Sunday, September 23, 2007

Internet Charity and Miraa - Day Two

Continued from Day One

I do not consider myself a 'frequent flyer' but I do put pile up more road/air time than most of my colleagues. However I still have not managed to get over the "where the heck am I?" feeling when I wake up the next morning in a strange bed. It was no different that Wednesday morning, and my sore jaws did little to help with my morning disorientation.

After a full English breakfast, we headed out to Laare to rendezvous with Eric who was at the centre already. Dru took the wheel and I fished out my digicam hoping to get that Pulitzer winning shot but in the end settling for Meru mementos. It was good that I had struggled but familiarized myself with the road the previous night because I started suspecting that we were on the wrong route. I figured Dru must have missed a turning somewhere when I saw a sign for Meru National Park. A quick call to Eric confirmed my suspicions and we quickly turned back to join the right turning. (bless the mobile phone invention!)

Few minutes later we were at the church and decided to use the car to transport the PCs from the church to the centre (a distance of about 300 metres). Our lack of physical exertion in preference of vehicular convenience was to prove to be a costly mistake, as we would discover later on.

Allow me now to briefly berate what I think is American arrogance. What is it with Americans having different standards from the rest of the world. I mean why ounce/pound instead of gram/kilogram; NTSC instead of PAL, 110 volts instead of 240 volts, soccer instead of football, center instead of centre; and in this case: two-prong electrical extension cables instead of three-prong?

All the extension cables generously provided by MIT were two-prong and could not interface with the equipment. We had no choice but to see if we could get three-prong extension cables. Now Laare is not Dubai or even Luthuli Avenue and I was apprehensive on whether we would get the cables. So I, in my infinite wisdom, decided we take the car to do our shopping. So in typical Nairobi fashion we piled into the car to go shopping over a 500 metre radius.

Surprisingly it did not take long to locate an electrical shop stocking the cables we were looking for. The blaring speakers at the front of a shop were a dead giveaway for an electrical goods store, sadly for that shop owner his next door tenant also had an electrical shop without the annoying loud music. (Remind me later to write a post on offensive marketing techniques). So we bought from the quiet shop and got back into the car for the return trip of half a kilometre.

On Day One as we drove around Laare at night I did not mention that we encountered some crazy drivers speeding down the main street with their pre-nineties saloon cars. I did not make much of it then, my second mistake, I should have.

I've already mentioned that miraa is the hot commodity in this part of Meru; but miraa has one major challenge as a product. It is only stimulating if ingested within forty-eight hours from picking. Since a large market for miraa is in Somali; the picking, transport, and delivery has to take the shortest time possible. Miraa is usually picked early in the morning; packaged in fresh banana leaves to preserve its moisture; packed in pick-ups and driven at high speed to Wilson airport in Nairobi where it is flown onwards to Mogadishu for sale.

So forget matatu drivers, miraa drivers are a breed oftheir own. The drivers I encountered the previous night were probably miraa drivers out on some recreation. Imagine now a miraa driver who means business; he has to cover 400 km in 4 hours and he is carrying millions of shillings worth of perishable goods. That's a recipe for disaster and I was to get a helpful serving that day.

As a driver you pay much attention to the environment around you and anticipate what other's actions will be in order to act cautiously on the road. It gets that you are so good at it that you put much faith in your cognitive abilities.

As I turned into the church compound that cognition told me something was wrong. We were heartily joking and then there was silence. Unadulterated silence, still, calm and lasting only a split-second. Instinctively I straightened the wheel ever so slightly and not a moment too soon as a heavily laden miraa pickup flew a hair's breadth by me at over eighty kilometres per hour. My reaction had not been complete and the truck's bullbar rammed into my front right wheel and also plucked off the side light. Even in my immediate precarious situation I marveled at the spectacular image. With massive momentum pushing it on, the truck literally flew over a bump and came to a grinding halt just five metres from us inside a culvert.

We quickly got out of the car and after confirming that all passengers were unhurt assessed the damage to the cars. A curious crowd was steadily gathering excited by the mid-morning mishap. The miraa driver had been overspeeding and was willing to pay for the minor damage I had suffered. As we discussed it, another truck, came and collected the miraa to continue the trip to Nairobi; business had to go on after all. The other driver offered a decent price but I was haggling hoping to get enough to do more than just a localised repair. That was my second mistake of the day.

Being a small town it did not take long before a traffic policeman turned up. I then go my first live experience of a CSI and with that out went my option of settling with the other driver.
Painfully slow the policeman went about sketching the accident scene in his note pad while using a tape measure to calculate the distances for his sketch. In Nairobi since such fender benders happen so often the policeman would have encouraged the drivers to sort it out on their own, but in Laare things were different.

Eventually I ended up at the police station with the other driver facing a possible charge of careless driving. I was pretty certain of my innocence but when the policeman told me I would need to leave the car at the yard for two weeks to wait for the motor vehicle inspection unit I knew I had to do something. Luckily he provided a solution; as long as both drivers were willing to share liability and since no one was injured we could close the matter by mutual consent. I realised that this was the best offer so both I and the other driver signed a statement accepting to share liability equally. I was also warned by some very conversational bystanders that it would be hard to get a fair trial against the miraa lords. Guess I'll never find out now.

So after three hours of excitement we came back to the centre to continue our work. Moral of the day: don't drive if you can walk. The parish priest generously offered to meet the cost of repair at the local garage and we continued with setting up the internet at the centre.
Things went on pretty smoothly and by dusk we had managed to connect a few computers to the internet and even had one of the committee members send an email.

My plans for returning to Nairobi had to be put off for later so we took some time to enjoy some roast meat Meru style while reliving the day. On Day Three I'd take stock of my Meru trip and what made it so memorable. Watch this space.

Look! It's a car in a ditch.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Bambanet Application a Headache

Unfortunately I have to take back my laud of the new Internet connection product from Safaricom. Two weeks after my application and I am yet to get my Bambanet connection. Safaricom have really let me down on this one after promising that it would take a maximum of 48 hours. Hopefully I will have it by Wednesday as they've promised, let's wait and see.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Graduation and Growing Up

Most students think that graduation day is their day; the fruitful culmination of several months or years of study. In reality graduation is for the parents and guardians whose hopes and dreams are carried by their children. Graduation is the proof that their emotional and financial investment in their children's education has not been in vain. It's no surprise that "parents" always outnumber the graduands by 5 to 1 at any graduation ceremony.

Yesterday was a special day for me as I attended such a graduation. But I was not the one graduating, and nope, there is no Harry Jnr yet. Yesterday I was privileged to be the chief guest at Mwangaza College in Nakuru on the occasion of their 13th graduation ceremony.
I was invited to the graduation by Br. Brendan Foley, the current administrator of the college and my former high school headmaster. As chief guest I had to give an inspiring speech to the graduands.

I was invited six weeks in advance so I had enough time to prepare the speech; but the truth is an entreprenuer's mind is a fickle one, and mine more than most. Plus you add my self-confessed LMS nature and you should be able to vividly picture me mentally fine tuning my speech half an hour before I was set to speak.

Prepared speeches have never been my thing anyway and I love to speak without reference notes as it gives me the flexibility to change the speech to fit the mood. The other speakers were Bishop Peter Kairu of the Nakuru Diocese and Br. Brendan who both gave stirring motivational speeches so I decided to tell my story hoping that it would inspire the graduands.

The interesting thing was that as I told my story I also learnt something. In high school I was always up to no good fuelled by my highly profitable contraband foodstuffs business (I told you I'm an entreprenuer!) Eventually things got so bad that I quit the school and was faced with my first true 'adult' decision; to be or not to be? Up to that time in my life I never really had to face the long-term consequences of any decision I made. This time it was different - the choice I made would live with me forever and I would bear the failure or enjoy the success that followed. Eventually I did make that choice and I realise now that that is also the point I can say grew up.

The graduation was finished off by a fashion show from the fashion and design department. Nothing like young girls strutting their stuff to get the crowds swelling. Br. Brendan had told me the fashion show was the most popular part of the ceremony. I believed him; men, women and children were engrossed and entertained for close to two hours as design after design was catwalked on stage. As soon as the show ended the crowd practically vanished into thin air giving testimony to the fashion show's popularity.

As I drove back to the Nairobi I felt quite pleased with the day. Here's congratulating all Mwangaza graduands and hope I made entreprenuers out of some of you.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Genius features on Business Daily

In case you missed the piece on Genius Executive Centre in the Business Daily here is the link http://www.bdafrica.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2376&Itemid=5822

Safaricom throws down the gauntlet

What a wonderful new service from Safaricom. If you have been hesitating getting your rural internet cafe set up, then you have no more excuses. Safaricom has launched a flat-fee (up to a point) internet connection product that is very affordable.

The service branded as Bambanet costs KShs. 1,999 (USD 30) per month and needs you to buy a USB modem for KShs. 5,999 (USD 90). For this you get to download 700 MB per month and for anything over that it will cost you K.Shs. 10 (USD 0.16) per MB.

I can positively confirm that this offer is by far the best internet product in Kenya at the moment:

1. It's relatively very cheap.
2. It's easy and cheap to setup
3. It's available almost everywhere in Kenya.

Way to go Safaricom, let's see if your competition down on Mombasa Road takes up the cue.


Internet, Charity, and Miraa - Day One

Back in July my good pal Eric Mibuari, an MIT alumni, invited me to help him set up internet access at a computer centre he founded in Laare, Meru. The idea was to use my internet in the village model which I had already deployed in two other places. I jumped at the idea, not only is Eric a fun guy, but I had never been to Meru and I needed a holiday from Forex trading. So together with another of my pals, Dru, we piled into a 4WD and headed off towards Meru.

Now, I have never been to Meru so I didn't really know what to expect. I borrowed the 4WD from a friend suspecting I'd be in trouble without it but I was pleasantly surprised to find well paved roads most of the way.

There was another reason I borrowed the 4WD, it was because it had enough storage room. The previous week Nakumatt (Kenya's leading retailer) had announced the opening of its Meru branch and I had my eye on a big-screen TV that was going to be on a special half price offer. I was sure of getting it as I would be in Meru on the day right after grand opening.

A rapid learning experience my trip was to prove, the first thing I realised was that Meru is a very wealthy town. If the fact that the TVs were all sold out on day one by 11:00 am did not convince me of this fact then it was the brand new Toyota Hilux pick-ups scattered everywhere making up 1 of every 3 cars. I was to learn in due course why this was the favoured vehicle.

Eric was already in Meru and asked us to rendezvous with him in Maua - a town 50km north of Meru and near the Meru National Park. We finally got to Meru at about 6pm and I discovered the second thing about Meru; at 1800M above sea level and off the slopes of Mount Kenya, the place is extremely cold. By luck Dru and I had both had packed heavy woolen sweaters, although the cold seemed to seep through those too. While waiting for Eric, who was coming from the centre, we took a tour of Maua. To our surprise we found that half the town's occupants were of Somali origin. Now for a non-Kenyan to understand this you must appreciate that rural areas are usually homogenous in ethnic makeup. We expected at least 90% Meru ethnicity. Somalis however are extremely capable merchants and Maua has a very valuable and tradeable commodity, miraa. So like flies to honey they flocked in their hundreds to the small yet extremely rich town.

By the time we got to Maua I had been driving for six hours and over 400km but when we finally met up with Eric he insisted on taking us to see the centre. So after checking in to our hotel we drove on to Laare, about 10km from Maua. The centre is temporarily hosted by the Laare Catholic parish. This stoked the fire of conviction that churches form a good backbone for such community projects; direct access to the community and structural resources.

Our trip to the parish was also our first chance to interact with locals of Meru - the priests. Kimeru language is not so much spoken as it is sung, with alternating pitch, tempo, and rhythm. It was fascinating to listen as the priests and Eric weaved kimeru in and out of the English conversation. Our hosts generously served us some hot tea and bananas (incredibly huge bananas) as they found out about our mission to Meru.

Eric also showed us the computers and equipment that had been donated by MIT for use in the centre. An impressive number of relatively new PCs, laptops, routers and switches all the way from Boston were stacked up in one corner of the priests' living room waiting for us to set them up the following day.

We finally left at around nine o'clock and slowly drove back to Maua. Slowly because it was a pitch black moonless night and the cold mountain air hitting the warmer tarmac caused instant rising mist on the road.

Used to Nairobi's fast pace we found ourselves still eager to explore the place at that late hour. However the few places we checked out were lifeless (it was a Tuesday) so we decided to go to the hotel and strategize on the following day. Before retiring though we purchased some of Meru's finest.

So while chewing on a few choice stems, we tried out the EDGE internet connectivity from the hotel room using my laptop and my cell phone as a modem. The connection worked quite well and I was even able to open my forex trading platform and put in a few trades. (Isn't technology wonderful - you can buy and sell off Wall Street while in a hotel in Meru right on the slopes of Mount Kenya!)

I finally gave in at 1:00 am as even the cathinone in the miraa could not erase six hours of driving. I left a 'cathinoned' Eric sending emails and on the phone with his colleagues in Boston late into the night.

Read more about my Meru trip on day two

searching for miraa.com


Still here...

Thanks to all readers of this blog who keep coming back even though I haven't posted stuff for quite a while. I'm keeping this one short but check back soon for my adventures over the past three months.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Business Plan Competions

There are several business plan competitions in progress where one stands to win funding for their idea and training. I have links to some of them but if you have any others please feel welcome to post them.

1. Ministry of Youth Affairs Chora Bizna - http://www.believe-begin-become.com/Kenya/index.asp whose deadline is end of May 2007

2. IFCs BiD Challenge Kenya SME business plan competition - http://www.bidnetwork.org/

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Acclaimed Author David Fick speaks with Benin Mwangi

I enjoyed reading Benin Mwangi's interview of David S. Fick, an American Entrepreneur who writes about the opportunities in Africa for entrepreneurship. The interview reveals David's insight into entrepreneurship in Africa: opportunities, success stories, and challenges.

Here is an excerpt from the interview:

What inspired you to become an author and begin writing about Africa’s entrepreneurs?

My wife and I were guests of the people of Kenya, Tanzania, and Ethiopia for two weeks in August 2000. We found ourselves impressed by the beauty of Africa and the hospitality of its people. The Ethiopia of 2000 reminded me of South Korea as it was in 1962 and 1963 when I had the pleasure of serving in Korea as a lieutenant with the U.S. Army’s Transportation Corps. Our suppliers were from the private sector in South Korea, and it was the local entrepreneurs who became the engines of growth for the future development of South Korea. Having graduated from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia in 1961 and having spent my business career (1964–1988) as an entrepreneur in Kansas, I found myself becoming interested in the opportunities for entrepreneurs in Africa. Upon returning to the United States, I began researching for this study. In my search for successful entrepreneurs in Africa, I became aware of the opportunities and roadblocks that the cultural, economic, social, political, and physical environments provide in Africa. This newfound awareness has led me to search for actual or proposed projects and policy changes that are or could be of great benefit for the people of Africa and the entrepreneurial environment.


You can read the full interview here: http://beninmwangi.com/2007/05/16/writing-phenom-david-s-fick-talks-with-benin-mwangi/

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Career opportunities at Legal Publishing House

From http://www.kenyalaw.org/careers/

The National Council for Law Reporting (NCLR) is a corporate body established by the National Council for Law Reporting Act, 1994 and given the exclusive mandate of the "publication of the reports to be known as Kenya Law Reports which shall contain judgments, rulings and opinions of Superior Courts of record and also undertake such other publications as in the opinion of the Council are reasonably related to or connected with the preparation and publication of the Kenya Law Reports" (section 3)

The NCLR is looking for a highly organised and self motivated professionals to fill the following positions:

Law Reporter (1 Position) (Deadline : 22 June 2007)

Assistant Law Reporter (2 Positions) (Deadline : 22 June 2007)

Systems Administrator (1 Position) (Deadline : 22 June 2007)

Web Developer (2 Positions) (Deadline : 22 June 2007)

Proofreader (2 Positions) (Deadline : 22 June 2007)

Publishing Assistant (1 Position) (Deadline : 22 June 2007)


Monday, April 30, 2007

The Journey of an Afropreneur

Over the weekend I discovered quite by chance a wonderful blog by Quadimoso called Coding south of the sahara. Quadimoso is a Kenyan entrepreneur (refers to himself as an Afropreneur which must be a portmanteau of "African" and "Entrepreneur") who has transitioned from techie to contractor to entrepreneur. He has a wonderful series called Journey of an Afropreneur where he chronicles his dreams, challenges , failures and successes. It's great reading for anyone with an IT background interested in becoming an entrepreneur.

Monday, April 23, 2007

ICT pros, leaving in a Matrix

Ever watched the Matrix? In the movie's reality: Neo, Morpheus, Trinity and the rest of the ship's crew are escaped "energy" slaves who don drab gray attire, have cropped hair, a row of tubular openings along their spines and have limited physical ability. When they enter the Matrix, a simulated reality, they become these superhuman, messiahs with a tendency for haute couture (leather, sung-glasses, hairstyles et al). It's attributed to something Morpheus refers to as a "digital projection of what one thinks of their self". Amazing how different what one perceives of himself is with the actual reality.

Last week I participated in an ICT & Media workshop organised by Afroline Media Services. I shared the resource panel with among others: Les Baillie, CFO - Safaricom, Kevit Desai, Chairman - IEEE and Churchill Otieno, Editor - Nationmedia.com. I was there to speak about how rural internet could benefit the dissemination and collection of information by media. The workshop aimed to foster more effective partnerships between the two industries of media and ICT.

What came out very clearly was that there is a very big disconnect between the ICT industry and media especially for the smaller players (read me). ICT view the media as unapproachable and unappreciative whereas the media simply can't understand what it is that ICT is doing because of the jargon used. I was a participatory offender in jargonspeak by mentioning "RSS" and "blogs" to media people who frankly told me they had no clue what I was talking about.

That got me thinking: for non-IT people to fail to understand RSS was understandable, but blogs??? I have going around thinking that the idea of blogs was common fodder. Seems I have been living in a Matrix. The reality is that most people are quite uninformed with things that techies take for granted are common knowledge. This has directly resulted in the media shunning ICT because they just can't understand it.

At Barcamp, really great ICT ideas were discussed e.g. network neighbourhoods but these might never make it to the mainstream forums unless ICT guys can mobilise media to inform and educate the public about them. First of all though the ICT players will have to make sure they talk with the media. I feel challenged to make a personal effort to do this and from this blog I will keep you informed on what I have done.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Hello my name is Harry and I'm a clickaholic

My Dad is an engineer and he has always been an early adopter of technology. Back in 1995 when Shem Ochuodho's ARCC was the only ISP in Kenya we had a dial-up connection from our house in Njoro (a rural area 200km from Nairobi). We were just one of three people in the entire Nakuru district who had internet access and this meant that we used to get several "clients" from the nearby Egerton University who needed to send and receive emails abroad. My own time on the Internet though was limited; sadly every connection to the internet required a dial-up to ARCCs servers which were in Nairobi (a trunk call) which was relatively expensive. The few times I got to send or read an email though I do remember using a very "dos-like" interface where the mouse had no function.

Fast forward to the year 2000. Several ISPs had come up leading to a mushrooming of cyber cafes. My dad had since stopped subscribing to the dial-up service but was in need of an affordable way to send an receive email. I suggested that he open a Yahoo mail account.
I recall his narration of his first experience. "I couldn't access my e-mail, every thing was flashing "click here, click here" and when I clicked on it, the browser opened something entirely different from my e-mail."

So is the nature of the Internet up to now, from a text based application, we now have sophisticated multimedia available from our browsers. The greatest innovation of the Internet I believe though has been the hyperlink. It is not rare to enter an office and the only thing you can hear for hours is the sound of a clicking mouse.

As an entrepreneur searching for new ideas, I love the knowledge available on the Internet but at times I get carried away. It starts off harmlessly enough, I access a website to get some information. While reading I see an interesting link to another site and I open it in a new tab (Firefox diehard I am). Soon I have so many tabs that I have to scroll horizontally to see the ones on the extreme ends. I try to close some tabs but there is always another tempting link that keeps me constantly clicking and ensures the tabs remain.

Wikipedia takes first honours in the website I spend most time at, I might start of reading on High Yield Investment Programs and 5 hours later I am on a Vince McMahon article having navigated from internet financial businesses to pro wrestling promotions. Such is the power that the internet has over my information-hungry self.

Today you need to face up and ask yourself, are you addicted to clicking?

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Sign up free to www.clickaholicsanonymous.com if your answer to the above question is yes.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Barcamp .... Wow!

I know, I know its way past Saturday and I promised to write this by 6pm Saturday, but the iBurst link we were using at Barcamp misbehaved and afterwards I have been either offline or otherwise occupied :).

If I had to sum up Barcamp, I'd say WOW! Although not that often, I have attended forums with great ideas and great personalities. What made Barcamp different though was the passion behind these ideas and personalities. Each presenter who came on stage was intense in his (sadly there were no 'her' presentations) presentation. Kiania, the MC, had to work hard to make sure there was enough time for everyone to speak.

Starting off Barcamp was Josiah Mugambi with a Bugatti Veyron presentation. This is one presentation I was really looking forward too but sadly I never made it on time. Apart from some LMS preparation of GEC brochures I spent almost 15 minutes looking for parking (I'm going to be a green from now on - walking is good :-) )

I did make it on time for AFRICADOTNET.net by Edgar Okioga. Apart from myself Edgar must have been the most Microsoftian barcamper in attendance. He did surprise us though by giving out free copies of MSDN Community Distribution CDs marked "Please copy and distribute". Who'd have ever thought?

Kamau Gichigi Ph.D was next with Equal Opportunity Manufacturing and this was one presentation I wish had been allowed more time. He's an engineer so there was a lot of techno-jargon which flew by me, but a business incubator for manufacturers did stick and I'm keenly looking forward to seeing how it develops. The idea is called .... IDEA. Kamau mentioned that a website is in the works but I no URL was given, I will track him down and see if I can get it.

JKUAT seems to be really serious about their IT programs. There were two great presentations that showed ingenuity of the students. The first was from Nick titled "Software Defined Radio". Nick is a self confessed techie and although I grasped the general idea, TLAs were in plenty.

We then had Ashok who talked about Bungeni, an open-source parliamentary system. I really was intrigued by his project since it mirrored a lot of the work I had done on LawsofKenya.com. What really impressed me though was the fact that it is open-source and designed to bring the common mwananchi into the parliamentary process.

Felix Kiptum of Mama Mikes was next with a talk on the Long Tail Economics of Abundance. a really interesting theory on how technology has made it possible to produce products in few numbers and still have a sustainable business.

At this point I was called to attend to some pressing business outside the barcamp and I missed David's and Riyaz presentations on Residential Networks and Skunkworks, but I'll be attending the Skunkworks meetings so I'll be giving you the low down on these two.

I made it back to hear Ted Muganda's presentation on Stocks Kenya. Amazing story and really made me think about how Stephen and I started SoftLaw. We didn't really have any idea how big it would become when we started, but as it went on it got a life of its own. Stocks Kenya from Ted sounded like it had a similar genesis.

Next was a really inspiring presentation from another JKUAT student. This time it was about
a LAN/WAN that students had built for themselves between their residential halls. Totally financed by the students the network has encouraged content development e.g. a dating service for the students, and is financially self-sustainable. From the presentation it sounded also like a "wiki" network where any person could add a node or a subnet. Internet service is provided over the network through a prepaid billing system accessed on the intranet. Lots of potential exists and I'll definitely be researching more into this. Credit also to Moi University who have implemented a similar setup. Great challenge to University of Nairobi, although they have access to probably the best resources, their counterparts around the country are leaps and bounds ahead in terms of innovation.


Next up was .... (drum rolls) ... Harry Karanja. Just before I got up I was told to try and keep it within 10 minutes. That was going to be tough, I had to talk about LawsofKenya.com, Genius Executive Centre and this blog in 10 minutes! Luckily most of the stuff I would have talked about: website startups, Kenyan laws, and business incubators had been mentioned by previous speakers. I gave a summary of LawsofKenya and GEC with a Harry Karanja angle and saved sometime to talk about IdeaPool. IdeaPool was a forum that me and seven (Karis, Mibuari, Meg, Stacy, P.King, Andrew & Irene) of my pals/workmates (from Strathmore) started back in 2001. Mostly it was about meeting at Java House cafe on Muindi Mbingu on Saturday afternoons and stuffing ourselves with confectioneries. But we also had big ideas, like volunteering to teach secondary school students about IT and entrepreneurship. Sadly IdeaPool never really picked up steam, and I guess one major reason was the inability to bring more people on board. This is one reason I really loved the barcamp experience. Barcamp also demonstrated that with the internet especially wikis and blogs such forums have access to a much larger audience. I'm hoping that Barcamp will be all that IdeaPool aspired.


As barcamp came to an end, I felt like we had only scratched the surface of the ideas and opportunities existent. Kiania, rightly said that it is a great time for technological innovation in Kenya with the current political leadership (Mutahi Kagwe and his PS Bitange Ndemo). I agree and you can be sure that I will be right in the thick of things!

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Barcamp in session

15:09 EAT

Q: How do you know whether you are in a techie zone?

A: Everybody talks in TLAs (three letter acronyms) and they all understand each other!

Barcamp Nairobi 07 is definitely a techie zone. CNC, GNU, USRP, MIT etc. I'm realising I need to touch up on my IT diploma notes. The atmosphere is great, I always love being around intelligent people, and there is no shortage of them here. I'm yet to give my presentation but expect to write about it as soon as its over (thanks to WiFi)

Friday, March 30, 2007

Barcamp Kenya

Tomorrow (Sat. March 31st) Barcamp holds an interactive gathering at the University of Nairobi , Civil Engineering Lecture Theater AT 1PM. The theme will be technology, media and startups. I'll be talking about this blog as well as LawsofKenya.com and Genius Executive Centre. Everyone is invited and best of all its free.

See you there.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Victorious Minute

Today I was reading an article by HR consultant Annabell Karanja in the MyBusiness entrepreneurship magazine. The author spoke of the challenges facing those going through the transition from employee to entrepreneur. It got me thinking about some of my own experiences.

Granted I was never employed for long (about 1 year) but I nevertheless picked some habits which were hard to shake once I decided to go into my own business full time. As an employee one abides to strict reporting times at the pain of dismissal (stick). Since there is such a strong motivation to report to work early in the morning, waking up is not so difficult. I'm also generally an early riser so that made it all the easier. Even those days when I really didn't feel like getting up, imagining the pursed lips of my supervisor speaking a silent disapproval would help me get out of bed.

How things changed when I became my own boss. Most people long to be their own boss so as to avoid waking up early in the morning. I meet people everyday who are employed and tell me "you are so lucky to be your own boss, you don't have to go work if you don't want to". This is one of those fallacies held by non-entrepreneurs, but that is a story for another day. Entrepreneurs wake up everyday to go build their business with the motivation of making money (carrot). Because the carrot is not a strong as an incentive as the stick it requires a great deal of personal discipline to get up early in the day, every day as an entrepreneur.

In my daily journey as an entrepreneur I have found one strategy particularly useful in overcoming the morning challenge. It is a strategy I wish to share today, taught to me by a good friend. The strategy is called the Victorious Minute.

With the Victorious Minute you recognize your first minute of consciousness in the day as the most important minute. How you act in this minute determines your attitude, enthusiasm, and potential for the rest of the day. As soon as you are awake you are to jump out of bed with strength, confidence and optimism. Today you are going to battle and need to be performing at your optimum; you shake off any exhaustion, complacency, and procrastination that hungs on you with the last vestiges of sleep. A good hearty battle cry (as long as it doesn't frighten the neighbours) also increases your chi. The good entrepreneurs' fight must be fought and the fate of your hopes and dreams rest with you. Today is an opportunity to change the world, and the world will remember that it was at this moment, at this Victorious Minute where you set off on the incredible journey.

I hope that tomorrow morning you too can experience the Victorious Minute.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Treating the Last Minute Syndrome

If you read my post The Last Minute Syndrome then you know that last Monday I was going through acute symptoms of a certain disease. Lets pick it up from where we left off.

My nerves were all frayed, my breathing was irregular, my body temperature was above normal, and my eyes kept drifting to my watch which I noticed was showing a time five minutes earlier than the street clock. The disease was now in its final stages, would I survive or was the disease going to get me?

When rushing towards a deadline with these symptoms, it seems the world moves in slides instead of a continuous flow of events, and that you are watching yourself as the lead actor in a tragic-comedy.

I saw myself: jump out of the taxi, rush towards the lift, get stopped by security, go back to security desk, requested for ID, fumble for my wallet, drop my wallet, look at my watch 8:43, think of those movies where a bomb is being defused up until the clock is just about to get to zero, allow myself a smile, rush back to the lift, continuously jab the lift button although its already lit, look at my watch, 8:44, tap my feet, take a deep breath, think how I would curse myself if I miss the deadline, lift opens, jump in, have to wait for other passengers, lift door closes, press 20th floor, other passengers getting of on lower floors, see 9, 12, 16 also pressed, look at my watch 8:44, look at my watch again still 8:44. Jump out the lift door, wonder if I should wait 15 more minutes to make the story I am going to tell more dramatic, rush towards the tender box, find an overzealous employee preparing to close it, loudly announce its not yet 9:00 am and dramatically drop my proposal into the box.

The event was over, I came out shaken but generally unscathed. I could now joke and laugh about it, and therein lies the danger. Once you escape LMS you build up a fool-hardy bravado attitude thinking you can never succumb to it. But I'm smarter now, prevention is better than cure, so I'll be making sure I complete my tasks in good time. Will you?

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The "Last Minute Syndrome"

Last Monday I spent a good deal of the day in bed. No, I wasn't sick or nursing a hangover - I was just sleepy but when I think of what made me so sleepy perhaps I was sick. You see I think from time to time I get infected with a certain syndrome, what I call the "last-minute syndrome". Now this syndrome is not contagious but from my discussions with others I have discovered it has a high infection rate in Kenya.

The Last Minute Syndrome (LMS) is a fully preventable disease, but do not be surprised if you are re- infected severally. Worse still you face a higher risk of re-infection if you come out of the disease unaffected. We can say you build up a psychological immunity.

Ok, lets rewind about two months back and I explain how this all started. I was sitting in my office going through the daily when I saw an advertisement inviting tenders. The ToR seemed in line with SoftLaw's business so I went ahead to purchase the tender documents. I had a whole six weeks to submit my proposal so I put it on the back burner as I attended to "more important business".

Amazing how six weeks can fly by. It was the Friday before the 9:00 am Monday deadline to submit a bid proposal and I had not even started writing it. "How hard could it be anyway", I rationalised; I had done it before, the specifics of the proposal were within my knowledge, and I had a whole weekend. Yes, I had a whole weekend - and I blew it away. By Sunday mid-morning, I was yet to start. Still I remained unfazed, I even had time to read the Sunday papers and squander another two hours. Finally as one o'clock approached I forced myself to start writing it, but the easy stuff first: I filled out the pre-designed forms and drew up the table of contents. Someone once said that the only thing that doesn't delay is time. No truer had this statement felt than by that Sunday evening, my proposal was still-born and time was on time. The minutes merrily passed by and doubts about my ability to deliver the proposal on time started growing.

By 11:00 pm I thought another hour and I would be done, I even made arrangements for a late-night dinner date. Its only when the calls of the muezzin summoning Muslim faithful to prayer filtered in at 5am that I knew I was in trouble. The proposal was more or less done, but I still had to proofread, print, copy and bind it. Four opportunities for something to go wrong; and of course I still needed to actually drop the proposal in the tender box.

Murphy's law as usual did not disappoint, "if something can go wrong, it will go wrong". Of all days the automatic feeder for the printer refused to function and I had to feed each page manually. Not a problem when you are printing a couple of pages and have all the time in the world. Disastrous when you are high on caffeine and stress, deprived of sleep, have a financial deadline, and a hundred pages to print. Binding also had to claim a share of the fun; on that day I saw a document take twenty minutes to bind (usually takes about five minutes). Finally at 8:40 the proposals were ready. Jumping into a taxi for a distance I would normally walk was one of the prices I had to pay. My nerves were all frayed, my breathing was irregular, my body temperature was above normal, and my eyes kept drifting to my watch which I noticed was showing a time five minutes earlier than the street clock. The disease was now in its final stages, would I survive or was the disease going to get me? Find out in my next post.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

BBC World Service interviews me on entrepreneurship

The BBC World Service interviewed me yesterday on challenges facing entrepreneurs in Africa. Have a listen of the interview on the Business Daily program at http://www.bbc.co.uk.

Friday, March 09, 2007

UN job vacancies

UN is looking for a communications specialist and a policy adviser. Both vacancy announcements can be found at http://jobs.undp.org

Sunday, March 04, 2007

A business experiment

If you have read my posts on currency trading then you'll know about my latest fascination, forex. This week that passed I decided to send out feelers to Kenyans to see what their thoughts were on forex. I took out a 7-day classified ad in the leading daily with the words
How to invest 14K and earn 50% pm. www.geniuskenya.com/scalp
My primary objective was to gauge the quantity and quality of response to see what kind of future if any forex trading had in Kenya. The link on the ad led to my website where I had a free teaser e-book for download. At the end of the book one was requested to transfer mobile airtime of K.Shs. 100 (~ $1.50) to my mobile phone in order to register for a free lecture I was to hold on forex trading. The lecture was for March 3rd. Secondary objectives were: to market GEC, market my consultancy services with regard to rural internet connectivity and see the opportunities for training in forex trading.

Trust my luck, just after I had put my ad two potentially "experiment-ruining" things happened. First of all the Central Bank of Kenya put out a paid advert warning people about unregulated financial investment schemes in particular pyramid and ponzi schemes. Unfortunately the wording of my ad was very much like those for the aforesaid investment schemes. Secondly Safaricom also put out an ad warning people about fraudsters who were requesting unsuspecting members of the public to send airtime in order to qualify for some prizes. Even though my ad was innocent, I know that we Kenyans are pretty suspicious so the warnings must have had an adverse effect, although I'll probably never know the extent.

However immediately the ad was out my phone started ringing off the hook and my inbox always had a new message. Most of the inquiries started off with a hint of disbelief at the possibility of earning 50% profits per month, but it helped that I had put a disclosure that money could be lost or gained in equal measure. Some callers asked so many questions that I could swear they were Central Bank anti-fraud investigators :-). I think that the fact that I had put explanatory information on my website and disclosed my monetary objectives also helped in putting people at ease over the whole project.

March 3rd finally arrived and I had 18 people registered for the lecture (some just 10 minutes before!). The lecture was very engaging and informative for both me and the participants. I will be sharing the gems of the lecture in this blog but for now I must go and prepare for my next lecture.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Updates on Currency Trading

Thank you all for your inquiries on currency trading. Because of the overwhelming response I have received from my post If you have an appetite for risk I'll tell you how to make money, I have decided to prepare a short introductory course on forex trading. I have designed the course for novice traders who would like to see their investments return a profit. The course is free of charge and begins with an e-book which you can contact me for a copy. The e-book is in adobe pdf format, if you don’t have adobe reader you can download it free of charge from their website http://www.adobe.com

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Insights in Rural Internet

Followed up from Cyber Cafe with an EDGE

I've heard it said that when you plan to start a business, once you have written the business plan, half the work is done. A solid business plan is important for any start-up but... at the risk of sounding anti-establishment I've always found writing a business plan before starting the business so stifling. My preferred approach is to have a general idea of what the business is to achieve and write the plan as I go along, reacting to customers, suppliers and processes. I nevertheless ensure that I stay true to my business partner Stephen Alala's mantra that any business should be "anxious for profits, but patient for growth."

When launching the cyber cafe, I took it as my task to ensure that I was setting up a viable business and not a white elephant. The main fixed recurrent costs for a cyber were going to be rent and wages, while variable recurrent costs would be internet, electricity, and stationery. It was imperative that the cyber comfortably break even from the first month.

After doing the arithmetics with the proprietor we decided to initially price browsing at K.Shs. 3 per minute although our calculations showed we could do K.Shs. 1.50 if we had enough clients. Once we decided on the price, it was easy to calculate how many minutes of browsing we would need to sell in the first month to break even. With the calculations I was able to draw up the first objective of the business, to sell "X" number of minutes of browsing per month.

With the objective drawn out clearly, the business gained perspective. The interesting part was how to sell the required number of minutes. One advantage of an entrepreneur is the ability to adapt quickly, and in order to fully maximize this advantage the entrepreneur must always listen to what her client's are saying. When we opened the cyber cafe, it took the standard setup of other cyber cafes, but then we started listening:

  • I need a police abstract
  • Can you help me send an email to my daughter in the US
  • I have a computer college nearby but no internet
  • Can you help me send an email
  • How do I check my KCPE results
  • Can I get a job online
  • How do I download photos from my phone
  • I want to play games
As the customers spoke we gleaned their needs and turned them into opportunities for selling more minutes. Since the objective was delineated in minutes it was necessary to ensure that all the services were sold in terms of minutes. I'd usually just list all the different services that we came up with but I'll let you do it this time. Can you spot the opportunities?

Over and above the commercial opportunities that we were able to identify and exploit there were several economic social and cultural benefits that I realized internet in the village could bring. I have teamed up with some like minded individuals to explore these possibilities and I hope to be blogging soon about our progress.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

ICT development Expo: Digital Village

Last week I attended an expo sponsored by the Ministry of Information and Communication that was about ICT opportunities in rural Kenya. The conjucture of rural and ICT obviously drew my attention (Read my post about internet in the village). I know the event was over a number of days but truth be told I only went one day and only one entry caught my eye (plus it was too hot and not very well attended).

The entry was a supposedly turnkey digital centre for use in rural areas. It was made of a cargo container outfitted with solar powered electricity outlets and structured cabling. It also had 8 PCs with TFT monitors placed on 2'x2' desks. The use of space was incredible, with a desk at the back end probably for the manager. A representative for Davis & Shirtliff (co-sponsors of the entry) was at hand to elaborate on the project.

The project is a private sector/public initiative fronted by the Ministry of Information. Davis & Shirtliff provide the solar power technology and Kenya Data Networks are to provide the networking (I think) and internet connectivity, the Ministry provides the rest. The initial setup cost is K.Shs. 2.5 m ($37,715). There was no indication on running costs but the bulk of this would be internet connectivity which was to be heavily subsidised by the government.

I think the initiative is a good idea, but I had some doubts with the approach. D&S are not specialists in solar power, so their margins might be unnecessarily higher. The solar power also has limitations on the power of devices which can be connected to it. The D&S rep recommended 40Watts or less which pretty much rules on copiers, laser jet printers, and even PCs. Their recommendation was to use laptops (Harry: too expensive). KDN have done a wonderful job laying fibre-optic cable contrywide and installing WiFi hotspots around Nairobi, but short of using the relatively expensive VSAT, I don't see how they will reach most rural areas.

The project is in prototype stage so there is still a lot of flexibility for redesign. You can be sure I will be contributing my two cents worth.

Cyber Cafe with an EDGE

Followed up from Laying the Groundwork for a rural cyber

I've finally got around to writing this. Thanks for you all who patiently waited.

Although I approached the project as an "internet consultant", I soon realised I would need to implement the whole spectrum of tasks required to get the cyber running. I spent almost a week laying the structured cabling, installing the software, and configuring the network. Most of the work I was doing for the first time (e.g. drilling holes in concrete to fix the trunking screws) and most of it was hard, but all of it was enjoyable. I needed to prove the project was implementable with minimal human resources (if it was going to work elsewhere). With an eye on both troubleshooting by the owner and future projects I prepared detailed How To manuals for most of the tasks.

So the day finally arrived, November 17th I connected all the PCs to the internet. The results were incredible, the speeds were nearly as good as my 256K broadband connection in Nairobi. I tested each PC individually and was happy to see similar results. The PCs are Pentium III (666 Mhz ) Compaqs with 128K memory, purchased refurbished for about KSh. 12,500 ($178.50) and running Windows XP.

The real test though would be to see how the Internet would behave in "live" conditions, with actual customers paying for the service. I didn't have to wait long, the next day the cyber was open to the public and soon a trickle of customers came inquiring. I advised the owner to initially charge KShs. 3.00 per minute ($ 2.57/hr) and gauge the response. Not surprisingly the customers complained that the charges were high, but the amazing thing is that once they got online they were delighted by the speeds which they said were fast. At one point there were five people browsing and worried that the speeds might suffer I went around the cyber and did a spot check. I was relieved to see however that the technology held up and all the customers were browsing without a problem.

The first day was over, the cyber had passed the test, internet had reached the village. What followed thereafter was an enlightment as inquiries and comments from customers, curious onlookers and suppliers made me realise that there was potential for a lot more opportunities. Read about these insights in my next post.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Even more job vacancies

Position

Apply To

By

Human Resources and Organisation Development Coordinator, East and Southern Africa

Based in Nairobi

Applications should be sent with a CV, cover letter and contact names and details of at least two referees to hrceasa.jhb@actionaid.org All applicants should apply on AAI application forms, found on our website- www.actionaid.org.

no later than 5 March 2007.

Human Resources and Organisation Development Coordinator, West and Central Africa

Based in Nairobi

Applications should be sent with a CV, cover letter and contact names and details of at least two referees to hrceasa.jhb@actionaid.org All applicants should apply on AAI application forms, found on our website- www.actionaid.org.

no later than 5 March 2007.

Network Architect

kmbui@com21mobile.com

Network Engineer

kmbui@com21mobile.com

Systems Architect

kmbui@com21mobile.com

Systems Engineer

kmbui@com21mobile.com

Free Nursing Program

Are you between 18-28 years old, interested in the Nursing field, University of the District of Columbia (UDC) is offering FREE tuition, FREE books, a $250 monthly stipend, and guaranteed job placement as a nurse at Providence Hospital upon graduation (it's a 3 year program) with a starting salary of $40,000.

The program is recruiting new students now. Please contact Ms. Beshon Smith (202) 266-5481 or email Bsmith@urbanalliance.org


Harry's note: This note was forwarded to me by a trustworthy source, I nevertheless urge you to make all proper inquiries before committing yourself to anything.

Monday, February 12, 2007

If you have an appetite for risk I'll tell you how to make money

Kenyans amaze me. We are probably among the most industrious, entrepreneurial, intelligent people in this part of the hemisphere. I continuously meet people who are innovating on new ways to stay ahead of the pack and make some extra coins.

Recently I have been engaged in the newest money-making fad at GEC, currency trading. Currency trading involves the buying and selling of currency pairs (e.g. Euro/US Dollar or Dollar/ Yen) over an interconnected network of banks and dealers. It is the largest and most liquid market in the world (1.5 trillion dollars a day) and operates 24 hours a day from Monday to Friday. Most importantly it is accessible to retail traders (read me and a bunch of other enterprising Kenyans) through a software interface connected through the internet. You can start with as low as $200 (KSh. 14,000) and can conservatively make 10% returns on investments per day! (make $400 (KSh. 28,000) profit in one month from a $200 investment)

When I first heard about it I thought it was a fraud, but currency trading can achieve such high gains using leverages of up to 400:1. It is important though to understand that leverage magnifies both gains and losses and it is easy to lose a substantial amount of money within a very short period. Nevertheless there are strategies to protect your capital, increase your profits and minimize your losses. I was introduced to currency trading by a member at GEC and I am now helping others setup their own trading accounts and employ the above mentioned strategies. With the all-in-one facilities at GEC (high speed internet, computer, office desk and chair) and SoftLaw's financial consulting one can comfortably make a living trading currencies at GEC. If you'd like to know more send an email to kimarigilbert@gmail.com

More job vacancies

I've tried to make it easier this time to apply for the jobs. Below you will find a summary of the jobs. All the best

Position

APPLY TO

DEADLINE

Position of diocesan accountant

The Administrative Secretary

All Saints Cathedral Diocese

P.O. Box 10313 00100

Nairobi

Or through email: allsaintsdiocese@wanachi.com

15 FEB 2007

Recruitment of graduate clerical trainees

Hawkins Associates Ltd

Human Resources Consultants

Muthangari Road, Lavington

P O BOX 30684, 00100 Nairobi

Fax 02-3864273

Email hawkins.associates@khigroup.com.

Community development facilitators - 4 positions

Human Resources & Administration Manager,

CCF Kenya via email: hr@ccfkenya.org

23 FEB 2007

Tractor driver

please send your detailed CV, cover letter, copies of your certificates, testimonials, current contacts for three referees and your telephone and or e-mail contacts to jobs@scuk.or.ke. If you are based in south Sudan with no email facilities, forward your application via SC UK Loki, Juba and/or Aroyo offices or to the address below,

The RRP Manager,

SC UK, south Sudan Programme

P.O. Box 48700

Nairobi

21 FEB 2007

Trainee (junior research assistant)

Kindly send your applications preferably by e-mail to: recruit-stagiaire@cta.int

For further information kindly contact: CTA Brussels Office ; 39 rue Montoyer ; 1000 Brussels ; Tel (02) 513 74 36

Fax (02) 511 38 68

Framework for the pan africa internship programme february 2007

Applicants will submit their CVs to the Pan Africa Policy Officer, Oxfam GB. Email address is eodete@oxfam.org.uk.

MONDAY 12 FEBRUARY, 5.00PM

Bilingual secretary, fsl-3

Please send your application to the address, email or fax number indicated below before the deadline.
International Criminal Tribunal of Rwanda; Chief of Human Resources and Planning Section, ICTR P.O. Box 6016. Arusha, Tanzania
Fax: 255-212-963-2848, 1-27-250 4000, 255-27-250 4373, E-mail: ictr_Personnel@un.org , Applications must be submitted using the United Nations Personal History form (P-11)

19 FEB 2007

Human resources assistant, gsl-5

14 FEB 2007

Security officer, gsl-4

21 FEB 2007

Procurement assistant, fsl-5

19 FEB 2007


Sales executive

email cv immediately to: rychiey@hotmail.com for an interview.

Project officer

Ms. Sokhna Cisse at scisse@unicef.org.

22 FEB 2007

Hospital staff (medical doctors and nurses with or without specialization, midwives, lab technicians, administrators and other categories of skilled professionals)

If you think this is something for you, please send in your application, CV, passport photos and references enclosed to our address.

Normeca AS - International
Mailandvn.12, P.O. Box 404
1470 Loerenskog, Norway

For further information please do not hesitate to contact with our office in Khartoum Tel: +249 (183) 58 00 14/42 or
Nairobi Tel: +254 (020) 27 30 934 Or
Our headquarter in Norway +47 67 92 76 00
Email: tahir.modawi@normeca.no, Nairobi@normeca.no
Or said.alsaid@normeca.no

please feel free to take a look at our website:
http://www.normeca.no