Interview: Leslie Tita, the co-founder and brains behind Pulse.cm

Leslie Tita is Cameroonian designer who has great interest in web and print designs. He has 3 years of experience in the field and he was one of the first employees to join RINGO, a Cameroonian Internet Service Provider. Currently he is pursuing his studies in the US and works as a designer for the Cameroonian social network Camerborn. Leslie recently made waves in the African startup space when his project Pulse.cm was selected as a finalist at the MIT $100K YouPitch Entrepreneurship Competition. Up against some of the best and most creative minds in the world, Leslie once again shows African entrepreneurs are ready to take the world by storm.

Tell us about your project. How did it start and what is the idea behind it?

The Pulse project aims to build a low-cost online student services platform for African universities, professors and students. Pulse provides a service where any university can own and operate its own high-end online students network, without having to deploy any technical infrastructure, it will permit lecturers to communicate faster and cheaper to their students. Lastly it will enable students to reduce the cost related to getting information by giving them the possibility receive updates from their teachers and classmates through sms, web and email.

How did you get the ball rolling?

Well Pulse started as an idea to create a social network for the University of Buea. Then after telling ourselves “Please not another Facebook, we are better than that”- we came to discover that though Africans students communicated a lot on the social space most African universities haven’t been able to leverage that. So the idea was to build this new kind of online student service that would take advantage of the existing networks while being customized for each university. We are also basing operations essentially on the mobile experience which is definitely the way forward for digital communication in Africa.

What makes you different or unique? Key milestones?

We are not unique. We took a proven concept and brought it to a market that was unexplored by competitors. That is the reason the we specialise only in online student services focused to the huge African market. In the US, however, every university operates an online students service platform. Some are custom built while others are provided by Blackboard Inc. In Africa the high cost of acquiring such a service makes it difficult for all universities to have one. To this extent Pulse is definitely different, YES!

We believe that all students want to communicate with their educators and that they want to do it outside of class and in a cool way. But not all universities have the technical know how to build a custom online students service, or may consider it too expensive to own one, this is where we come in. Pulse gives each university that low cost private space it needs to operate, and of course adding that social feel so students find it cool and easy to use to ensure the platform doesn’t feel like a burden. As for the milestones, the first was gathering the ideal team to work together on this project. That has been done.

Next we expect:

– start a partnership with the university of Buea
– to roll our pilot program
– follow up with a partnership with ISTDI by the end of the year

Tell us about your experience with the MIT competition?

MIT100k entrepreneurship competition was a really thrilling experience because getting to measure yourself against ivy league colleges such as Harvard, MIT or John Hopkins is definitely something you don’t forget. We were to submit a 60 sec video pitch of our project and have the public vote on it on either facebook and/or youtube.

What is Pulse ? from pulse on Vimeo.

Some people still question if African entrepreneurs are ready to compete globally. You are an example that proves otherwise. How did Pulse do?

Things got interesting because we entered this competition with a considerable disadvantage i.e. the voting was online. One week to the closing of the competition the other entrants had about 300 Facebook likes and by the middle of the week we already had over 500. In the end we totaled over 1000 votes and placed second in the competition.

We would not have made it so get so far without the support of the public. We had very prominent people retweet our link like Rebecca Enochong, Heather laGarde and even Google’s very own Ory Okolloh just to name a few. So though we started at a disadvantage, with the others ahead of us by 300 votes, we were able to catch up and go over 500 votes by the weekend. All through the power of sharing and retweeting.

I do believe if your idea is innovative, needed, sound and feasible, there are people who believe in it. They want to see you grow, let it be locally or globally, and in our case we had over 1000 people support us. If African entrepreneurs can leverage the power of social networks they can go places.

We created a page to thank everyone who voted for us.

Tell us why we should support your efforts?

Why people should support us? Because its feasible, needed and most of all innovative. Already the vast majority of our voters where African students, this just reaffirms our position that we were building an African solution to an African problem. However we made it only to the finals, but the tons of great feedback from across the globe is a win for us.

How do you look at innovation in Cameroon? Can you give us a feel for the startup scene there? Why should people invest now?

Innovation in Cameroon is in its bubble stage, and it only needs to be burst. There is an impressive list of innovative startups coming up like Wasamundi, Ruedelajoie, Njorku and Geofeed.me. I have had the privilege to collaborate with several of these Cameroonian entrepreneurs. The most notable was building the social network Camerborn. These startups have great projects and ideas. Why should you invest in Cameroon? For 2 reasons – 1st because as with other African countries research shows that ROI is very high i.e. “1 dollar in = 10 dollars out” and 2nd because 3⁄4 of the Cameroonian population are people under the age of 21 and these guys are fanatics of Technology, Social networks and Internet. Anyone who can leverage that will definitely have his clear cut.

Moving forward, what are the main areas of support you are looking for?

At this point, we looking forward to partner with universities across Africa. We need the support of these institutions. At this time we are in close talks with 2 for a pilot program, but we also encourage professors/lecturers who are looking for means to communicate with their students outside class to give us a ping. We might just have the thing for you.

Since Pulse will depend a lot on mobile technologies we will be looking in the nearest future to getting support from the local mobile operators and isp’s. And lastly, we do need investment. I should mention that we have been bootstrapped up to this point and we have been doing pretty ok with that.

Is there anything you would like to add? What is VC4Africa for you?

As an entrepreneur the road is very slippery, its benefits maybe cool, but being an African entrepreneur one faces a lot challenges. Not every startup booms and becomes an eventual Ushahidi, MiXit or Facebook. One will definitely have his/her rounds of failures. Lucky for me there is a platform like VC4Africa. This improves my chances of success by providing a free platform that make it possible to network (very important for entrepreneurs) and most especially to showcase our product to potential investors.

Can you add your contact details?

Yes, you get me on leslie.tita [at] pulse . cm or on twitter @titaleslie

Well Leslie, we are certainly impressed with your work and look forward to following your progress. And for all those naysayers out there it’s time to break down the walls, shift the mindset and join the movement of African entrepreneurs dedicated to changing the world. Projects like Pulse lead the way and we are here to follow!

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