Andrew Mugoya: ‘African app developers have to forge a niche in the global marketplace’

Although the newly published E-book ‘African Apps in a Global Marketplace’ by Andrew Mugoya is aimed at software developers, it contains useful advice for every starting entrepreneur around the globe. VC4Africa spoke to Andrew about his book and the upcoming African app industry.

Why did you write this book?

“I wrote the book after noticing several trends on our website I thought I’d share my ideas, observations, tips and gripes about the industry in general, but also offer developers a guide in going from app to business. It’s about being competitive.

I’m a partner at Asilia – a Creative Agency based in London, UK and Nairobi, Kenya. I previously worked as a developer and project manager at several financial institutions in London. Afriapps is an Asilia in-house initiative to showcase great African apps. The website was launched in November 2010, so this month is our one-year anniversary.”

What are your main recommendations in the book?

“The book is full of useful recommendations for both the industry in Africa and individual developers. The main take-away for developers would be to focus on the user and the user experience. Design and the user experience are what app development is mainly about. Not fancy technology or features. Due to open source software and standardized frameworks, the technology is rarely unique. What is unique is the developer’s and designer’s creativity in using technology to make the user experience simple, enjoyable and functional.

For the industry in general, the challenge is firstly, to forge a niche in the global marketplace and secondly, avoid becoming dependent on aid/charity for its survival.”

You mention in the book that African developers and entrepreneurs are not only competing for the same global market, but also facing competition from afar for their local markets. What should they do to be competitive?

“Firstly they need to find a niche for themselves. Find an area that would be difficult for developers from other parts of the world to cater to. The obvious area that jumps out is Africa. Not just in the problems they are solving but also in how they are solving them; solving African problems in an African way. This means solving uniquely African problems and being unashamedly African in the design, language and style. In short, learn from Nollywood; international success may have to begin with local success first.”

Please tell us about your initiative Afriapps?

“We noticed that there were many African developers developing great apps but there was no platform dedicated to showcasing African apps. At least not in an ‘App store’ format. The only avenues were blogs and newspapers, which were unsuitable for users and clients who wanted a directory of African apps. Users want to be able to quickly find apps we recommend to our clients for specific purposes such as mapping and online payment in Africa.”

How many African apps are currently available and which ones are the most successful?

“We currently feature 55 apps and 35 developers. It is difficult to tell which ones are actually successful without sale/download figures, but there are several that stand out and that are popular with our users. Nkyea Learning System‘s apps such as Basic Swahili and Nkyea Twi Phrase Book offer something uniquely African: learning African languages. They are well built and designed with strong African aesthetics. They capture the idea I’m trying to put across in the book for other African developers to emulate.

One other app that stands out for me is Tuvitu from Shimba Technologies. It is a very innovative and popular app that could grow into a powerful platform.”

Where are the most app developers based and why there?

“If you were looking at African developers in general, the usual hubs would jump out – South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria. However, with Afriapps, we are limiting the apps we feature to the ones we would be happy to use or recommend to Asilia clients. Out of these, we are noticing that, apart from South Africa, Ghana is producing some very innovative, well-built and more importantly, well designed apps. Worth noting are those by Nkyea Learning Systems and those from alumni of the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology like Tutamee, Gripeline and RetailTower. Obviously we have great apps from all across Africa but Ghana stands out for me in having the highest concentration of apps we’ve featured.”

How do you see the African app developer scene evolve in the coming years?

“I think there is a lot of hype and euphoria about app development at the moment – lots of competitions, awards and initiatives. However, this will inevitably die down and most developers will realize that to survive they will need to offer a product that can translate into a business, not just awards and press time. The developers who realize this now and are attempting to build independently sustainable businesses (i.e. focusing on accumulating customers and generating profits) will be in a better position to survive.

I also think the industry will go the way African entertainment has gone: Start out by imitating the west then discover that it is easier and more lucrative to be African; then focus on the catering to the African market which will ironically enable it to stand out and compete globally.”

What is your favorite app and why?

“It is difficult to pick just one app. Every app we feature on Afriapps has something that appeals to me. However, the ones that particularly stand out are those that offer something uniquely African, are well built, well designed and look uniquely African. Andrika e-cards, Basic Swahili and Twi Phrase Book are good examples.”

The E-book ‘African Apps in a Global Marketplace’ by Andrew Mugoya can be downloaded for free. Andrew is on Twitter and you can e-mail him via andrew [at]