I would really love to see great stuff come out of Uganda and Uganda being called the Pearl of African should ignite some kind of belief for greatness in all things that we do. At the moment the population is so vocal about politics and that is good. But our technology space vocals are just a whisper. I think it could be that we are not talking about this space and it is until we start talking about it, then we can see real stuff. Some how due to the things i have seen happen in the past, it is good to start a conversation. Whether the topics are ugly, good or bad. It is commendable to talk about these things to spur some kind of progress. To be aware of the good, the bad and the ugly things starts with a step to complete a journey of a thousand miles.

I have been creating solutions for some time and with each time that ticks, I have learnt very valuable lessons. Good lessons that I will carry to the next product and bad lessons that I will still carry on to the next product if i want the new to be completely better. Back in the days when I created software I have always thought about the funding even before the product was used. Somehow some of those solutions are still facing the test of time. I always feel happy when people are using something i was part of.  To convince someone to believe in your imagination is quite something to grind and especially if they have to shade something to be part of your idea. The truth of the matter is that people will always invest where they see value in return of investments. No shortcut.

I have decided to scope my arguments to Uganda because it’s the place I know very well, and relate it to the places I have read about on the internet. A friend of mine always insists to focus on a niche because in most cases you do not need the whole world to make it and you can only make it if the niche is happy. Put it this way, if the husband and wife are happy then the family is happy. And if the family is happy then the community is happy and so on and so forth. It is kind of not heard of to succeed by starting from infinity if you can try diving by zero. You can not have a peaceful life if your community is good but your family is not. Likewise it is very rare that a creative person will succeed at the biggest stage if they can not address the needs of their locality. In simple terms if it cant work with a ugandan in Bwaise then most likely it wont succeed out of Uganda. You need to work with what you have in your hands. After all a bird in hand is worth two in the bush. And i think this focusing on the niche principle has been rewarding in my  latest daily engagements.

Giving value, return of investment and satisfaction is paramount at all levels;  Satisfaction is vital to the customer, investor and most importantly to you the product owner. I think the way the developed world see value is different from the way some Ugandans see value.  In the developed world I think things work out quite easily because of well-established systems. There start up success combines factors which are far beyond technology. Factors such as being developed of course :), efficient census systems, finance systems, credit systems,tax systems, security systems, etc. All these work in synergy to produce something ecstatic for instant success. And I think that is why it’s even easier for foreign owned companies linked to Ugandan companies to kind of prosper.

Keep trying and IF YOU FAIL, KEEP TRYING until you find THE PRODUCT not to fail on.

The Ugly

In Uganda people are so happy to join the band wagon if there is tangible progress and I seldom hear about Ugandans investing in Ugandans. If each rich Ugandan would reach a handful of innovators, i think there would be a very big difference .

We have poor research set ups and both the government and private sector seldom announce the next big thing. Perhaps these things take time and perhaps the urge in this nation is not as great as the people turning a desert into something like eden – dubai.

9/10  times investors want to invest if they can already see the profit and that is the ugly truth. I have also seen that it is quite difficult for substantial investments to be done at the start possibly because of uncertainty over company survival and capability to deliver. The would be super investors always give pocket change because it is what they can easily loose. A pocket change investment of $5000 can only take care of your basic needs for a couple of days. At this point  I firmly echo that a few thousand dollars funding can not get you very far if you have vision. I was faced with this situation when with my team we planned for $25,000 funding. We could barely see efficient operation beyond six months on a limited budget because the vision was so big. Our objective was to deliver very high quality products with high quality partners and professional people.  So we continued on limited edition and the success rate is wanting.

There is a big delivery problem in Uganda. Some of the reasons for such failure to deliver solutions are due to poor project management and sometimes taking too much that one can handle because of our poor nature resulting from very many personal needs. Another could be being  Rambo and doing a one man’s code army.  Working alone on a solution should be the last resort. If its done then it should done if; the delivery timeline is long,  when the pay cut is high with no other destruction. Otherwise the failure rate and progress is very much in the negative. However i think it is easy to pull off some easy projects like websites nowadays given all the tools available.

The Bad

Another factor is that when some solutions are developed in partnership with other organizations, the organizations always tend to take over those solutions as though it was their own instead of investing in it.  Friends who have worked with such organizations have seen darkness and those organizations end up taking over such projects. It could be that in most cases there are no partnership agreements. The reason for no such agreements is not always because the devs do not know about it but it is because such business start without them and if you can’t start that way, then you are not given an opportunity to do the work.  This situation is even worse for those who share a lot of details about what they building. However at the right moment you have got to share the full details anyway.

Another example is that solutions are birthed from competitions. Such solutions in some cases are not well thought out and hence end up in the trash. Competitions are good to kick start  something but one should look past the competition and  see how they can push projects with or without them. Will your project or idea be taken up by another person? Yes it will be and you should be able to compete.The moment you start talking. you have got to become like popcorn. After all sharing it with potential stakeholders is the only way it can grow. Look at it as though you are in formula one racing competition.

Sometimes organizers of these competitions also take up such solutions if they have immense potential. Something similar happened a few years back. It was during the MTN app challenge  that a credit application i was working on – Redtile was not recognised but soon after a year, MTN released a very similar product called mokash. However the hustle continues because sometimes you need to take the mighty goliath by the horn toe to toe.

I had chat with someone sometime back when we were catching up about these things together and he made a comment that can raise someones eye brows. The bad thing is that sometimes in these competitions, the winners are already known because they entice their way up to the prize.  Perhaps the issue is that the same kind of people are always used to organize and judge these events.

The Good

There are quite a number of IT solutions in Uganda that are making it and I believe it is partly due to the fact that they are solving real ugandan problems and addressing a specific need for example Kawowo sports. However this does not mean that the ones that are not yet there or have failed are not good enough.  It could be that;

  • The population is not yet ready
  • Lack of funding
  • Competition is stiff
  • It should look and work like facebook
  • They have actually failed

Technology spaces like Outboxhub and Hive colab are doing a great job in ushering start ups and equipping them with tools and knowledge to allow them move on to the next level. Their involvement should be checked to prevent weirdness from happening. Their capacity to support is still wanting.