Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Journey of an Afro-preneur: Worth the tinker..

It's been long since I posted on my journey as an afropreneur and just last weekend a special friend of mine pointed that out to me, so I felt it necessary to return back to chronicling this journey, although I am the view that some of my posts have been part of my journey I haven't titled them in the manner that would suggest that they are part of the journey. I think every experience worth remembering must be put down as an event that brings with it new lessons, successes and failures, triumphs and defeats, all must be given the proper attention.

As I seat here listening to one of Africas most distinguished musicians, Oliver Mtukudzi, whose music is amazing and a collectors item for any serious person, a million thoughts are going through my mind (honestly may be just one..When will I get more money?...:-) ..) am forced to focus on the current challenges am facing as web developer in a market where every "smart" university graduate and anybody who can write a program wants to undercut me on every project that pops up. I remember a time when one could survive on one project a month comfortably, the hourly rate for a project was strong enough to cater for my needs, a few years ago I used to get paid about Ksh45,000 (about 600$ USD at the current exchange rate) for about 5 days work (minimal effort required) without breaking a sweat now those were the good times. Now people approach me with figures which would make me run to hills like the freedom fighters (MauMau) of yesteryear.

I always thought that as you got better at what you do and honed your skills the more money you'd be able to command for work, just look at lawyers and almost any other profession, that belief has been crashed with the rise of "For 10grand I'do everything" breed of developers out there. Don't take me wrong, I understand that people need to eat and that we all can't charge high fees, but am also of the view that cheap is also bad for the industry because one day that ksh10,000 project will not be able to meet your current needs and you will want more but shock on you when you realise there's another coder standing behinding you telling your client "...I can do everything plus maintenance and even iron your clothes for Ksh5000..." and your left wondering "What have I done?.."

The Problem:

I'm afraid am part of the problem, having come from a culture of undercutting the competition on pricing we have spawned a breed that seems hell bent on giving more for less just to earn that shilling.

The Solution:

The solution, I don't think I have one, I could carry out mass genocide on "For 10grand I'do everything" breed of developers but that would only land me in court or worse death where I know I will never be able to renegotiate my way out of fiery gates of Hades (hell is real whether you believe in it or not) for now am thinking that an organisation or body of freelance developers could pool their resources and come up with a body that would ensure we maintain certain fee standards, guidelines that would ensure that we don't go cheap even in a flooded market.

The Exception:

There are projects out there that can only be done cheaply but careful consideration must be given before embarking on those projects.I have often found that "small" is usually big, because it tends to mean that the client hasn't properly thought out what they want and as such you end up doing more work for less. The exception must never become the rule.

The Rule:

Cheap is bad and it kills as all. I often say that "ignorance is good for business" :-) take web hosting and domain registration for example, charge a client 50$USD for a .com which could go for as little as 7$USD and 250-500$USD for hosting that can go for as little as 50$USD Why you may ask?greed..NO..the client is not only paying for the service his also paying for your time and the knowledge you have acquired over a period of time.

I am reminded of the story of the Ford motor plant, one time the assembly line had a problem that had resulted in the halting of production resulting in losses. Mr.ford attempted to solve the problem internally using all the manpower he had but to no avail, so he called in an engineer who came and looked at the machinery for about 10 minutes, keenly observing the workings, he opened up one section and twisted a knob and the machinery was up and running. The engineer then sends Mr.Ford an invoice of $10,000USD which was a tidy some in the 30's and 40's, Mr.Ford was shocked at this and proceeded to send him a note asking hwo he had come up with such a figure yet he had only "tinkered" with the machinery. The engineer then sent a rather smart response of a breakdown of his costs:

Tinkering 10$ USD
Knowing where to tinker 9,990$ USD
10,000$ USD

You are worth the tinker...act like it...


Duke said...

Well put. While the cheap developers are there, we need to find a way of also helping buyers understand that there is a cost of cheap labour. The truth of the matter is that when a developer is too cheap, maybe it's because he/ she doesnt know how to do it well, and this will result in a poor end product. Even in software, cheap is expensive!

Rainmaker said...

Sub Saharan coder u hit the nail right on! I think having a professional association will not only make sure that coders get paid for their worth and skills, but also ensure that professionalism is maintained. Banker have association. Insurers. Doctors. Teachers. An example of an industry being taken advantage of because of no professional body is modeling. Cosmetic companies and soft drink companies pay models from the streets peanuts (Kshs. 20,000) for advertisements on billboards or even TV. While professional models pockets Kshs. 250,000 and above at times. If the modeling industry had a professional body they would determine the lowest amount that can be paid to a model.

By having a professional body consumers can raise issues or grievances to the body. At the present if a coder or developer puts up a shodwy work for you where do you take them? Professional body will definitely raise the standards in the industry. Most established IT companies are a let down to clients. You only need to ask companies about what they feel about their level of service to know that the industry needs a self regulating association.

Benson Mbogani said...

This is the kind of situation that is driving our industry crazy. A notion is building in our beloved Kenyan society that the web jobs are easy and thus cheap. Although some of the new kids in the web world may think of price difference as the easier way out in beating the seasoned web gurus-they are digging their own graves.

We need someone to champion the society formation, may the real web gurus stand up.

One Eyed Bandit said...

Right on man. There is a bigger issue here: is it that fellow developers don'tknow their worth or is it just people undercutting each other?

Since the stock exchange euphoria that has this country, businesses are bidding zero cost to land major IPOs. Companies such as Dyer & Blair, Suntra and The ScanGroup come to mind. Does this apply to the 10-Grand developers? I don't think so!

The bottom line issue is they don't know their worth. By their very nature (fresh from school thinking it's a lot of money mentality) naivety and not professionalism is what drives them.

At the end of the day the quality of their work is left wanting.

tHeViLLaGeR said...

Nice to know, see n hear that I aint the only one tired of the cheapsters. Tackled the issue in a recent article in the paper, where 5 students from uni were charging btw 15 to 20 k for a site...n i went like arrrgh and what does the CEO take home?