What is Software Factory all about?
Raymond studied engineering in the UK but always fostered a background in software. After university, and 20 years of work in the UK and Denmark, he decided to return to his home country. He returned to Uganda for two reasons:
1) He wanted to keep a link with Uganda and Africa in general. He wanted to be part of stimulating a knowledge based industry and make his personal contribution to changing peoples lives.
2) On a personal level, he also wanted his children to know what life was like in Uganda and to appreciate this background.
He started doing consultancy for European companies (mostly Danish). Initially it was a lot of ‘remote’ work i.e. logging into a system in Europe to do work. Establishing a development center for MYC4 in Kampala was his first major project. Mads Kjaer, the founder of MyC4, initially had the idea to develop the MyC4 platform in Africa and Raymond was living in Kampala. Originally he started with three guys (now 12 on the MyC4 account) and has grown his company to 26 employees. The company now works on a number of projects for both European and American companies.
In the past few years the growth has been exponential. Recently he had a European client who was unable to pay their bills. This was a major set back but has made his company stronger in the end. The ongoing financial crisis has proved to be another challenge in that many of his western clients have postponed projects and launch dates i.e. a start up that goes for another round of financing and doesn’t get it. As a result they have had to scale back some of their planning which impacts his project pipeline. The result is that he now needs to diversify. What this means is that he is actually interested in taking on African projects which has opened completely new and exciting opportunities.
What is the power of Mobile?
Mobile is attractive because you can actually measure the response. You can get a feeling for the audience and facilitate interaction with the user. This is more attractive than the Internet because there are still so few internet users here, actually less than 300,000 regular internet users compared to 8 million mobile subsribers. At the same time, media companies in Kampala know that they need to test new platforms and technologies that have already shown their success in Europe and elsewhere. There is a real interest to start integrating campaigns i.e. a billboard with a mobile phone based content that links to radio, television, print, etc… Nation Media Group is an example of a company that already has access to these different channels and is one example of an organization that could benefit from the rise of new platforms and services.
What is SMS Market Place?
One of his exciting projects is a Craig’s list for mobile phones. Individual users can submit ‘buy’ or ‘sell’ messages via sms or mms. Users can subscribe to the service and receive updates when information is posted that is interesting or relevant to their user profile. This is the beginnings of a virtual marketplace that exists entirely on the mobile phone. The major advantage of such a platform is the ability to connect people. Someone who needs something might not know that the man around the corner is the answer. Till now, many trading networks depend on personal relationships. Although this isn’t a good/bad thing, it might mean that someone is looking for something and simply doesn’t have the network needed to know its standing next to him.
People in rural parts of the country also travel long distances to buy certain products. With this service they might find something closer to home or can at least be sure the product is there when they arrive. Currently, the only classified can be found in the national, regional and local newspapers. But newspapers can still be prohibitively expensive. And although one paper is usually read by many different people, the circulation remains limited. The mobile phone is quickly becoming the ubiquitous tool that connects an entire population. The future of classifieds is on mobile!
Challenges Launching SMS Based Services
Launching an SMS based service in the country has proven to be a challenge. The SMS Market (as of three years ago) has been controlled by only a few companies. Powerful inndividuals in the telecoms have indirect stakes in these two companies and they block out alternative services. Luckily, the market is starting to change as more companies get involved in the SMS aggregation market i.e. content providers / sms aggregators (collecting content from multiple sources). There are now 8-10 aggregators. This increased level of competition helps to bring down the prices and liberalize the market.
An example: I-mode is a Japenese example that takes very little revenue compared to the Uganda sms content aggreagrors. This has been their success as they take only 10%. In Uganda the aggregators can still ask as much as 50% revenue share. This will need to change if there is to be more innovation in the mobile space.
The mobile world is not democratic
With the coming of broadband new opportunities emerge. Because they (the major players in the telecom) don’t control the end points anymore. Internet offers more opportunity for development than mobile, because with Internet technology the playing field is equal to everyone. Telecoms control the entry points, the traffic to the end points ( the mobile devices and ultimately the mobile users) . This hinders innovation i.e. why Mobile Money is an MTN system as opposed to a service from a third party provider. With the coming of the sea cable, and the development in mobile technology, it will become easier and easier to pass these gatekeepers.