter have become the perceived yardsticks of success. Admittedly, these are all good to have and may help towards success or may even be an indication of it, but they do not necessarily equate to it (unless, of course, they are the objectives of your app). It is worth remembering that the startup graveyard includes many heavily funded, awardwinning apps and companies.
MAKING MONEY There are several ways an app or startup could aim to make money. The obvious one is to sell a product or service to customers and aim to eventually generate more money than was invested and spent. 36
Alternatively, the aim could be to create a business that may not necessarily generate substantial profits on its own, but would be a strategic fit for another business and would help the joint businesses to make profits. For example, many web development companies develop free apps to both showcase their skills as well as supplement the services they offer their clients. The apps do not necessarily make money, but help market the companies and drive business for their other products and services. Alternatively, the aim could be for the app or business to be bought out by another company. Whichever way you look at it, the aim here is to directly or indirectly make money.
CHARITABLE CAUSES Charitable initiatives are often rewarded for their good intentions rather than for their actual results. This also applies to apps created for this market. As the glory comes before the results, the impact â€“ and measuring it â€“ tends to become secondary. Here especially, it is tempting to view the awards and aid funding as being the measure of success. Quantifying the true impact of charitable apps is often difficult as many aid initiatives measure their success anecdotally and some even state that their efforts can be deemed a success even if only one individualâ€™s life is improved. 37
Although apps that attempt to help the disadvantaged or marginalised are to be applauded, the challenge for both individuals and the app industry is twofold: 1. To avoid a future based on a dependence on aid 2. To avoid the same unintended consequences that aid has had on other industries, i.e. the elimination of trade alternatives and the creation of an aid-dependent culture
EXTERNAL FACTORS For many apps, either for-profit or not-for-profit, success does not just depend on how well-built and user-friendly the app is and how it is marketed, but also on external factors such as the economic environment, accessibility, competition, legal issues and so on. Being aware of the relevant external factors and what can be done about them is a useful skill to have.
HAVING FUN Developers creating apps for fun are the lifeblood of the app industry. Many developers are excited by simply seeing their code come to life. Without this mentality, especially among young developers, there would be no industry to speak of.
For those that get into app development simply to have fun doing what they love, success cannot be measured in monetary terms. It is simply evident in how much enjoyment and sense of purpose they derive from their apps.
The 10-Point Takeaway 1 . S POT THE DIFFERENCE : A PPS AND TRADITIONAL SOFTWARE ARE DIFFERENT BEASTS Although there are many similarities, apps and traditional software are not the same. One is mainly about functionality while the other is about the user experience. The skills required to develop and market each have nuances that should be appreciated.
2. THE WORLD IS KNOCKING AT YOUR DOOR It has never been easier to market an African product internationally as it is now for African apps. It has also never been easier for Africans to access international products as they can with apps. Taking advantage of the opportunities and being able to effectively compete is a major challenge that needs to be overcome by the industry.
3. LOOK AROUND YOU There is plenty to gain and little to lose from taking time to learn what else is out there and what challenges, successes and failures have been experienced. Not just in the usual places, but further afield too. Failure to learn from others often means repeating the same painful and expensive mistakes.
4. DESIGN IS KING Design is not about pretty images and colours. Design is about the entire user experience and involves functionality and aesthetics â€“ visual, audible and physical. It is a multi-skill effort involving programmers, UI experts, graphic designers and more. Involve individuals from each field when developing your app.
5. DESIGN IS QUEEN The technology in most apps is neither unique nor difficult to replicate. The design and user experience, more than functionality, are therefore key factors in determining success or failure.
6. BE PROUDLY AFRICAN There are valuable lessons to learn from the African entertainment industry: being yourself is not only easier, but also very lucrative; and African designs and solutions can be powerful differentiators for African apps.
7. FUNDING: A MEANS TO AN END Funding is good. Profits are better. Getting an investor, although good news, is not a measure of success. It is only a stepping stone to it.
8. BE SMART IN YOUR MARKETING An app for everyone is an app for no one. Your app should address the needs of a specific user group, whom you should target in your marketing. Marketing to the wrong group is almost always a waste of time and could even be counterproductive. And do not even consider spamming your target market!
9. DON’T BELIEVE (ALL) THE HYPE The startup graveyard is full of heavily-funded, award-winning startups. Regardless of what the ‘experts’ say, be it positive or negative, the ultimate judges of an app are the users. Their opinion counts above all others.
10. ENJOY THE RIDE App development and entrepreneurship is a roller coaster experience. Going the distance, if you do not enjoy the process, is very difficult, if not impossible.
About The Author Andrew Mugoya is the Founder and Technical Director of Asilia – a Creative Agency with branches in the UK and Kenya. Previously, he worked as a developer and project manager for more than 7 years at Barclays Bank, Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan. At all these institutions he worked on projects and clients across the globe. He studied Computer Engineering at Warwick University and obtained a Masters in Computer Science from Oxford University. Andrew was born and raised in Kenya. One of Asilia’s in-house initiatives is Afriapps, a platform showcasing great African apps. It has been live since November 2010 and in that time has profiled over 100 apps and developers. Andrew’s exposure to these great apps from across the continent and the trends he has noticed have been the main inspiration for this book.
Acknowledgements Writing a book is a challenging process. Firstly, you need inspiration. This came from the many great apps we feature on Afriapps and many other not-so-great ones that I have come across. The African app community, while still in its infancy, holds a significant amount of promise. Secondly, you need ideas. For this, I relied on my own experiences as well as on the opinions of many other countless commentators on African apps. Although too many to list here, I am thankful that there are others that share my excitement about the industry. Finally, you need lots of help and support. I am extremely grateful to my family, friends and colleagues at Asilia for their encouragement and assistance in helping to put this book together. Sincerely yours, Andrew Mugoya
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This is a collection of ideas, observations, tips and some gripes about the African app industry.