Archives For Mobile

Cherae Robinson

This past weekend I attended Diaspora Demo Day, the inaugural startup competition organized by the people at TipHub and held at the World Bank in Washington, D.C.. The day was not without its hiccups but for a first-time event really exceeded my expectations.

As the name implies, Diaspora Demo Day is an event where the best companies founded by Africans or targeting Africa are invited to pitch their concepts to an audience of attendees and esteemed judges (which included myself). Oddly, the judges didn’t judge anything, the audience choose the ‘winners’, we were there just to offer our opinion’s and advice on each companies presentation and business model. However, as the founder of The Appfrica Fund, the trip helped me survey new investment opportunities.

Overall, I was impressed by the quality of pitches but three really stood out when rated on three criteria: the organization of the deck, their ability to succinctly explain their business, and the viability of their business. Here they are in no particular order:

1. Hello Tractor

Description – A company that combines software with hardware to build affordable ‘smart tractors’ that they sell to small scale farmers in rural parts of Nigeria (and later the rest of Africa). I like to call them ‘the Tesla of tractors’.

Opportunity – As pointed out in the majority of the African continent is touched by the agricultural sector. This is huge market and getting even bigger as more of the world comes to depend upon Africa’s exports.

Risks – What business are these guys in? Are they making and selling hardware or software? Are they in the business of financing farming equipment or selling to third-parties who can handle distribution? I think the fact that they (seemingly) are trying to do it all is a huge potential risk for the company.

2. Tastemakers Africa*

Description – TSTMKRS Africa is like Jetsetter.com meets Lonely Planet meets Conde Nast. It focuses on style and exclusivity. Travel in Africa has been done to death, but a focus on luxury experiences and hip nightlife in Africa (Sub-Saharan Africa, specifically) feels fresh and timely.

Opportunity – The African continent has some 300 million people rapidly ascending into the middle class which means expendable income and free time. Where will they spend that money? They increasingly don’t want to live like their parents and grandparents who came from rural parts, rather they want to live the lives portrayed in shows like An African City or any number of Western pop culture shows and music videos. Likewise, millennials around the world do not travel like their parents. They want to meet people, have a great time clubbing (no matter where they are on the planet), and enjoy the finer things. My prediction is that African countries become the home of the world’s next *must* visit travel destinations…because, well, have you been to Europe lately?

Risks – Although travel trends are rapidly changing, public perception and bias against the African continent (and its people) is a much tougher enemy to conquer. Tastemakers biggest risk is that it’s too early to market and that the world may not be ready for that penthouse vacation suite in Kenya for another 20 years.

3. Afritrade

Description – Like Scottrade for the Nigerian stock market. Buy, sell, and manage a portfolio of listed Nigerian companies.

Opportunity – Of the 22 stock exchanges on the continent, the Nigerian Stock Exchange is one of the most vibrant and attractive. By focusing on Nigeria first, Afritrade have ensured that they have both demand for their product and a healthy supply of inventory (attractive stocks) to sell.

Risks – Afritrade is in a great space. Africa’s private equity markets are screaming for more efficiency, transparency and accessibility. However, it’s going to be a long haul to get there. Right now users of their product have to essentially be savvy investors in the NSE already. They need a broker, they need to do their own due-diligence, they need to have navigated the countries regulatory framework etc. If AfriTrade can figure out how to make all of this “push button” simple then they are a clear winner with a huge advantage. If they can’t there’s still an opportunity to be a niche product for savvy investors.


* I’m currently an advisor to, and a potential investor in, Tastemakers Africa. Other portfolio companies in attendance were Market Atlas (via my other fund) and Upstream Analytics (which couldn’t make the event).

Diaspora Demo Day

In Uganda, no one can hear you scream…..at your computer while waiting for a file to download or a video to buffer. Fortunately, there are number of reasons these frustrations may soon be a constraint of the past.

On Saturday I spent the afternoon with Thibaud Weick, CCO, and Mark Pritchard, Head of Sales & Marketing of Smile Communications (U) Ltd. Smile is one of few organizations bringing super-fast internet connectivity to Africa’s urban centers and rural areas. There are a number of things that Smile is doing very different to other mobile operators in the region that make them a company to watch in the coming years.

smile

Their LTE technology is new to the continent, having only been deployed in two other African countries to date. Thus, their launch in Uganda earlier this year puts the country on the bleeding edge of innovation when it comes consumer accessible mobile telecom solutions. Because LTE (Long Term Evolution) technology works over long distances, Smile is keen to service rural African markets as well, not just the densely populated urban markets.

The Smile Communication Uganda headquarters in the Bukoto area is an unassuming campus, located just around the corner from the local Nakumatt grocery store. It’s easy to forget you’re visiting a telecom company, that is, until you enter their data center.

smile

One of the advantages Smile has over their competitors is that their infrastructure is new, optimized for LTE from end-to-end. This is vastly different from the incumbents in the market who, more often than not, have to maintain legacy GSM equipment in addition to any new systems they wish to deploy. This makes deploying new technologies like LTE much more cumbersome and expensive for them, one of the many reasons innovation with local telecom infrastructure may appear to have stagnated.

At Smile, their data center is compact, small enough to fit in a mid-sized bedroom. If the team there ever wants to expand, and realistically only utilizes about a third of the room it’s contained in, so there is plenty of room for expansion.

network

The Smile team performed a test on my behalf downloading 35 gigs of the RACHEL courseware repository. Download speeds peaked at 17mbps by averaged at closer to 4mbps. The team assures me that this was during peak hours (2pm on a Saturday) and that during non-peak hours the speeds increase dramatically (for instance, at night).

The most exciting thing about Smile is their commitment to driving the local market forward instead of simply maintaining the standard.

Jonathan Gosier, founder of Appfrica speaks about examples of good mobile technology initiatives in Africa at Fill the Gap 9 in NEMO, Amsterdam. Moving ‘beyond the mobile hype’ requires asking different questions about what we do and what we’re trying to accomplish. Moving forward we should consider not just the effects of technology projects but its affects across society.

References Ushahidi, Apps4Africa, Appfrica, Question Box, African top-level domains and nurturing future African talent.

The slides are below…

The TED Phone

Jon Gosier —  July 14, 2010 — 3 Comments

At TED Global in Oxford, UK this week TED and Nokia announced a partnership to bring TED talks to Africa and other developing parts of the world using the technologies that scale best, the mobile phone.

Using the soon to be released Nokia N8, TED plans to ship phones pre-loaded with TED talks (curated by TEDx organizers in those countries) to many parts of the world. These phones will be free to TEDx organizers in different countries and will feature 16gb of storage, a powerful projector for slides or playing back videos, an HDMI video camera, bluetooth, wifi and GPS. They will also ship with apps for audio and video editing.

Here are some of my notes from a discussion lunch that took place around the announcement:

– One of the Nokia reps pointed out that “Phone numbers used to represent locations not necessarily people.” This has changed a bit in that the reverse is often the case now, especially in developing countries.

– He also said that the “Kodak moment of the 21 century is the sharing of the moment.” Suggesting that it’s no longer enough to just capture the moment, people now want to share via social media with family and friends.

– Soon there will be 1 billion mobile users, 80% with gps enabled phones.

– Location based recommendation services are the new concierge maps.

– The goal is to get the ‘long tail’ of the world producing their own TED events and talks.

Is the growing skepticism on SMS warranted? One of the most rewarding aspects of running this company has been our International Fellows Program which invites developers from all over the world to Uganda to work alongside our staff as peers. The following post was written by one of our recent Fellows, Oliver Christopher Kaigwa Haas (we called him Ollie) who now works at Frog Design.

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The growing needs for workers heading into the field are becoming far more high-tech than in years past. This is partly because of the new technologies and infrastructure available, and partly because of the need to record a greater number of details at once. That said, I decided to do a quick comparison of some of the better handsets available, to determine if there was one smartphone that was perfect for developmental aid organizations. Eventually, these will be the phones that make apps like this possible.

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Paul Ssengooba of the Grameen Foundation discusses the reach of mobile devices in rural settings. Recorded on November 23, 2009 at TEDxKampala. Continue Reading…

Stephane Boyera of the World Wide Web Foundation discusses the next 20 years of the internet and how the mobile web is poised to dramatically enable billions of people. Recorded on November 23, 2009 at TEDxKampala.

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Roscoe Nsumbuga of Mapswitch on using biometric identification cards used as part of a money transfer service that is enabling millions of Ugandans to access low-cost banking services via their mobile phones. Recorded on November 23, 2009 at TEDxKampala. Continue Reading…

It goes without saying that mobile is exciting business these days across Africa. Chris Andrews writes….

If you want a picture of explosive growth in mobile communications, look to Africa. A report from The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has found that between 2003 and 2008, mobile subscriptions surged from 54 million to almost 350 million; or a 550% increase in five years.

In 2008, the report found, Gabon, Seychelles, and South Africa had a mobile penetration rate of almost 100 subscriptions per 100 inhabitants. In North Africa, the average penetration stood at almost two thirds of the population, and for Africa as a whole, it was over one third.

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