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Asilia office Kenya
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Every week in the office, we have Bounce - a weekly session of sharing and bouncing ideas. This was the topic of the second session (held on 27 June 2014) and presented by Angela, our Finance and Operations Manager.

Last week was my turn to lead our new weekly Bounce sessions and I selected the topic ‘Getting and Staying Ahead’.

I chose this topic in light of the many changes Asilia is going through. Specifically, we are aggressively now pursuing a ‘products’ strategy (i.e. software products and standardised services) to complement our bespoke services.  Some of the products we have developed include:
    •        Black White Simple - Create an elegant showcase website in minutes.
    •        Illustrate Me - Hand-drawn custom portraits, the Asilia way.
    •        Somi - An e-learning platform.
    •        Grape - Boost your sales using video.
    •        Pineapple - Sell via web and your own tablet and mobile apps.

What is great about our Bounce sessions is that everyone gets to chip in by contributing and sharing insights from their own experience. So keeping in mind our new strategy and the products we have in place, we got to bounce ideas on how we can get ahead (by effectively seeking out clients and customers) and also how we stay ahead (by continuing to develop the right products). Many ideas, tips and suggestions were put forward but I've summarised them into these three key ones:

1. Know your products
Sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how many a salesperson or marketer don’t truly know the products they are selling or marketing. How do they work? What benefits do they give? How do they compare to the competition?

2. Know your customer
By this I mean profiling who would benefit from the most basic to the most specialised features of your product. Who are they? Where do you find them? What matters to them? What benefits do they care about? What are their pain points?

The decision maker is not always the end-customer. Know what benefits apply to them. This also applies to the gate-keepers to the decision-maker (from the security guard, secretary, receptionist to mid-level managers) - you may have to explain the benefits to them for you to be able to access the decision maker.

Find the places your potential customers hang out and go join them. In a trade show or a trade publication perhaps? Maybe in a relevant newspaper column, or blog? These may be a good places to start.

3. Don’t sell features. Sell benefits.
You’ve probably heard this before but I reckon it’s true - don’t sell the product, instead stress the benefits. Most people don’t really care what a product does. Instead they care what it does for them and more importantly what it does to help them achieve their objectives (grow sales, acquire customers, cut costs, etc.)

We’d love to hear any other ideas or insights you may have to add. Let us know your tips or experiences in trying to get and stay ahead.

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Every week in the office, we have Bounce - a weekly session of sharing and bouncing ideas. This was the topic of the first session (held on 20 June 2014) and presented by Andrew Mugoya, our Technical Director.

This past May marked four years since I quit my (relatively high paying) job to run Asilia full-time. Up until then Asilia had been a small side project I’d started during the financial crisis as a just-in-case-I-get-fired-today strategy. A couple of months after I resigned, my business partner Lulu agreed to join me at Asilia as Creative Director and an equity partner (initially at a 60-40 split and a year later at 50-50).

Its been an exciting journey. Its had its highs. At times extreme highs. And with any business its had its lows. Fortunately no low that has been fatal. Would I do it again? The answer to that may vary depending on the time of the month but on the whole I’d say “definitely yes”. All the same, I’d qualify that “definitely yes” with “but I’d do some things differently”.

Below are two lists. One is of the things I’d do differently (if I was to start Asilia from scratch again) and the other of random things I’ve learnt along the way. In both cases, these are things that I’m trying to do now anyway because in business, every day is a new beginning. Hope you find them helpful.

Things I’d do differently

  1.     Invest time to set up and document (sustainable) systems and processes
  2.     Focus on sales from day one
  3.     Measure and track important metrics
  4.     Focus on products (rather than just services) more aggressively
  5.     Respect the importance of each role and give it its due attention

Things I’ve learnt (in no particular order of importance)

  1. Constantly and consistently sell
  2. Regularly evaluate your systems and processes
  3. Watch every penny, keep costs down
  4. Diversify from day one
  5. Recruit earlier
  6. The best way to learn is to teach
  7. You learn to swim in the pool. Jump in. - The best way to figure out something is to simply try it out.
  8. Measure to manage and improve
  9. It’s not rocket science
  10. Hard work solves most problems in business
  11. Don’t be petty
  12. Measurement without accountability and consequences is pointless
  13. Competition is good
  14. Develop and empower your team. It will allow you to go home early.
  15. If it’s important, measure and track it
  16. Don’t let your second priority get in the way of your first
  17. Don’t let your ego get in the way of your goals
  18. Getting sued is a right of passage
  19. Don’t try to sell Ferraris to Toyota drivers
  20. Strive for constant improvement, however small
  21. "A year from now you will wish you started today"
  22. Get started as soon as you can
  23. Management is not (cannot be) a side hustle
  24. Keep everyone in the loop, it softens hard blows that may come later
  25. Keep your eyes on the prize, always
  26. Pick your battles wisely
  27. Let others fight their own battles
  28. Preach less, share more
  29. Be less judgemental of other business people, you don’t walk in their shoes
  30. Don’t pay more (or equal) attention to others’ businesses (and practises) than you do to your own business
  31. Don’t believe the hype
  32. Business is like mathematics - there is only one right answer (profits) but endless ways to get there. Your way is valid too.
  33. Prioritise
  34. It’s impossible to please everyone - trying to means it’s often you that is left displeased
  35. Its all trial and error, so don’t fear to try or err
  36. Be explicit (and as accurate as possible) about what you want
  37. Everything. Blessing.
  38. The Lord (or your God) will not abandon me (or you)

Posted by Andrew (Follow him on @andrewmugoya)

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Illustrate Me
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Incorporate your personality onto a custom portrait of you with Illustrate Me. All you need to do is upload a photograph and enter a little information about yourself via the website and you get two formats of your illustration done; A square version, ready for your social media profile and a high-resolution version that you can print out. Payment is handled securely online via Stripe or via M-Pesa, if you’re in Kenya. Read more about it here or visit the website here.

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Simply loving it. The trailer speaks for itself! Check out the Afrikana digital (the makers) website here.

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Beat the Deadline: Africa Design Award
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It's a little short notice, but, better late... Africa Design Award is  looking to reward designers who have projects that can embody a certain vision of Africa in its desire to move ahead. Send in your applications by 30th April 2014 (tomorrow) if you are interested.

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How to Let Your Members Shine: Easy Web Galleries for Creative Organizations
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We've been busy at Asilia, honing Black White Simple, the web app that we released last year to make it easy and quick to create your own simple, elegant website. Several member organisations and networks in the creative industry have approached us about creating online galleries using Black White Simple. So much so that we've developed special packages for these groups. Find out why a Black White Simple gallery might be ideal for you.

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Are you creating a total package? Presentation is everything, part II
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From the Afriapps archive: a post by Asilia’s Creative Director, Lulu Kitololo, that was originally written 3 years ago but continues to ring true today.

 

In the second part of her guest posts about app presentation, Designer and Asilia's Creative Director Lulu Kitololo lists some tips that app developers can take to help them differentiate and promote their apps.

In part I, I posed the following question to app developers: what are you doing to ensure that we notice your app for long enough to see what it's really about?

Considering that you will be competing with apps from around the world, not only does your app need to look good but, it needs to address the widespread thinking in Africa that, foreign is better. It's a presentation (or image) exercise that goes beyond the purely visual.

Below are 4 key areas to address when working on the total presentation package of your app:

1. Research
Have you considered the platform(s) that you are creating the app for (i.e. Android, iPhone, iPad or web)? Have you used apps on that platform and talked to other users about their experiences, frustrations and likes? Have you looked at other well-designed apps on that platform and thought about why they work so well? Are there standard buttons styles that you need to comply with and are there templates available? See below for links to some articles that provide just that.

2. Positioning
Have you thought about how you will describe your app to people? Can you come up with a short strapline that explains clearly and concisely how users will benefit from the app? Have you thought about why people should care about your app (i.e. what value it will add to their lives – how is it desirable)? How you will communicate this to them?

3. Design
Less is almost always more. When it comes to technology, good design is evident where user experiences are simple and straightforward, pleasant and intuitive. Not confusing and overwhelming. Design should assist rather than distract.

In designing your identity/style, have you considered coming up with a restricted colour palette and 1-2 fonts that you will use consistently across the app? If you are using or creating images, are they all in the same style (e.g. all in the same illustration style, all black and white photography etc.). This Mashable article from earlier this year observes 7 trends in mobile app design. Most of the examples shown pick a particular visual style/element that drives the look of the app – be it font style, background treatment or something else.

Have you considered not only how design will be applied to the app itself but also how you can consistently use elements of that design, or identity, across supplementary materials that you will use to promote the app (e.g. a website)?

4. Promotion
How will people find out about your app? Will you spread the word via social networks, events, online communities or other avenues? Have you prepared complementary graphics, in keeping with the identity you've developed, to help establish recognition of your app in different places (e.g. ads on relevant sites, avatars for Facebook fan pages and Twitter)?

A great starting point is thinking about who your app is for in the first place. What places (on- and offline) does your target audience frequent? How do they keep up with what's new? What communication channels are they most responsive to? What kind of marketing turns them off?

The suggestions above will help you to present your app in a professional fashion and promote it effectively. This will help to increase its exposure to the people who will benefit from it most.

Are there other important areas that I've missed? What else do you take into consideration when creating apps? What's your process?

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Illustration by Lulu Kitololo

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#Repost: Is your app getting noticed? Presentation is everything, part I
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From the Afriapps archive: a post by Asilia’s Creative Director, Lulu Kitololo, that was originally written 3 years ago but continues to ring true today.

In the first of a series of guest posts, Lulu challenges app developers to ensure their apps don't get lost in the crowd by using captivating design and presentation. Hope you enjoy it and look out for more insightful posts from her in the coming months.

I judge books by their covers. It's the path I chose, as a visual communicator, and the unsettling realisation that years of experience and observation have brought me is that, presentation is often everything. I've seen mediocre ideas in shiny packaging be heralded as genius. I've seen excellent concepts not even given a second glance because, on the surface, they just weren't engaging enough.

The business of image
Often with African-made products, and services, little attention seems to be paid to presentation. It seems there is a complacency when these products and services are consumed regardless. However foreign goods are taking over our shelves, showrooms and other marketplaces, at record speed. We increasingly HAVE to pay more attention to presentation because, at the point of purchase, the consumer's decisions is greatly influenced by what looks better.

The technology industry is a very visual one. A lot of people spend most of their time looking at some sort of screen‚ be it for business or for pleasure. Computers, televisions, games, mobile phones. Whether you like it or not, the app industry is involved in the "industry of appearances." As an app developer, design HAS to be one of your priorities. That is, if you want your app to become something more than your personal pride and joy.

The business of function
I'm not advocating that substance is irrelevant. Employing that great design adage, "form follows function," fancy packaging on shoddy goods will fall apart at the seams upon closer looks and sustained use. And use is why apps exist. An often unappreciated fact is that use is encouraged by function AND desirability. To create something that not only gets something done (whether that is entertain, solve a problem, educate, inform, manage etc.), but that users also enjoy using, content and design need to work in tandem. When makers appreciate this interconnectedness from the get-go, rather than tacking design on at the end, the resulting creations are superior and their users' experience of those creations are pleasant, intuitive, beneficial and‚ lasting.

True excellence runs deep and in fact, outer beauty is merely an expression of it. So to rephrase my first sentence, I may pick up a book because of its cover but, I make my final judgement based on what's inside.

App developers, what are you doing to ensure that we notice your app for long enough to see what it's really about?

Illustration by Lulu Kitololo

Read Part II here.

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Interview with @jkeyison and @fiifibaidoo from iSpace Ghana
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iSpace Ghana started as an idea way back in 2011, when two young techpreneurs, Fiifi Baidoo and Josiah Eyison, with a similar vision met at a tech event in Ghana. Afriapps was lucky enough to grab the founders for an interview about how they transformed their vision into a successful innovation hub for startups that has seen fledgling ideas grow into thriving businesses.

1. Tell us about yourselves
Fiifi Baidoo is a Web Enthusiast and has worked in the internet industry since 2003 with years of experience in LAMP, GEO tools, SEO, and Product Development. He blogs about the internet, social media, new technologies, platforms and apps in Africa. He is also known for his avid interest in mapping technologies and trains technology communities on these subjects. In 2010, he accepted the role to be a managing member of GDG Ghana (Google Developer Group) where he helped set up new GDGs across Ghana and SSA.

Josiah Eyison was instrumental in staging the first ever Apps Circus event in Ghana. After leaving his position as CEO of Quintessentially West Africa (Nigeria, Ghana and Ivory Coast), Mr. Eyison served as a Managing Director(Africa) for Learning Without Frontiers where he developed day-to-day communications efforts and executed community outreach strategies to support the organisation’s mission. Mr. Eyison has in the past provided prize funding for three incubators in Ghana, one of these companies was Saya Mobile who were selected to represent Africa at the World Mobile Congress 2012

 

2. What is iSpace?
iSpace is a unique environment where technology startups can start up safely. We nurture a local network of like-minded and focused tech entrepreneurs, providing places where they can work, meet, collaborate, network, learn and have fun. By providing the right people with Resources, Connections and Training in a physical space, good things happen.

Our goal is to promote and support entrepreneurs and innovators in Ghana building new technologies for global markets. Based in a 350 square meters of Class A office space in the centre of Osu with a breathtaking sea-view that inspires creativity and innovation, the open plan space includes permanent desks for resident start-ups, a ‘dropin’ working space for members requiring an occasional space to touch down in and a plenty of space to hold start-up and technology events. iSpace is equipped with fast Internet access and Wi-Fi service. iSpace is one of the stop for international investors looking for the next great startup to emerge from this promising region.

We will also host a regular stream of visiting global speakers. iSpace is currently the only innovational hub where tech stakeholders and creative industries stakeholders can meet and exchange ideas.

The iSpace initiative:

Provides a space for tech enthusiasts to meet, collaborate and network. 

Host events and training that improve the capabilities of the local tech community.

Host and provide space that meet the needs of the local tech community.

Liaise between the local tech community and the global tech community.

3. How did the idea come up?
We first met in 2011 to host the first mobile apps event in Ghana, we discussed some of the problems facing the tech communities, the common themes, where lack of resources, funding and space to enable development. We decided to start iSpace which will be open innovation co-working space for the tech community in Ghana. What iSpace does differently is that we include the creatives in the startup ecosystem hence we have a rich blend of both tech and creative startups here.

4. How is the response so far?
The response has been positive, we have various entrepreneurs using the space for either business plan workshops or developers learning how to code/create apps using the various available platforms. We’ve had features from CNN, BBC and various other media outlets interested in work being done at iSpace.

5. What type of projects do you incubate?
Right now we are incubating a range of products and services, working on Education with E-Solutions, Health with iLife and Governance with Oderko. We also have people working on building apps for tourism, sports, music and a peer -to-peer lending platform called Lending Square. On a social development side we are working on encouraging the youth particularly women/girls into tech with both Tech Needs Girls and iDesign initiatives.

6. Which cool ones come to mind? 
The iDesign and Tech Needs Girls projects are very cool. iDesign is an illustrations workshop for ladies between 16 and 25 years while Tech Needs Girls is a series of workshops designed to introduce young ladies to programming and web design etc. These two programs are special because they introduce women into the tech ecosystem at a very young age. Through these workshops we are getting to see some great innovative ideas which can be developed into prototypes. iSpace is thereby laying a foundation for the next generation of the tech community in Ghana and that gives us hope to continue what we have started.

7. Why are you passionate about Africa?
We feel that where Africa goes or should go must be determined by “Africans”, we are not alone on that, there are so many thousands, even millions of Africans who feel the same way. Africa in all its glory is very much undiscovered and that offers the opportunity to those who want to grind out the daily challenges and come up with better solutions. Africa allows you to test your resolve, everyday we see people with limited resources trying to make it and that fuels the entrepreneurial spirit of what is possible.

8. What do you hope to achieve as iSpace?!
In the short term we just want to provide an enabling environment for startups, we want to use training workshops to encourage more developers to learn across all the mobile platforms. In the long term we want to see iSpace hubs in all the 10 regions of Ghana, we believe content can be created anywhere and by anyone as long as they have the resources and platform to do so.

9. Your final words?
Africa’s challenges should be seen as opportunities by entrepreneurs who then can focus on building products or services to meet them!

 

Photos courtesy of iSpace. 

Visit the iSpace website for more information. 

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African Blogger Awards
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Loving this new and unique approach to awarding. No voting is required, all you need to do is do your thing, create great content and you will be judged according to the traffic to your blog. Top Instagrammers and YouTubers are also welcome to join the party. Check it out here.

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