Online University launched, to use cloud platform in teaching

Just like many sectors of the economy, the adoption of innovative approaches and technological advancement is revolutionising education across the globe and challenging the way schools operate. This technological advancement has seen investment in virtual infrastructure that enables convenient, on demand network access to information and a host of other shared pool of resources.

Newly established Edulink International College with their Instructor led training, now is one of the forward looking institutions that has introduced a cloud-based learning resources platform as part of its teaching methodology through a partnership with APTECH. APTECH is a world leader in computer education has trained over 7 million people worldwide. Edulink International College will deliver a range of courses such as ACCP (Software Development) and Arena Multimedia programme (Multimedia & Animation).

Dubbed ‘onlinevarsity’, the platform is a unique collaborative platform through which APTECH students will have an opportunity to go beyond classroom learning (Classroom lectures and notes).  They have accessibility to dynamic learning material including expert videos, industry articles, job market trends and industry best practices.

“With the world constantly shifting to the virtual platform, we believe that education too should move beyond the classrooms. Onlinevarsity is APTECH’s collaborative cloud-based learning resources platform for all its students. In addition to learning from the experience and knowledge of faculty members, students receive all their study material on the portal. Students gets deeper understanding of subjects through interactive ebooks, and relevant articles and blogs, Collaboration with expert tutors from around the world,” said Sudhir Gupta, Academic Manager, Edulink International College

The platform also saves on cost and time for both the students and institution. “There is no headache of ordering/shipping and storing of books. Student get the flexibility of reading material as per their convenience of time,” Gupta added.

Onlinevarsity is only  available to the students who enroll in the Multimedia and Animation (ARENA) and Software Development (ACCP) courses through the Edulink International College which was recently named the APTECH’s Centre of Excellence in Kenya.

Mr Gupta explained: “APTECH / ARENA students get their user account on onlinevarsity after they enrol with us.  After confirmation their login details, they can access resource available on site. Onlinevarsity is now accessible on your mobile, giving you the true freedom to access anything, anywhere and anytime.”

The platform is can also be accessed on android phones and also by using the OnlineVarsity app and plans are underway to make it available to non APTECH students.

Other features of this platform include the ability to take down notes/queries while reading ebooks or watching videos, watching or downloading experts’ views/tips about various course-related topics during any downtime as well as the Onlinevarsity App which keeps a student connected to onlinevarsity on the move.

The reception of the platform is very positive with Edulink International College envisaging that they will enroll about 300 students in the first year.

Citing the success of M-Pesa (a mobile money service) and Ushahidi (a non-profit platform that crowd sources information during disasters, Gupta reckoned that Kenya, already a trailblazer in the introduction of out-of-the box technologies, is ripe for more home grown solutions to local challenges. Such initiatives, Edulink believes, will help to facilitate the shift from the traditional methods of learning to the blended learning system.

“People want to know more about technology and look for solutions that are convenient and save time. With the increase in the use of mobile apps to do shopping, payments and even bank transactions. Onlinevarsity offers the same to students- they will be able to use the same app to study and solve problems using IT,” Gupta concluded.

 

 

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Of Airtel, Safaricom dominance and Competition issues

In December last year, Airtel wrote to the Communications Authority of Kenya (CAK) seeking its intervention in repressing/curtailing/cutting the legs (insert your own interpretation) of Safaricom. I thought Airtel was arguing that the public needs more choices, that the public is robbed etc….. but its just business tactics.

I have been looking for details of that letter by Airtel to CAK but now it has been published and almost verbatim. Please read it with a business mind and get to understand what Airtel is asking for. There is no way to write this without looking like I am defending Safaricom, so, now you know.

The gist of it is that Airtel wants Safaricom to spin off its businesses like Mpesa and cede their competitive edge which is pricing, its marketing campaign to be scrutinised before it hits the market, Safaricom base stations to be sold out to a third party, Safaricom to pay its competition higher for call termination, and Safaricom to allow national roaming free.

For many of us who operate a side hassle or a corner shop, think of the many times you have wished there was an authority that could knock your biggest competition out of their perch and give you a chance to run away with their business? Unfortunately for many, you don’t have that chance that Airtel seems to have gotten.

First, let us get it out of our heads that Airtel is a broke company, it is the fourth largest mobile company globally, and it brags about it locally in this Standard article. Here is the quote from that story.

 “ Airtel is the fourth largest mobile operator in the world. Airtel is the second largest in Africa in terms of size and the largest in terms of 3G network in Africa,” he said adding that Airtel was one of the first to launch 4G network in Africa. “I launched it (4G network) in Rwanda, and in Seychelles,” 

You don’t get to be fourth largest by being broke, but I am sure Airtel will also say that the Kenyan unit is independent from the parent company.

Without favouring Safaricom or Airtel, let us take the business angle and evaluate what Airtel is asking the regulator, and say a prayer, hoping that we also get to demand of the same from our competition. I can do with a version of this regulator, to just ask/demand my competition, that is doing so well, to cede their ground to me. Forget whatever effort or time they took, I just need it.

I was a bit disappointed that Airtel was raising the issues, a company that has been operating in Kenya for the last 15 years. At some point in the early 2000s, the two companies were head to head, then per second billing came up and Airtel/Kencell was slow to react…

So, what are the salient issues in that letter?

1. Market dominance

I think its time that we got to know who has market dominance in what areas. There is a process set out in the new Act, that stipulates what a dominant player should or shouldn’t do. I don’t think that it will be a death sentence if Safaricom is declared a dominant player, they are, in GSM voice and SMS, that is from sector statistics in Q3 last year.

But to be declared a dominant player, the CAK must do a sector wide survey and identify the players that dominate areas like Internet provision, voice etc. That takes time and there is no regulator that would make a declaration of dominance without an attempt at a survey….That will take time.

While discussing the issue of dominance, we can also ask whether Airtel has done the same in a market like Zambia where they are dominant with 80 percent of the market share. Are they allowing the competition to use their national infrastructure free, coz in such cases, the competition would have no motivation to invest in network expansion- why when you can use free?

2. Innovation

From the story, it seems that Airtel has a problem with Safaricom’s innovation as demonstrated in products like Mpesa and marketing promos like Tetemesha, but the nerve to say that the public or the regulator to scrutinise the marketing or campaign budget is amusing.

This maybe construed to mean that Airtel is devoid of innovation, and that their teams tasked with market acquisition do not work. Airtel seems to think that Safaricom has reaped more advantages from its innovation department.

We can start by reading this piece on how Airtel was stealing Safaricom’s thunder with the mobile money platform.

Airtel has been very innovative and from the days of sharing infrastructure with KDN, they have taken the market with some unique products.

Let us re-read this story of Access Kenya and Airtel partnering to provide affordable E1 lines via fibre. Think of E1 lines as the digital equivalent of old Telkom lines. It provides affordable communication for small and big companies and its a real virgin market.

That story was in 2011, when Safaricom was struggling with JTL fibre and didn’t even have a chance to even think of providing voice via fibre. By 2012, Safaricom was dealing with problems of not investing in fibre when it had to discontinue its unlimited bundle, a service Airtel was still offering. You can read my take. Safaricom has since laid its own fibre and is busy offering E1 services for the corporate market.

I can go into the details of interrelation between fibre and GSM voice but the upshot of it is that the sales from AccessKenya and Airtel would amount to Airtel lines and companies will spend on the network if you show value.

So, if by 2011, Airtel had a chance to beat Safaricom in one area it was still limping, why hasn’t it? Why hasn’t its partnership translated to more business?

Mpesa is also a big talking point, I think Airtel had lowered its mobile money transfer rates earlier than Safaricom, so what happened?

 

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3. Infrastructure sharing

Airtel is suggesting that Safaricom spin off its base stations like it sold to Helios last year. Usually, mobile operators spin off or sell their towers if they are unable to make a business case out of it, or feel they can make more money. If a company feels that they are able to make money even with the passive infrastructure, it is in their place to do so; they must be assured that the company taking them over will make better use and more money that the company is doing.

Is it in Airtel’s place to direct the regulator to order/direct Safaricom to sell of its towers?

 

4. Marketing budget

Airtel has an issue with Safaricom marketing budget like Tetemesha promo, saying that none of the competition is capable of competing….even the fourth largest mobile provider?

Try telling one of the Tetemesha winners that Safaricom is bad…..or should be stopped from marketing….

 

What is the problem with Airtel?

My main problem was that in the lengthy letter, Airtel didn’t ask for anything practical, like the revision of spectrum fees. That is something the CAK can do, without involving Safaricom or whacking their legs in any way. Even though Safaricom’s threat that they will reduce investment is also smelly.

The regulator gets a lot of money in spectrum fees annually, ask for help there. There is also the Universal Services Fund, ask for help in expanding your network. That is something the CAK can do without passing the buck.

Let us explore the problems…..

1. Lack of investment over the years

There was a time Safaricom struggled with congestion, and Airtel was as clear as can be, but at some point, that must have stopped. In marketing, Airtel was there with promos and marketing activations, that has dwindled over the years.

Why would the network that was struggling with congestion, with poor call completion and handover rates according to the regulator, be the one that is expected to bail out in terms of national roaming services? Roaming is an agreement between two companies, does Airtel need regulation in that bit too because if the regulator allows free use, no guarantee that Airtel will invest in network expansion.

2. Too many expatriates

Sometimes back I was involved in a conversation with a former or disgruntled employee, who claimed that since Airtel entered the market, Indian bosses streamed in, even if they didn’t have to. It is their investment yes, but you can imagine doing market activation in Abothuguchi or Kendu bay and the guy leading the team is from India, yes, India has had lots of success but this is a different market that may require locals.

There is no guarantee that the locals will turn over profits but if there were any lessons with the South African expats in KDN; expats don’t equally have the magic portion, no matter the success they had in their home markets.

Leadership has a direct consequence to performance and stability. Maybe Airtel needs to look in before looking out for answers.

3.  Group mentality

Yes, Airtel is a large group that has operations in several countries. But that is where it should stop. Marketing should be country specific. Some of those ads they run are Africa wide and may not resonate with users in some markets.

How about go back to the old ways of taking country specific approach?

4. Hopeless communication team

I don’t know what criteria Airtel uses to interview in their communication department but even village cattle dip operators have better response and communication from this department. These guys want to just bombard me with rubbish press releases but when I ask serious questions no response. You try to push, they send you an irrelevant speech that has nothing to do with what you were asking.

Yes, Airtel has a budget to entertain journalists and bloggers but how about they try answering questions and make sure there is another consistent telco voice in the media apart from Safaricom and at times Orange?

Airtel has made significant investment but they have also outsourced customer care and their bas stations, so technically, their risk is minimal in this country. Asking for regulatory capture/ curtailing of a publicly listed company is well within your rights.

Let us wait and hear what the regulator says…..

 

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88mph responds to issues of fluff in Kenya tech scene

Thank you for writing about this topic.

First let me point out that I did say in my email that I was busy and not able to answer before early this week. So I’ll just respond directly here instead of emailing you. I hope that is ok for you.

I’ll try to be brief but some of this is fairly complex as you can imagine and does require more than a one liner. Also, by now there have been so many blog posts about 88mph and our model and most of the time the information is straight up wrong. We are often too busy to answer all these posts, but this time I’ll try to expand a bit so readers can refer here in the future. If you want me to expand on any topics, please reach out and I’m happy to do so.

1) 88mph is not closing down its Kenyan operations. We are indeed taking a break from investing in Kenya this year, but there are many reasons why:

One reason is that most of our small team was busy running our first accelerator program in Nigeria this fall. We are a small team, operating in 3 different countries with 43 startups under our wings.

Another reason is that we are focusing on the companies that we have in our Kenyan portfolio now rather than stretching ourselves thin. We are actually very involved with our startups and help them long after the official 3 month program. You can reach out and ask our portfolio companies.

Another is that we are fully invested with our first Kenyan fund and would have to set up a new structure and raise a new round to do more investments in Kenya. We didn’t have time to do this.

2) 88mph normally invest up to $100k per startup, though we have gone higher on one occasion.

3) We are not moving to Nigeria and shutting down Kenya because there’s too much fluff in Kenya. When you look at the two markets then yes, Kenya has more NGOs, more pitch competitions, more awards, more grants, more journalists writing stories about Silicon Savannah, more of all the stuff I referred to as “fluff” in the interview. I think it’s hard to deny this. Nigeria has little of all of this compared to Kenya. But that has nothing to do with our decision to start a program in Nigeria. We are doing Nigeria because we found an awesome partner in our joint venture (440.ng) and we got an amazing opportunity to enter a market we find extremely exciting.

4) I’m very sure I’ve never said that we wanted to fund companies to “hype them, get clicks and eyeballs then sell”… We have always wanted to invest in great entrepreneurs and yes, because we are a commercial investor, one day sell and make a return. We don’t want to hype silly ideas. Our model isn’t to flip startups. We want to build solid companies. I have never claimed that this model works because I “studied” it. I studied music :)

5) You are right that success for the investor is ultimately an exit and a return to shareholders. But it takes many years to build a solid company and we have never expected to exit any companies in our first 3 years in Kenya. We have made some investment that just didn’t work out, but that’s the name of the game. That said, we have made some really great investments in Kenya. Many have products, revenue and some are even profitable already: Ghafla, Futaa, Mdundo, Movas, Yum, Hivisasa, Nanovas, BookNow, just to name a few of the ones we’ve invested in in Kenya. We are far from saying that we haven’t picked any winners in Kenya.

6) Whether or not 88mph provides valuable advice and assistance beyond our money is a valid question. However, I think this question can only be answered by our portfolio companies. I encourage you to reach out and ask what they think. But please do ask more than just the one we decided to shut down. It doesn’t give a very full or nuanced picture.

7) We don’t hire or use “western consultants”. We have experimented (with varying success) having Entrepreneurs in Residence, who for instance, do all the graphic work for the startups doing the program (if they want the help). We don’t force the startups to take office space at the Startup Garage (88mph’s home). We do require them to work from the garage for the length of the program, but we actually pay for that. They don’t. And after the program they are free to move elsewhere. Some companies move to find cheaper space, be closer to home, etc. Some companies stay.

8) I’m happy you think PesaTalk was such a great idea. We thought so too :) But for many reasons, we didn’t have time/energy to really get if off the ground so we decided to shut it down. I strongly encourage to set up a financial blog and run it as a business. Maybe you’ll have an exit here!

9) I fail to understand the argument about facebook. I’m talking about individual angel investors looking for investment opportunities and you are talking about a massive global corporation, extending it’s developer program to the regional capital. I don’t see where the connection is here.

Summary: Investing in startups is a tricky business everywhere. Also in Kenya. Kenya has ups and downs, like any market. We are happy with our investments in Kenya. We have met some great entrepreneurs whom we have helped build cool companies. There is fluff in Kenya. But that is a separate discussion (which has already been beaten to death on Kenyan blogs) and has nothing to do with out decision to run a program in Nigeria.

I hope this helps people breathe again before they get all up in arms about how horrible it is that some investors want to make risky bets on entrepreneurs in Kenya.

Kenya’s tech start ups and fluff

About three weeks ago, Nikolai Barnwell of 88mph accelerator or tech incubator did an interview with Reuters, explaining whey 88 was moving to Nigeria and closing its Kenyan operations. The article has since been reproduced locally and you can read it here. The gist is that Kenya is hyped and Nigeria is more stable.

There has been heated discussions online, and Andrea tackled it in her column. There are other discussions online; in mailing lists, Facebook and twitter :)

When I read the interview, I had several questions and I sent some to Nikolai and he promised to respond, let us hope he does. There were other questions that needed to be answered by some local tech start ups who have made it or are on the road to making it.

Just to be clear, 88 invests about $25,000 about sh. 2,225,000 as the maximum but is also subject to negotiations…can be less.

 

There is no denying that for every company that succeeds, there are probably 100 or so others that met premature deaths or were still born. To that extent, we can say that challenges are abound but does it mean that the Kenyan market if fluffy?

Last Saturday, I met the founders of Pesapal.com, angani.co.ke, innova.co.ke, and wezatele.com (it recently exited). The idea was to get a candid discussion on whether we are actually full of fluff, whatever that means.

First, let me say that I met Nikolai three or so years ago when 88 was an empty hall. I asked him what his strategy was, and he said the idea was to fund start ups, hype them, get clicks and eyeballs and then sell it off. Apparently this model has succeeded in Europe.

I remember thinking, this is the biggest load of bovine deposits I had encountered in a while. I asked whether he had done his study to know whether the European model will work or not and he said he had, so who was I to think that our market is different. I asked him whether this is still the model and he is yet to get back to me on that.

Now, lets get to the fluffy part….

1. Yes, it was his opinion but does it make it authoritative, however erroneous?

I felt bad that 88 has been unable to play in the Kenyan market and instead of owning up and saying they had made poor choices, they say the market is fluffy. Doesn’t this speak of 88′s choice of investments?

Their inability to ride the tough tide isn’t because of fluff, its poor choices; 88 killed Pesatalk, probably the best idea they had, and when Wezatele went to them for investment, they turned them down and a while later, they were bought out by an international firm. In the case of Wezatele, is it out of fluff or poor choice?

I am sure others have similar cases of turned down options but I am yet to see a success out of 88 that has exited and has a product in the market.

I think it was important to get the view of another incubator that has had companies exit or go ahead and launch products in the market. Why would Safaricom launch a $1 million fund if its fluff? And why would investors fund all these companies listed by @whiteafrican? In one year?

2. Investment is not equal to advice

There is need to separate investment from advise. If you give money to a company but you have no knowledge of the local market or have no mentors to help them, the companies will surely not survive. The two need to be separated. 88 may have invested in these companies, but were there mentors?

3. Start up founders need to say no to investors

This applies to those crappy ideas investors come up with, just because it worked in Europe, US, it doesn’t mean that it will work in Kenya.

Upon conversation with former 88 incubatees, it happens that once they invest, the start up is then forced to take on western consultants who know nothing about the market beyond Ngong road and the national parks and to take up office space at 88, at a cost of sh. 10,000 per person. Imagine if you have three developers, two founders, thats 50k a month, and they don’t allow you to take up cheaper space elsewhere.

This is the model that is doomed to fail, if all the successful companies started by renting expensive space and include other overheads, then thats a deal doomed to fail. Bear in mind that sh. 2m isn’t much.

4. Too many expatriates….. that is all…

so……

There is so much we can say about government, culture…etc… but this is a market and rules of natural selection apply. You come to a market and within two years you want the start ups to “disrupt” and take the market by storm. You got to be patient.

For instance, Pesatalk seemed like a good idea but needed a lot of support and networking with the local finance market. The idea was to provide financial information in a very simple and understandable language. Think about all the old, young men and women you see at AGMs, you think they understand fully the lingo? The company could be saying they squandered the money but they put it in a way that you need to read the newspaper or online to get what was meant. Pesatalk was to synthesise this info. This needed high network and patience but I could see it lying off in a few years.

I can only imagine the people who will lose their jobs but even then, the failure by 88 to read and predict the market and support its start ups doesn’t mean we are crap. Failure to choose the right investment doesn’t mean that its fluff, its a question of 88′s judgement and their advisors/handlers.

The article quoted Nikolai saying that founders of Facebook etc come to Kenya and go shaking their heads, I wonder whether he knew that in 2008, way before there were any hubs, Facebook was sponsoring start up garage? You can read here.

My question then is, if Facebook was in the Kenyan start up scene before there was any hub, it was dry land, how then would they shake their heads, except in approval that the seeds seem to have germinated?

There are many start ups that will come after 88 is gone to Nigeria, and they will succeed if they follow the right business principles.

Ends

 

Safaricom launches sh. 90 million VC Fund- the questions….

Yesterday, Safaricom launched sh. 90 million Venture Capital fund, aimed at local startups seeking to scale. You can read the story I did here or Kachwanya’s take that the fund is a game changer or this one from Techmoran.

You can also read a recent posts, some of them deal with terms such as vulture capital, which I will discuss below. Read it.

These stories assume that many people know what VC is but for the sake of those not used to tech jargon, here is what Wikipedia defines VC: “Venture capital (VC) is financial capital provided to early-stage, high-potential, growth startup companies. The venture capital fund earns money by owning equity in the companies it invests in, which usually have a novel technology or business model in high technology industries, such as biotechnology and IT.”

The launch by Safaricom is no mean feat, its better than the others who have the money but don’t do anything about it. But please don’t be fooled to think that Safaricom is doing it as CSR, no, there is the foundation for that; this is business.

For the keen observer, the fund is not targeting the startups with fancy ideas but no market traction, I think Safaricom has learnt from the professional startup gurus who have hoped from one competition to another for the last four years, usually regurgitating same ideas and “winning” the money in the process. The fund is targeting early stage startups who are seeking to scale, just like its defined.

This works well for Safaricom, because if you have a mobile app that is already having subscribers, gaining traction and all you need is the platform to scale, then you have an opportunity. So, if you want a share of the sh. 90 million- starting from 6m to about 23m per startup, then you better launch the product already.

 

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If you speak to many companies seeking to scale, 6million can go along way, especially if the company was bootstrapped. For the companies that start with VC money, the story is different; theirs is a different struggle.

When I heard that Safaricom was setting up a VC fund, I had all these questions that most of us have, given the experience in the kenyan market.

1. Safaricom has previously been accused of stealing ideas once startups, individual developers pitch them, is this a way of redressing that, and making it a legitimate way of taking ideas into products that the market can take?

2. There has been a problem of Vulture Capital or predatory capital, how will Safaricom ensure that it doesn’t fall into this category?

3. Safaricom recently partnered or bought out MLedger (no clear story), did it motivate this venture or what role did this play?

4. There are very few successful exits in the local market, how is Safaricom planning around that?

5. Safaricom has been working with the local hubs, what role will the relationship play or how will it change?

6. Safaricom has been working in the innovation space for a few years, what are some of the lessons?

What did Safaricom have to say about my questions?

Here are the answers from Nzioka Waita, Director – Corporate Affairs

Safaricom has previously been accused of stealing ideas once people pitch them, is this a way of addressing that?

In a lot of instances, the ideas we receive are concepts that people have pulled off the Internet and thus not worth the paper they are written on. There is no case of any serious developer having engaged with us and having had their IP stolen or compromised because we simply don’t do such things. The Spark Venture Fund is being set up to provide funding for companies that are at late seed to early stage growth stage. The idea is to provide them with much needed capital so that they can continue to grow and provide solutions for the market.

There is a problem of vulture capital or predatory capital how will Safaricom ensure that it is not in this category?

We are a local company keen to support and nurture other local companies to grow. We do not see the issue of vulture or predatory capital becoming an issue.

 

Vulture capital

 

Safaricom recently bought out a start-up, did that motivate this venture or what role did the acquisition have?

Last week we announced that we had launched the product M-Ledger, a M-Pesa accounting tool, in partnership with Dynamic Data Systems. We invested in their IP and now offer the app for free on both our app store and on the Android store. Our involvement included assisting Dynamic Data to develop and commercialize their solution for the market. This was a classic case of having a solution that meets a critical market need and we are keen to partner with other companies who are willing to deliver the same kind of proposition.

There are very few successful exits in the market how is Safaricom planning around that?

The reason there are few documented cases of exits is because typically there are few companies worth buying because they have not matured enough to consistently meet the markets needs. That is what we are looking to turn around. We aim to create successful businesses with a bias in ICT mobile application development. If these businesses are successful and serving market needs adequately there will be no shortage of exit opportunities to bigger PE funds or other types of investors.

Safaricom has been working with local hubs what role will that relationship play or how will it change

We hope to extend that relationship and remain a close partner for the local hubs.

Safaricom has been working on the innovation space for the last few years, what are some of the lessons?

Innovation is part of our DNA and over the years we have tried various strategies to try and create a viable innovation ecosystem in Kenya. It’s been a long journey – with several hard lessons learnt along the way about how to do it – but we see this fund as the opportunity to push Kenya’s technology start-up into its next phase of growth by providing it with the funding that they would typically not be able to source.

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ICANN cancels morocco meeting

Whenever there is meeting taking place in Africa, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), is always jittery. If the meeting is in South Africa….well…. its much more comfortable. But anywhere else…. a myriad of issues crop up.

If you are wondering what is ICANN…. here are some interesting articles I have dome in the past.

For the latest episode, let us just call it western paranoia against Africa. Please read the statement here and it doesn’t even give a reason. But we all know its because of Ebola. Apparently, ICANN has no faith that by next February, the three West African countries will have contained the spread.

Yes, ICANN has a right to decide where they hold their meetings but why pretend to care about Africa while you lead the chorus of those feeling that Africa has nothing to contribute in the whole ICANN agenda?

The argument is that Americans feel that they will be quarantined in February next year, if they make a point of visiting morocco. The insurance companies will also not cover them, if the meeting is held in any African country.

“Community concerns that would prevent maximum participation at its next global meeting (ICANN 52, 8-12 February 2015), a critical one given the ongoing discussions around the IANA Stewardship Transition and ICANN Accountability, has prompted ICANN to postpone the meeting in Marrakech, Morocco and to relocate to Singapore on the same dates,” says the statement from ICANN.

Ahead of the statement, Fadi made a call to selected ICT and ICANN big wigs in Africa, explaining the decision and how the meeting will coincide with the internationalisation of ICANN, if you believe Africa has anything to benefit from that.

Aside from ICANN bias, I think it serves Morocco right. They can’t refuse to host CAF Nations Cup for fear of Ebola, then they were ready to host ICANN, yet there will be participants from all over the region.

Its bad for West Africa, a region of 17 countries that has been banded together as carriers of Ebola virus but you would expect more. But again, if the West boycotts, then the meeting may not take place at all because African voices at ICANN are generally missing.

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Of free wifi…. Kahenya’s thoughts

If you have been following debate on free wifi in counties……a guest post by @Kahenya

Most first time Western tourists in India tend to assume that a snake is charmed by the sound of the charmer’s flute. I partly blame Robert Browning’s legend, the Pied Piper of Hamelin for this effect and indeed, you would be surprised by the number of grown adults who fall prey to childrens’ anecdotes. Never mind that at any time, day or night, for next to nothing cost wise, they could open a resource like Wikipedia and confirm the actual facts. But, this is Kenya, where we waste a wonderful tool like the mind for votes and money. As I write this, I’m discussing priorities with a certain bird who owns a parrot named Sparkles, who is pointing out what is painfully obvious. This one time, I will not blame the President and his Deputy because there are other “managers” employed to ensure that our priorities stay on track. But they don’t. Food and water security, general security, health care, education, better wages for civil servants, better equipment for public facilities, better roads, cleaner public toilets and many more things are our priorities, but free WiFi? This is backed by our version of the proverbial European tourist in a pinstripe suit who constantly gets bitten by his own snake cause he does not understand the underlying principles of charming it.

I must berate the principals involved, for failing to understand a rational principle that is universal and actually very easy to get. <strong>THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS FREE WIFI</strong>. There never has been, and there never will be free WiFi. That as a concept does not exist. Its been tried by many municipals, and it has always failed, globally, for one simple reason. Cost. Don’t bother pointing out Guifi or others without thinking Fon and recognising their environment and the actual real world factors that exist.

Let me explain this in the simplest way I can for Eggbert. Someone, defined by the constitution as a legal entity, could be a human being with red blood that breathes air, or an organization like a Registered Company, NGO, SACCO, Women’s Group etc has to pay using legal tender, in many cases real money, in our case, the Kenya shilling, usually sporting the face of a late or retired President, available in paper format or metal hardware, transferable in its physical form, or using a mobile device, a cheque, an electronic service offered by a merchant provider or a bank countywide, to another legal entity for services rendered. Commerce. Isn’t it brilliant? It says that for services delivered, payment must be rendered and whether you choose to use a 56K modem or WiFi, there is <strong>ALWAYS</strong> an associated cost. Hotels, restaurants, airports and other legal entities again as defined by the constitution, offer free WiFi to their customers. But it isn’t free. While you are busy drowning yourself in worldy pleasures that again, you must pay for in some form of legal tender, they deduct a certain percentage of your bill to cover the cost of connectivity. Even if its 1 Shilling per hour per user, the shilling being legal tender for Kenya as earlier mentioned, it is still a cost that must be covered. There is not a single legal entity on Planet Earth that is willing to lay expensive infrastructure, in this case fibre optic cables, WiFi access points among other things, pay for access, salaries, other fees, taxes and so on, just so that they can willingly give free access to the masses cause they feel charitable. That is a bunch of big brown bollocks, simplified and legally defined from its Anglo-Saxon heritage as testicles. Airports deduct it from the tax they levy on your ticket. But that is only half the story.

Now let’s wade into the technical excrement that again shall be simplified. WiFi operates on 2.4GHz and 5GHz, frequencies, both are heavily used and getting scarce by the minute. This means that proper planning, and that is more than drawing a stick diagram on an iPad, must be undertaken, to ensure that everyone enjoys this finite resource without experiencing interference. Which means, as you rollout your WiFi network, you must appreciate that you are not the sole operator as well as there being enough spectrum for the hundreds of thousands of smartphones and tablets, but let’s start with the few in Kenya. Eventually it will be saturated and more frequencies will have to be made available for WiFi but until then, we deal with this. Now WiFi competes with many other technologies, like scientific research devices, wireless remote controls, legally defined as an object that controls an electronic appliance, Bluetooth that you use for your wireless headsets and for sharing media and many other variants. Sadly, the current Eggbert backed WiFi networks are so poorly rolled out, that the burn through all the spectrum, and deliver very little. The solution? Bring Canadians, legally defined as people from Canada with leaf logos on their passports, to build this failing concept of a free network, for a fee, cause believe it or not, they too believe in commerce, and know only too well how to capitalise on our ignorance. Meanwhile you award winning unemployed degree carrying Kenyans with a passport that bears a chicken that carries an axe, herded by 2 spear carrying lions acting as bodyguards cause chicken get hijacked on the highway, are just way too stupid to plan and rollout a WiFi network. Including that Indian guy with an MIT degree. And that is the height of ignorance that this free WiFi concept is bringing out.

Eggbert, you and the rest of the governors need to stop wasting Kenyans’ time with censored free WiFi that will eventually be abandoned cause of cost and poor implementation and let the Kenyans, who understand what needs to be done, do their thing. WiFi is a paid for service. I did not make that rule. You have a less than pedestrian understanding of WiFi as an enterprise and commercial solution, your motivations for the rollouts are completely wrong, you are playing off a flawed playbook, you haven’t done any realistic research and the field failure of Nakuru is resolute proof of how little you understand of your so called docket, and I think you need to get your excrement together and get out of the way. You can’t charm this snake, so accept and move on.

Disclaimer, I’m not here to defend Able’s commercial interest, that’s for the market to decide, and we are now 40k strong in commitments for our upcoming paid service. Also, this is not personal. Well, maybe a little.

/Kahenya

Venture Capital and growing businesses

In the past four years, the tech space in Africa has grown beyond South Africa. It has provided investors and developers choices beyond South Africa, which for a long time had been seen as the source of tech innovations.

It is hard to talk about tech innovation without talking about capital; innovative ideas need dedicated time and people must meet basic needs. Whether its shoestring budget, borrowing from relatives and friends or taking a bank loan, funding is key.

For those in the tech space, venture capital is the buzz word. It is what start ups run to for growth and scaling services and products. Its not that the money is readily available but if you have all the factors working for you, you may find it easier than others. You can read past articles on venture capital and financing in Kenya, don’t miss the one on race and VC funding.

@whiteafrican has also written extensively on this topic and you can check out his articles.

For a latest look at the VC lessons, please read this piece I did on the sale of Movirtu to Blackberry and how the founders were left unhappy.

For the sake of this piece, let us deal with VC for growing companies, not start ups. You know the ones that have survives past the start up phase and can make money? Yeah, those.

There have been some successful engagements with VCs, where local founders make money but why are some cases filled with bitterness and bad blood when VCs take over? Look at the case of Wananchi Group since the days of Joe Mucheru….. yes, VC money helped scale company operations but what happened to founders? They were not exactly very happy with being elbowed out.

In my interview with him, TLcom founder says that VC brings in the money and must align it with a proper team. No one can argue with aligning your money with a team that brings in results and given the kind of money they made, it seems to have paid off.

One of the lessons is how to negotiate exit and share valuation. It seems there needs to be a big deal of legal input needed from the initial stages. Ben White argued a more complex point that I think those looking for funding need to understand before entering into any unions. How do you safeguard your interests and make sure your shares are not watered down? You can imagine starting a company, growing it and only to receive a fraction of the salary of the CEO in return for the shares and your efforts growing the company.

This may be the only known case, there must be other cases of Vulture Capital- where a founder realises its easier to just accept and move on.

So, the new lesson is that if you ever plan to seek funding, make sure you retain a lawyer from the word go. If not, make sure you have a relative or a lawyer who will sit with you and go through all the scenarios. There is no marking scheme, you can go through and still be messed up but at least, having a lawyer is better than having none.

 

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Kenyan Companies embrace outsourcing

About eight years ago, I had a conversation with one of Kenya’s leading technology technocrats about outsourcing. This guy has been there since the days of Kenya Posts and Telecommunication, so when he spoke about anything technology, he commanded the room/space.

On the topic of outsourcing, he was so well versed that as a journalist I liked hanging around because I would learn something new. I have never been afraid to seek knowledge and he was happy to have the audience.

The internet defines outsourcing as an allocation of specific business processes to a specialist external service provider. Most of the times an organization cannot handle all aspects of a business process internally and decide to pass on the task to an expert.

This was at the height of discussions on new fiber optic connections to the Eastern coast of Africa and people were busy discussing big money projects. My questions related to how people who have no big money backing could benefit from the technology developments.

He spoke about companies outsourcing technology services. At that point, it sounded remote and unattainable. That time ISPs had internal installation teams. The internet connections were few and expensive. Of course all big ISPs currently outsource their technical implementation services.

Fast forward. I was impressed when sitting at a catch up or gossip session with my friends and they spoke about an IT graduate who had decided to serve small companies that were willing to pay her 10k a month. She had 10.

Of course, the outsourcing trend has caught on within the corporate circles but according to her, these were the SME bracket ones. Whatever the level, the point was that most companies had started appreciating the benefit of outsourcing.

Outsourcing was a big buzzword when the ICT Board was formed and we were fighting for the World Bank Money on BPO services. We all sort of know what happened to that. That time we were competing with India, Mauritius and South Africa as outsourcing destination, now we are just happy to beat Ghana, now that our economy is rebased.

So, why would you outsource services to an individual or company?

  1. To concentrate on your core business- if your core business is selling, let someone else handle IT services, your business will run much more better and smooth.
  2. Swiftness and expertise- most likely the person will sort you out or knows someone who can.
  3. Reduced operational and capital expenditure- think about insurance and tea that internal teams will consume :)
  4. Increased efficiency
  5. Reduce labour costs

 

So, for the graduates will to explore the market, there are opportunities for those who seek them :)

 

Kenic has a new CEO….. 7th in 7 years…

Abdalla Omari is the new Kenic CEO.  At this point I will stop counting coz it means the annual tradition of the board is; lets get a new CEO.

Usually, when people join new organisations, they are asked what they will do to improve the status of the organisation. I imagined these are some of the questions Omari had to answer.

I know I ask some annoying questions that at times people choose to ignore, like the immediate former CEO did. So I just copy pasted the questions, which mainly dealt with growing the registry, stability and resilience.

He gave me one of those answers you give when you want to put people off, like when they bother you too much. Here is the response;

“We are currently in the process of reviewing our Strategic plan. The Strategic Plan review will capture the intended strategies on marketing and price sensitivity challenges which you have raised. The moment the SP document is finalized, we will publish it on our website for all the stake holders to read.
 
I have studied our Technical report on downtime, and seen the latest downtime was in August 2014, after a period of over one year (that is Sept 2013). We are finalizing the process of setting up 3 redundant sites to address any future challenge of the same. This project should be complete in the next 2 weeks.”

Either the guy has no idea. I don’t get how the review of a strategic plan has anything to do with your leadership skills of steering a registry. How will you help that plan if you have no experience in running registry operations? I get it, I am told you don’t need to understand how to run a registry to make it efficient and sustainable; apparently even a farmer can run a ccTLD.

So, who is Abdalla Omari? Here is the CV….

“EDUCATION:

-       M.B.A- Maseno University

-       Bachelors In Management and Leadership- University of Free State, South Africa

-       C.P.A part three

-       Currently pursuing a PhD in Business Management

EXPERINCE:

I have been a General Manager for Avtech Systems Ltd, for around 5 years, before joining KENIC. Avtech Systems Ltd (www.avtechsystems.co.ke), is an ICT based organization which specializes in Electronic Security, Video Conferencing facility set up, Broadcasting Station setup, and audio vision solutions.

During my tenure at Avtech Systems, the organization was among the Top100 finalists competition, for a straight 3 years. KPMG consultants and Nation Media group moderate this competition. In the Top 100 competition of 2012, Avtech System was number one, in the ICT category.

I have also been a Finance Manager for a manufacturing industry called Dimensional Structures Ltd, and a senior accountant for a leading travel organization called, Charleston Travel Limited/fcmtravel (www.fcmtravel.co.ke).

My experienced is wide from Management/leadership, accounting, finance and auditing”

And the story continues…