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!