Budding tech entrepreneurs must focus on problem rather than method while deploying their mobile and web solutions to succeed in the growing web space in Nigeria and the rest of west Africa.
That’s the advice from Tunde Kehinde, co-managing director of Jumia Nigeria, the online retailer which prides itself as the largest e-commerce player in Africa’s most populous country. Kehinde says the success of Jumia hinges on a very simple premise: solving a problem; a point some tech entrepreneurs sometimes undervalue because of their seeming obsession with technology.
“It sounds very cliché, but you should first figure out what you want to solve, then you can figure out how you want to do it,” Kehinde tells VC4Africa at the recently concluded Mobile Web West Africa Conference MWWA 2013. The event, now in its third year, brought players within the mobile web space to discuss the theme: ‘Taking the monetisation and content creation dialogue to the next level.’
Kehinde continues: “For us, the problem is that retail and finding things to buy in the country is just hard, whether it’s online or offline. We just felt that the online platform gives us a chance to get to more Nigerians quicker. So I think for any entrepreneur, don’t think about the method first, just think about what you are trying to solve, then from there you’ll figure out how to do it.”
MWWA2013 and industry growth
“This event pretty much mirrors the growth of the industry,” says Mathew Dawes of All Amber, organizers of the annual tech event MWWA 2013. “It’s much bigger this year and more business focused.“
According to Dawes, MWWA 2013 saw more startups and companies from the region. In his words: “In 2011 and 2012, people were producing apps, but now they are producing companies that produce apps.”
And for budding tech entrepreneurs, Dawes says: “Don’t look at the money. Get an idea. Feel passionate. Work hard, and good things will come.”
Smartphone versus feature phone debate
A larger percentage of users in Nigeria and indeed Africa use the feature phone. But a growing number appears to be acquiring smartphones as cost gradually comes down. With this trend, App developers and tech entrepreneurs oftentimes get caught up in the argument of whether to go ‘feature’ or to develop ‘smart.’
“Design everything for a smartphone,” Alex Dadson of Qualcom says. “It is the future.” Dadson calls the smartphone the new technological platform and tells tech entrepreneurs to design interesting services and apps for it. “You can’t go wrong and you’ll do very well. There will always be people who want a feature phone, but the wind is behind smart phones at this time,” he adds.
Nikiru Asika of Enterprise Creative and executive director with Nigeria’s foremost entertainment company Storm 360 shares the view of Dadson on smartphones. She explains: “It’s just not really about understanding the technology, it’s understanding what technology can do for you. It’s looking at the things that are critical to daily life-information, entertainment, health, transport, etc-and then think about how they can be deployed to the demographic that is key which is the youth demographic in a way that is key which is mobile, and not just mobile, but smartphone.”
But Vytas Paukstys of ESKIMI thinks differently. Paukstys says there is a lot of hype on the smart phone, but the reality is that they are not really used. According to him, smartphone users constitute only 2 percent of the active users on Eskimi. Pauktysts’ mobile first social network boasts of 9 million global users. But 6 million of those users come from Nigeria. And that, he says, has contributed to the profitability of ESKIMI.
“I have seen a lot of really great ideas and apps, but they were developed on the iOS or Android while the market is on the feature phones,” Paukstys notes. “So do not forget this [feature phone] market because it will not change quickly”
His message for local developers: “Develop for your own market and not for the US or UK. In general, the number of apps/products here in Nigeria is very small and there’s still a lot of room to become successful here. The audience is waiting and are really underserved.”
Know Your Customer
Saidah Nash Carter of Thomson Reuters took the conversation further by saying customer identification remains critical to succeeding as a content provider and entrepreneur.
“It starts with knowing where your customer is and finding the best possible experience for that where ever they are,” she says in an interview. “If you know that your customer is on a mid range Android device then you try to build your solution to be as awesome as possible for that mid range device.”
Mobile Web or Mobile App: iROKING experience
For mobile entrepreneurs, CEO of iROKING Micheal Ugwu advices that simplicity and accessibility should define your strategy for content and distribution. In iROKING’s case, Ugwu says:
“My experience is that mobile web works a lot better locally than actual mobile applications. If you are talking about acquiring a user, which this is all about, you need the simplest way for someone to get online and consume something you have made available for them, and for us mobile web has just been that thing. For example, why should I go [through the hassle] and download your application to get the song that is [free] on those other websites.”
The iROKING CEO says the strategy of simplicity and accessibility allowed iROKING to grow massively. In his words: “In the same space of time we built applications, we only grew like 100,000 users. In the 2nd stage of our 7-8 month journey when we now pushed toward the mobile web, we grew six times in terms of registered users… Just making the content as accessible as possible was what drove our growth, [mainly from Nigeria].
Go beyond the idea and build a product
Derek Bossman, CEO and co-founder of AdsBrook, says entrepreneurs need to concentrate on building a viable product rather than looking for ‘fundable’ ideas. AdsBrook is a Ghana based but Africa focused fast growing web and mobile ad network.
“We believed in what we were doing to the point where we were able to build a prototype, test it with potential advertisers, launched and started serving ads before we pitched to the investors, and that had a huge reason for the fact that we did get funding and we were able to do what we are doing right now,” Bossman explains. “We had customers before we presented which is something nobody has done before. We had customers; we had traction and we had a proven concept. We had a product.” Bossman, one of the many entrepreneurs and resource persons who participated at the Mobile Web West Africa Conference 2013, adds: “Believe in your dream and work your ass off to make it happen.”