Saturday, June 09, 2007

Peupe: IE6 issues

IE6 seems to be the browser that will truely put me to the test when it comes to peupe. I developed and deployed peupe on a mozilla and IE7 browser having forgotten that IE6 is quite nasty when it comes to certain design issues. Take for example my mast head which is a transparent PNG, IE6 shows a blue/green background on the section that is meant to be transparent, I didn't notice this till when I viewed peupe on the campus browser, what this means for me now is that I have to design for IE6.
Resolution:Redo all the mast heads with white backgrounds

Another issue is the rich text editor (TinyMCE) that we using in the admin section of the app, it loads okay on Mozilla but doesn't load on IE6 and IE7. This obviously isnt a good thing bearing in mind that most of the time the app will be accessed from a cyber cafe where the majority of browsers used is IE6.
Resolution: Work backwords and discover why the tect editor isn't loading in the admin (just viewed tinyMCE's website on IE6 and the demo page loads okay)

This might seem like a few issues but trust me when your product/application is public its pretty crazy dealing with 2 major aspects.

I'm going to be doing most of my blogging now on Peupe (wesonga.peupe.net)

Peupe:Browser compatibility

Browser compatibility issues seem to be a bulk of the issues that I'm dealing with right now with regards to

Friday, June 08, 2007

Peupe: Pushing it out

Yesterday marked a major milestone for our company, we finally pushed out our first "public" release of peupe accessible via alkags.peupe.net But it was by far not a small feat, I had to code and debug several issues that arose and I'm still on them. One of the major challenges has been speed of the application, a few people have complained that the app is to slow and so I've been going through the code with a tooth comb trying to see where the bottlenecks are, implementing caching on several areas of the blog (using Ruby on Rails this isn't difficult). I finally managed to finish most of what I'd set out to do at around 6am and headed to bed.

In the evening I got online and started getting feedback from people, i actually asked a friend of mine to see if they could post a comment on the blog and to my disappointment an error popped up which I addressed immediately woohoo!! :-)

As of friday evening I had pushed out the following features and bug fixes:

  1. Error on posting a comment which had to do with lack of appropriate IDs.
  2. Search engine friendly URL's: the posts now have permalinks that give them very nice and neat URLs (thanks to permalink_fu a great RoR plugin). I now have
  3. Delicious and Technorati submission: I had an issue with this as it wasn't giving urls that could be tracked back to the blog.
  4. Tags: The tags associated with posts can now be viewed.
There are few more other things I'm working on, my focus now being on errors and optimisation but its a good feeling when you can see the value of your work coming to the surface.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Peupe: A corporate blogging platform


I've been underground for the past couple of weeks coding like crazy (Technology director and still writing code) and dealing with deployment issues (Ruby on Rails deployment is a major challenge) that could drive any reasonable person into a frenzy. So whats been keeping me that busy you might ask? well one word Peupe. Peupe is a corporate blogging platform that our company has developed specifically targeted at professionals and CEO's, our objective is to build communities and content around business and corporate leaders in their respective leaders.

As a business we feel that there is a large demand for people to want engage captains of industry in meaningful discussions unfortunately this isn't easy due and as such a corporate (CEO) blog where the industry leader can share his/her thoughts, books of interest, websites of interest and even photos, think of Peupe as wordpress+flickr. The application is currently in beta version and we aptly named Madaraka since it was in essence launched on June 1st, 2007.

Peupe..why the name?

I'd be lying if I said that the name was inspired by me, this was all Al's brainchild with me as the "realiser of dreams" if you'd like to call me that. Peupe is a swahili word that means slate or white, they were commonly used as writing tablets in olden times. Apparently the word isn't just swahili but also belongs to some european country, this I discovered when I typed it on google but nevertheless we will still push on.

Under the hood

Peupe is developed using Ruby on Rails by our own Kenyan development team.

So what next?

Well I'm currently still working on addressing a few bugs on the application but so far so good. There are several features we would like to add to it but the main ones include:
  1. Internationalisation- We would like to translate the blog into several languages with Kiswahili and French being the first then other languages to follow.
  2. Feed Aggregator- A simple feed aggregator to allow for users to manage their favorite RSS feeds.
  3. Blog Migration-You have a blog on blogger, wordpress or moveable type and need it moved, will give you tools to do that.
Thats just the tip of the iceberg, there's so much more we've planned that I'm sometimes overwhelmed. Just watch this space :-)

With all that I plan to migrate this blog to peupe just as soon as I can stabilise it on our deployment server. Will keep you posted.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Journey of an Afropreneur:Buggy code, killer mosquitoes and the phoenix

I finally managed to move house about two weeks ago but since the internet connection in my new neighborhood literally "sucks!!" I haven't managed to do much, I even went as far as giving Al my laptop for close to two weeks as I cleared the boxes. With the boxes cleared and my body having recovered, I have now discovered that even with an internet connection I can't connect from the bedroom, the signal is just too weak, so now I've shifted base to the sitting room where the connection is much better and the mosquitoes really kick butt!! Seriously the mosquitoes in this new place put the amazon to shame but I will survive.

Today we had a meeting with the same CEO who had wanted to build an online business, but this time I went there with Al and the other guy who was to be a partner in the business. The meeting went pretty well but as usual left me tired like a mexican mule. The next few days will be critical as we solidify the requirements and prepare to build another online business.

Right now I'm dealing with a buggy PHP code base for an app that a contractor developed for us. The error I keep getting is this:

"Error unable to connect to database server Can't connect to local MySQL server through socket '/var/run/mysqld/mysqld.sock' (2)"

Nothing major based upon my experiences but somehow escaping me at midnight after a long evening.It's amazing that when you look at somebody else's code it doesn't matter how good you are in the particular language it all looks like gibberish and you keep going like this "duh!aah!uuuh!oooh!!.." until you realise that in time you'll figure out the errors and finally prevail.

I decided to change my gmail status message to Phoenix I think because I simply love the name and it exudes with confidence and hope, at this point I need hope and faith to push me through the tough times.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Academia is back

I'm back in school this time with another crazy course load consisting of:

  1. Business law
  2. Introduction to Macro Economics
  3. World Civilisations
  4. Advanced Networking Concepts
  5. Computer Graphics
I hate academia.....

Friday, May 04, 2007

How to Start a Startup

I stumbled upon this article while surfing techcrunch.com I hope it gives you invaluable insight as you venture into the world of entrepreneurship:

How to Start a Startup

You need three things to create a successful startup: to start with good people, to make something customers actually want, and to spend as little money as possible. Most startups that fail do it because they fail at one of these. A startup that does all three will probably succeed.


And that's kind of exciting, when you think about it, because all three are doable. Hard, but doable. And since a startup that succeeds ordinarily makes its founders rich, that implies getting rich is doable too. Hard, but doable.

If there is one message I'd like to get across about startups, that's it. There is no magically difficult step that requires brilliance to solve.

The Idea

In particular, you don't need a brilliant idea to start a startup around. The way a startup makes money is to offer people better technology than they have now. But what people have now is often so bad that it doesn't take brilliance to do better.

Google's plan, for example, was simply to create a search site that didn't suck. They had three new ideas: index more of the Web, use links to rank search results, and have clean, simple web pages with unintrusive keyword-based ads. Above all, they were determined to make a site that was good to use. No doubt there are great technical tricks within Google, but the overall plan was straightforward. And while they probably have bigger ambitions now, this alone brings them a billion dollars a year. [1]

There are plenty of other areas that are just as backward as search was before Google. I can think of several heuristics for generating ideas for startups, but most reduce to this: look at something people are trying to do, and figure out how to do it in a way that doesn't suck.

For example, dating sites currently suck far worse than search did before Google. They all use the same simple-minded model. They seem to have approached the problem by thinking about how to do database matches instead of how dating works in the real world. An undergrad could build something better as a class project. And yet there's a lot of money at stake. Online dating is a valuable business now, and it might be worth a hundred times as much if it worked.

An idea for a startup, however, is only a beginning. A lot of would-be startup founders think the key to the whole process is the initial idea, and from that point all you have to do is execute. Venture capitalists know better. If you go to VC firms with a brilliant idea that you'll tell them about if they sign a nondisclosure agreement, most will tell you to get lost. That shows how much a mere idea is worth. The market price is less than the inconvenience of signing an NDA.

Another sign of how little the initial idea is worth is the number of startups that change their plan en route. Microsoft's original plan was to make money selling programming languages, of all things. Their current business model didn't occur to them until IBM dropped it in their lap five years later.

Ideas for startups are worth something, certainly, but the trouble is, they're not transferrable. They're not something you could hand to someone else to execute. Their value is mainly as starting points: as questions for the people who had them to continue thinking about.

What matters is not ideas, but the people who have them. Good people can fix bad ideas, but good ideas can't save bad people.

People

What do I mean by good people? One of the best tricks I learned during our startup was a rule for deciding who to hire. Could you describe the person as an animal? It might be hard to translate that into another language, but I think everyone in the US knows what it means. It means someone who takes their work a little too seriously; someone who does what they do so well that they pass right through professional and cross over into obsessive.

What it means specifically depends on the job: a salesperson who just won't take no for an answer; a hacker who will stay up till 4:00 AM rather than go to bed leaving code with a bug in it; a PR person who will cold-call New York Times reporters on their cell phones; a graphic designer who feels physical pain when something is two millimeters out of place.

Almost everyone who worked for us was an animal at what they did. The woman in charge of sales was so tenacious that I used to feel sorry for potential customers on the phone with her. You could sense them squirming on the hook, but you knew there would be no rest for them till they'd signed up.

If you think about people you know, you'll find the animal test is easy to apply. Call the person's image to mind and imagine the sentence "so-and-so is an animal." If you laugh, they're not. You don't need or perhaps even want this quality in big companies, but you need it in a startup.

For programmers we had three additional tests. Was the person genuinely smart? If so, could they actually get things done? And finally, since a few good hackers have unbearable personalities, could we stand to have them around?

That last test filters out surprisingly few people. We could bear any amount of nerdiness if someone was truly smart. What we couldn't stand were people with a lot of attitude. But most of those weren't truly smart, so our third test was largely a restatement of the first.

When nerds are unbearable it's usually because they're trying too hard to seem smart. But the smarter they are, the less pressure they feel to act smart. So as a rule you can recognize genuinely smart people by their ability to say things like "I don't know," "Maybe you're right," and "I don't understand x well enough."

This technique doesn't always work, because people can be influenced by their environment. In the MIT CS department, there seems to be a tradition of acting like a brusque know-it-all. I'm told it derives ultimately from Marvin Minsky, in the same way the classic airline pilot manner is said to derive from Chuck Yeager. Even genuinely smart people start to act this way there, so you have to make allowances.

It helped us to have Robert Morris, who is one of the readiest to say "I don't know" of anyone I've met. (At least, he was before he became a professor at MIT.) No one dared put on attitude around Robert, because he was obviously smarter than they were and yet had zero attitude himself.

Like most startups, ours began with a group of friends, and it was through personal contacts that we got most of the people we hired. This is a crucial difference between startups and big companies. Being friends with someone for even a couple days will tell you more than companies could ever learn in interviews. [2]

It's no coincidence that startups start around universities, because that's where smart people meet. It's not what people learn in classes at MIT and Stanford that has made technology companies spring up around them. They could sing campfire songs in the classes so long as admissions worked the same.

If you start a startup, there's a good chance it will be with people you know from college or grad school. So in theory you ought to try to make friends with as many smart people as you can in school, right? Well, no. Don't make a conscious effort to schmooze; that doesn't work well with hackers.

What you should do in college is work on your own projects. Hackers should do this even if they don't plan to start startups, because it's the only real way to learn how to program. In some cases you may collaborate with other students, and this is the best way to get to know good hackers. The project may even grow into a startup. But once again, I wouldn't aim too directly at either target. Don't force things; just work on stuff you like with people you like.

Ideally you want between two and four founders. It would be hard to start with just one. One person would find the moral weight of starting a company hard to bear. Even Bill Gates, who seems to be able to bear a good deal of moral weight, had to have a co-founder. But you don't want so many founders that the company starts to look like a group photo. Partly because you don't need a lot of people at first, but mainly because the more founders you have, the worse disagreements you'll have. When there are just two or three founders, you know you have to resolve disputes immediately or perish. If there are seven or eight, disagreements can linger and harden into factions. You don't want mere voting; you need unanimity.

In a technology startup, which most startups are, the founders should include technical people. During the Internet Bubble there were a number of startups founded by business people who then went looking for hackers to create their product for them. This doesn't work well. Business people are bad at deciding what to do with technology, because they don't know what the options are, or which kinds of problems are hard and which are easy. And when business people try to hire hackers, they can't tell which ones are good. Even other hackers have a hard time doing that. For business people it's roulette.

Do the founders of a startup have to include business people? That depends. We thought so when we started ours, and we asked several people who were said to know about this mysterious thing called "business" if they would be the president. But they all said no, so I had to do it myself. And what I discovered was that business was no great mystery. It's not something like physics or medicine that requires extensive study. You just try to get people to pay you for stuff.

I think the reason I made such a mystery of business was that I was disgusted by the idea of doing it. I wanted to work in the pure, intellectual world of software, not deal with customers' mundane problems. People who don't want to get dragged into some kind of work often develop a protective incompetence at it. Paul Erdos was particularly good at this. By seeming unable even to cut a grapefruit in half (let alone go to the store and buy one), he forced other people to do such things for him, leaving all his time free for math. Erdos was an extreme case, but most husbands use the same trick to some degree.

Excerpt Taken From …>>>

http://www.paulgraham.com/start.html

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Bad events and preparing for some of them

This week has been rather tough on me, for the first time in the last years I have to move houses even though this isn’t anything major it is quite demanding considering that I have to co-ordinate issues in the current house and also ensure that the next house is sorted so that when I move in everything is okay. Take for instance the issue of electricity, if you’ve ever moved house you know that you have to get the electricity connected in your new place, especially in the case where your moving into a full house compared to a block of flats where electricity bills usually come in the name of the landlord who then forwards them to the respective houses, so today after trying to sort out issues with the vacating tenant I discovered that I now need to sort out the electricity and ensure that by Saturday (the day I’m moving) I do have electricity. Hopefully all this stuff will fall in place in the next few days.

I’ve talked about our cat before Peeps, well off late she’s been behaving rather strangely, in fact her movements and regular activities have almost come to an end. On Sunday as I prepared lunch (vegetables, meat and ugali) with my better half, we both noticed that she wasn’t really making the point of ensuring that we gave her the meat to eat and this was strange because usually she gets on our case about the meat even before we un-wrap it, well this time she didn’t. So after we had eaten our lunch I proceeded to serve her with the juiciest bone I could get my hands on, she didn’t eat the meat and later on I couldn’t find her (she’s been known to go missing for days). Well today I found her actually my baby sister found her at the corner of the house on a pile of old papers dead, it came as a shock to me and despite my tough exterior I was truly saddened. It’s amazing that I had grown so attached to her over the past few months that now that she’s dead it truly affects me. I took her body and buried her at the corner of our backyard in the evening.

Peeps(2006-May 2007) R.I.P

On the other side of town Al my partner was having his share of troubles, his hard disk had crashed on Monday evening so whenever he tried to boot the machine it would display the unnerving message UNABLE TO LOAD NTLDR. Now this kind of message doesn’t scare you much when your hard disk is filled with nothing more than several gigs of music and a few video games but when it has your business plan, financials, project proposals and God knows everything business related it is cause for concern. Never you mind that just a few months back, Al was robbed of his tablet PC which also had a lot of business material. I’m no hardware/software guru so when he made the point of calling me when he discovered this and the little knowledge that I knew pointed towards the solution being a repair of the current operating system using a bootable version of Windows XP CD. I didn’t have the CD with me so we attempted to repair it using a bootable USB version of WinXP on labour day which didn’t work. I eventually managed to get the CD to Al on Wednesday evening and he was to later on inform me that the repair didn’t work and that he was forced to format the hard disk!!..What?!??!...yes format the hard disk. At this point I need to point out that a potential client had just told Al to mail him the proposal he was working on for them and that another potential client would probably be asking for a meeting where Al would present the proposal he had been working on. Now do you see why I’ve had a tough week? The implications of this on our business cannot be overstated in fact it puts as in a rather bad situation as well as in a vulnerable position. One hopes and prays that these things never happen to you but they do, the lesson to be learned from all this is always prepare for the worst.

In a totally related news kind off, the May edition of Business 2.0 (read this magazine if you’re serious about business) was accidentally deleted from the servers and no backups were available. The only good thing is that there were copies of the content available as email but the layout was lost completely.

If the two stories above aren’t a good case for backing up your data then I don’t know what is. In case you’re wondering how you can store most of your important documents online check out the following great and free services:

Box.net (I have an account with these guys and the service is excellent plus they have this embeddable widget that practically allows you to display some of your backed up/uploaded documents on a website (preferably your blog) for other people to download) plus the interface is pretty tight. I give these guys a rating of 8 on scale of one to ten.

Badongo.comI haven’t used this service but AL has, I did have a look at the website and it looks pretty cool, I can’t seem to get the name though but who cares as long as it works.

If none of these work for you then go the old fashioned way and buy an external USB hard drive preferably 100GB and above. I got mine last year and so far it’s proved invaluable; it’s slightly larger than a cigarette pack in length so it easily fits in the pocket and is light to, contains 120GB of storage and cost just about Ksh8000 ($115 USD) from amazon.com.

Let me see how the weekend will be.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Journey of an Afropreneur: Optimism , Pessimism and the Entrepreneur

I often ask myself whether an entrepreneur can afford to be pessimistic, the reason I ask myself is because one of the biggest assets as well as liabilities to any entrepreneur is optimism. Optimism is what makes you believe that the worst is over and that better days lie ahead, optimism is what gives you the assurance that you’re on the right track even when other people think differently, and it’s what wakes you up in the morning and gives you the strength to face the challenges of starting and running that business.

On the other hand optimism can blind you from the fact that may be just may be your dead wrong and you need to change course quickly before you and your idea are confined to the annals of history. In fact during my entrepreneurship class in university last semester, we were told that a large number of entrepreneurs suffer from too much optimism which can lead to depression especially in cases where the business does fail. So is optimism really a good thing? Well that is debatable in my view and I cannot discount the fact that in most cases optimism will open more doors then close them, but is there room for a pessimistic entrepreneur in the business world?

As a self confessed and proud pessimist (I just stumbled upon the word pragmatist in the dictionary and I think that is more fitting of who I am), I often tend to focus on pointing out the problems (translated as challenges) of any idea before I pounce on it. Al my partner is a serial optimist and as such is a complete opposite of me which is a very good thing because we almost complement each other. On one hand he sees the endless possibilities of one idea while I see the enormous challenges within the idea, this is good because as I see the problems I also attempt to visualize the possible solutions.

In my view pessimism is the little guy on your shoulder who keeps telling you to stop dreaming and get back to reality, and I don’t mind having that guy around in fact I think the role he plays cannot be overstated. The challenge comes in striking a balance between the optimism and pessimism, if one outweighs the other there is bound to be chaos.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Journey of an Afropreneur: Focusing on the dream,

It's been almost 4 months since I made the leap into the business world and I've learned so much. Many times when I meet people they ask me what I'm up to and I tell them that I'm the Technology Director at a communications (web) company, they get all excited and start asking me for jobs (the good ones do that) the nasty ones just ask me for money, but what most people never seem to listen to or bother to hear is the challenges (financial and social) that are part of starting a business and getting it to actually make money.

I remember a few years back I had the opportunity to pick my friend Harry's(Startups In Kenya) brain on the important points of running a business. At that time I had no intentions or plans to venture into the unknown in fact I was content with "mediocre employment existence" and was happy getting a pay check and smiling for the boss and the clients who walked into the office. On the most important points I picked up from the whole conversation was the "Always have cash available (liquidity) for your operations, all the projects in the world will not help you if you don't have cash to pay your bills" that point stuck in my head through out the whole conversation and little did I know that a few years later I would need to apply it practically in a business I'm now trying to build.

Business has been quite slow almost non-existent the last couple of months and so our cash flow has really suffered. If you look at the bigger picture, the lack of cash for our day to day operations means that we can't focus on the issues that made as start this company. The way we've set ourselves up is that Product development is the core of our business, we build applications that we intend to sell and the only way to focus on that is to get one or two projects/clients out there to provide cash which will in turn fund the R&D aspects of product development. So far we've gotten a few good leads but nothing solid has come from it, any entrepreneur will tell you that leads/proposals don't pay your bills and a large number of them don't even translate into cash.

It's during times like this that one questions whether they made the right choice to leave the "comfort" and "security" (false comfort and security) of employment in order to pursue a dream and of late I have been pondering my decision. There is nothing wrong with doing this trust me, its human to question every decision especially the ones that radically change your life, and any entrepreneur will tell you they've been through this cycle several times some even go the step of filling out job applications, but what keeps me going is that currently our company is poised at the forefront of reaping the fruits of an ICT enlightened society and that change takes time. I'm not the most optimistic guy in the world actually I'm a very strong believer in pessimism but you there are times when I can't help but just believe in the dream. I can't help but think that even the most successful businesses went through times of drought but like the mythical phoenix arose to glory (sounds like a line from a movie).

The question is "What do you do when you feel like you can't go on?" well I'm no psychologist (Dr.Frank Njenga kando) but in my view its important to do the following things, they've helped me a lot:

  1. Read the mission of your company every morning when you wake up and at night time before you go to bed.It helps to remind you what your fighting for and living for.
  2. Goals and Results. Set the goals and always measure the results, just to see where your coming from and where your heading.
  3. Never be to proud to admit that the you need a break, after all building a business can be likened to running a marathon the pace at which you run is very important, if you sprint you burn out.
  4. Focus on the bigger picture and then break it down into the small pieces that help build the masterpiece. It's easier for you to deal with stuff when you break it down into smaller and manageable tasks.

There probably a few more other things you can do, and I do welcome my fellow afropreneurs to throw in their 2 cents on this. Success comes with blood and sweat and don't be fooled into thinking there is any other way.

Internet no more

I guess before I even go on I'd better explain the reason for my absence on this blog, nothing major just the fact that I no longer have an internet connection at home :-( why lord!why lord?!?..why.... guess it was bound to happen bearing in mind that I had acquired it in a rather sweet deal (No details will be divulged). I guess nothing lasts forever but it was great being able to access the internet from home and do all my work with minimal interruptions with the occassional down time. I can't wait for next year when the infrastructure will be up and running and costs will go down by as much as 80% (for once in my life I'm optimistic about a government driven initiative).

So now I'm back to the good old days of walking to a cyber cafe to get my mail and work, but I'm hoping that this loss of freedom and independence will not last for long. I'm not one to complain (actually I am), but I had the rather nasty experience of trying to attach 2 documents (PDF and Ms-Word) on saturday from a local cyber and "By the beards of zeus!!" the connection was terribly slow to the point that I just gave up, I actually left the place pissed of and the cursing but later on I realised hmmm.."Mate you'd better get used to this until you get another set up at your home" and that humbled me.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Dell laptop cracks on me

About a week ago I noticed a rather peculiar and frightening crack on the front right hand corner of my Dell Inspiron E1505 laptop at first I thought it was one of pens that had put a line as I was writing so I did what every computer owner does, I took a piece of cloth and tried to wipe it off :-)

Anyway I racked my brains trying to find out how the crack could have been caused but I couldn't pinpoint an instance where I had hit the laptop at that particular point but then again since 3 out of 7 days of the week I usually lag it around from my home to our company meeting place (Al's home) it wasn't unlikely that in all that movement I could have hit it against some surface. I was content in believing that until when I went to college today and met my classmate George who has a similar laptop to mine, in fact he bought his a month or two before mine, he was busy trying to read for the Artificial Intelligence paper we were to site for at 6pm and the first thing he pointed to was a crack at the exact corner where mine was also cracked, Coincidence?No, I don't think so...Could this be one of the weak points of the Dell Inspiron E1505? I'm not sure about that but a crack appearing on the same corner of two different laptops leaves a lot to be desired and I intend to investigate this further.

I'll post the pics of the crack soon

Comments are welcome :-)

Stockskenya.com takes another tumble


With the recent IPO of a leading internet service provider in Kenya in the market I decided to head over to my favorite stocks information website Stockskenya.com to hear what the community had to say about this latest IPO (off late we've had several and it helps to feel the pulse of the common man) and boy was I disappointed to discover that the site is down again. This is the 2nd time this is happening in as many months and it makes wonder whether my friend Duke is serious with managing it as a business.

We all know that all websites have downtime but at least have the decency to inform users via a message of sorts like "Oh Shit!!..Down For the Count". I've sent Duke a mail and I'm sure he knows that the site is down, but in case he doesn't I'll shoot him a text message early in the morning (approximately 10am for me).

Update:The website is finally up which is a good thing, according to Duke it was a routing issue that he cannot explain. From a business perspective the team behind this app cannot afford for this to happen if they intend to keep a loyal following.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Journey of an Afropreneur: Changing the mindset

As technology director at our company one of my key responsibilities is to identify talented and eager web enthusiasts the objective of which is to train and mentor them in two key areas Technology and Business. As a company we are aiming to set a standard not only in the technologies that are used but also in developing applications that make business sense within this part of the world, what this means is that the people we identify need to be innovative not necessarily entrepreneurs but they must possess a degree of creativity and I'm sure you'll agree with me that in order for you set a standard innovation is key. I once told a techie that we don't want to reinvent the wheel all we need to do is find one aspect of the wheel that we can improve and make it work for this part of the world.

The biggest challenge I'm facing when it comes to the identification of these extraordinary people is the mindset that the IT community in Kenya has in general, I cannot speak as though I don't belong to that community but it does sadden me when I have a discussion with somebody and I realise that they have no true skill in what they do. What do I mean when I say "true skill"? well, a large percentage of web developers in Kenya (including designers and producers) have perfected the art of download,customise and call it my own, which though works when one is trying to learn cannot really be equated to a true skill.

I had a chat with one lady who said she was very good in production which basically means that she can translate a design into a fully functional HTML prototype, what this requires is skill in use of graphics packages, HTML and Javascript. I then proceeded to ask her if she could do a full CSS concept compatible across several browsers and she responded by saying that she downloaded templates and customised them (download,customise and call it my own). This kind of "skill" cannot be truly put to the test and is absolutely devoid of any creative process.

Taking the example of learning a programming language, Al had the opportunity to interview a developer I've known for a few years, upon explaining to him that the technology we aim to use is new and would require one to commit themselves to learn and apply the developer was quick to point out that he couldn't do this until he'd had a chance to look at the language. That kind of fear is borne out of a culture of non-innovation and reuse.

Africa and Kenya specifically cannot be empowered using technology when the mindset we have adopted is one of reuse rather then revolution. If we are truly to be the next frontier of untapped technology then we must strive to build skill and nurture innovation from the onset. I don't mean to belittle my fellow web techies but the era of plug and play must come to an end, there is nothing wrong with downloading an application to learn the code base but only true knowledge is acquired when I use what I have learned to build something on my own. If we are to mentor and build the coming generation of techies then our skills need to be strong. If we are to be truly the next source of technology talent then we must move past this mindset.

The aspiring developer, designer must see pride in innovation even when recognition from ones peers isn't forthcoming. I am always impressed by the story of Google and its founders, when they built their search engine the venture capitalists and other companies that were around at that time including Yahoo saw no need in purchasing the search engine yet this two guys stood beside their application because it was theirs and they believed in the innovation, that is what we need in Kenya. So what if everybody else is taking the easy way out, we must make the conscience decision that we will stand and be counted as the innovators and not as the imitators.

I hope this inspires my fellow techies and brings about change, if not then at least the voice was heard.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Journey of an Afropreneur: Exams the bane of my existance

This week and part of next week I'm sitting for my university exams most definitely a very tiresome and boring week. I've got five papers to do:
Entrepreneurship Skills (Did it today, glad it's over)
Ethics 2
Probability and Statistics
Artificial Intelligence
Accounting Information Systems

As you can see my life is filled with such joyous activities....:-(

Friday, April 13, 2007

Easter break, Car trouble and Just to much rails

The easter break came to an end on monday and for most people it was back to work on tuesday although I'm sure the thought on everybodys mind was when will the next long weekend come along so that I can sleep, eat, drink, dress up funny (the funky shorts you love to wear on weekends are unleashed) and scratch my battered up body, but for those of us with startup companies all it offered was a chance for us to totally focus on what we needed to do before the weekend came to an end.

I was to be out of town during the weekend so I made my internet connection available to Al Kags (he was robbed a few months back and the muggers happened to wander of with his wireless unit) so that he could partake of the pleasures and vices of the internet, that meant that for the 4 days I would be away I wouldn't access mail, check up on my favorite feeds and websites (Techcrunch, Guy Kawasaki, Mashable) which I was okay with you must be wondering why I didn't say I would be of Chat/IM well thanks to a wonderful application called Reporo (www.reporo.com) I can chat on Google, Yahoo and MSN from my trusted Motorola L6 and that my friend is the power of technology considering that just a few years back we all had cellphones the size of Steve Madden shoes.

So while deciding on whether to go out of town or stay in the hectic city of Nairobi, I got a text message from my favorite group of ladies, they call themselves MindsEye Travels informing me that I had been excluded from the easter road trip aptly named RandaRanda. Needless to say I was dissapointed but since I'd been pondering for days whether I had the finances to part with the Ksh6,000 ($USD 87) the text message kindoff put my mind at ease, it saved me from having to tell them I couldn't make it and thus disappoint the people who were looking forward to seeing me. With my fate sealed I decided that whatever I was going to do during the weekend should not reach the Ksh6000 limit (the guilt would have killed me) so I holad at my "partner in crime" and we had ourselves a nice evening filled with drink and dance.

Our night of carousing landed us in the city center where we found other "like minded" friends who encouraged us to party until 3am. At this point I have to mention that our financial usage was low, no more then Ksh500 ($USD7.10), which was a very good thing. If I can be allowed to digress, a few weeks back I had a puncture on the left front wheel of my car and had replaced the wheel with what is commonly known us the "doughnut" as I pondered my next move. The "doughnut" is a small, yellow-orange, tubeless wheel that is meant to be used in an emergency situation, in theory you shouldn't drive with it for me then 4 miles but many people use it for weeks on end me included.

"Two came in Five left", that was the number of people in the car as we left the club. On the way home i began to notice that the car was dragging to the left side, since we were in a hurry all I did was increase the speed and occassionaly slow it down, all of sudden the car leaned to the left side and I realised that my spare wheel now had a puncture in the middle of one of the most dangerous roads (it's now very well lit but that doesn't change the fact that you can get robbed silly along the road). So this put me in my compadres in a rather precarious predicament, if we stopped we get robbed, if we continue we ruin the rim, oh what to do??..drive on oh yeah soldier. We snaked our way home and finally got to a petrol station where the nightguard did his best to chase us away so we decided to drive on all the way to my humble abode.

On the other end of town Al Kags was busy doing research and writing a white paper on Blogging as well as torrenting the hell out of the internet connection I had loaned him, I was to find out this over, never you mind that I had warned him several months ago about the practise and its implications on the account we were using, Damn You!!Curses!!Curses!!...

To think that just because it was an easter weekend work had to come a standstill was silly on my part, Al informed me that the CEO of a leading ISP in the country wanted to see us on thursday and would like to see the project we had been working on, that put the pressure on me to deliver so I had to boot up the laptop and start hammering on the ruby application. That put a damper on my weekend but what could I do? By the time we had the meeting on thursday at 10am I had been doing close to 14 hours coding and that wasn't fun. The meeting went well and a lot came out of it.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Journey of an Afropreneur: Preparing for a presentation

I've never been the most bold person especially when it comes to standing infront of people and expressing myself, in fact I had a rather bad experience when I was in secondary school and I was forced to play my music instrument in front of the whole school including the principle but that is another story for another day :-) This week I found myself in a similar situation where I had to do a powerpoint presentation to some senior people and one of my partners had already said that he wasn't cut out to do it. The 1st thing that went through my mind was how do I handle this? and so I decided to read up first on how to make successful ppt presentations.

My first stop was Guy Kawasaki's blog, where I brushed up on his "30/20/10 rules for power point presentations" (I've mentioned it before in previous post) this helped me develop a simple yet straight to the point presentation that was low on useless content but high in rich content. I then proceeded to head to www.presentationzen.com where I read up on his very helpful tips on Presentation (you seriously need to bookmark these two sites if your serious about what you do).

One interesting file I managed to download and partially listening to (it was about 2am when I was listening to it so I had to sleep) was one entitled "Pitching" from Guy Kawasaki which I downloaded from garage.com where Guy gives you some very helpful tips on how to pitch to a team of potential investors. The tips I got from him were really interesting, one that really stick to me was "Always answer the little man" the little man is the person who sits on your shoulder and asks "So What?" whenever you present a point Example: We develop applications that allow you to access all your mail from one interface "So What?" This eliminates that problems associated with logging into multiple email accounts using different usernames and passwords, this tip proved to be the most helpful especially when I had to explain a point, at one time I actually looked at my shoulder to see the little man :-)

Once I completed reading up on presentations, I decided to load up on "building successful online brands" as well as "Building online social communities", since the project we want to undertake is inline with this it meant that I had to up my knowledge on this so that I could answer the questions posed my way.

On the day of the presentation I dressed smartly but casual (no tie, yes no tie) and headed with my team to do the presentation. One of the most important lessons I learnt was to focus my attention on everybody irrespective of who they were, view people not as CEO's and Managers but as normal regular people just like you, trust me it works. I did the presentation in no more then 25 minutes, answered all the questions and left there confident.

Just to summarise what i got from the whole day's events:
  1. Read up on what your going to present.
  2. Be confident at all times.
  3. Speak to the audience never at them.
  4. Drink water just before you present :-)
  5. Never picture your audience naked despite what all the comedies say :-)
  6. And finally remember that titles and suits aside they are just ordinary people like yourself.
Have a good weekend my people

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Folding, Blogs,Bugs and Cleaning House

Ode to the dead

The "Dead pool" apparently is the place where web 2.0 companies go when they run out of steam and fold up like beach chairs. I learnt tonight that Riya finally folded, I blogged about Riya.com a few months back and it was a really good web application that allowed for visual and facial recognition of pictures, lets just say if you went into Riya.com and typed up Shakira, it would recognise all the lovely pics of the latina heartthrob, but it now seems to have run out of steam and headed towards the dead pool, the company does have another product like.com but for me it seems like a shopping website rather then the initial approach it had. The really interesting thing about Riya.com is that the CEO talks about it's failure and doesn't hide from it, now that is really something. If you want more information check out the CEO's blog on http://munjal.typepad.com/, I always make it point to read the blogs of every web company that interests me just so that I can get to understand the workings.

One time I was reading the blog for Eventful.com and I headed straight to their initial posts where they talk about releasing the application to the public and then addressing the bugs and I was truly impressed, for the very reason that the issues that I face as an application developer such as "date validations" were the same issues they were facing when they released the initial application. We often think that this large web applications face very mind boggling bugs but we later on find out that bugs are just bugs whichever way we look at them.

Friendster Messages=Spam=Porn..endless cycle

Despite the fact that I have a friendster.com account I never really use it despite the fact that it is the father of all social networking sites (at one time it was the most successful social networking site, but alas myspace.com has crushed all of its foes). So this week I was surprised when I started getting messages from users in friendster, excitement was the first reaction later on replaced by rage when I realised that all the messages were basically women advertising their porn web cam sites. I'm not surprised at the lengths people will go to drive traffic to their websites, infact last week I went to Yahoo Groups and searched for "Kenya" well one of the 1st results I got was a porn group that automatically linked its profiles and pictures to another porn website (won't mention the name but its pretty famous and it's probably popped up when your torrenting for files).

Cleaning House

About a week ago news broke on the grapevine that one company I used to work for had "cleaned up house". That's the polite way of putting it, basically they fired 3 people in one swoop now that my friend is called "radical surgery". What I keep asking myself is "Why cut off your nose to spite your face?" but then again this things are inevitable.

...........................THE END................................

Mind Blow

The mind is a terrible thing

The mind has given in and it is no more....



Friday, March 23, 2007

Journey of an Afropreneur: Running the show

Rails!Rails!why do you punish me so?!

That was my status message on google for most of this week as I worked on a project that was long overdue (try 6 months overdue). Don’t get me wrong Ruby and Ruby on Rails is great to work with but there are times when you just hit a dead end and you start asking yourself “why me lord?” then later on you realize by posting your problem on a forum or two (thanks railsforum.com) that the problem isn’t the language or the framework it’s actually you (Sounds almost like one of those cliché lines in a movie when a lady is breaking up with a guy “The problem isn’t you it’s me…”).

To give you a brief history of what I was working on, it’s a project that I started last year when I was contracted by my current company. The project didn’t go smooth and so now that am part of the company we’ve been trying to attack the project from a different angle and as such the improve the product, am tired the client is tired. So one of the suggestions I came up with was to redo the application using Ruby on Rails, needless to say it has proved to be a challenge but also a good learning experience. Unfortunately as I engage in the “Rails Mambo” I have about 25 other things that need to be done which makes my days even more stressful and hectic. Look at it like this, one hand am coding on the other I have to develop frameworks, build teams, organize sit downs with potential developers, at some point the mind and body gives in and you find yourself sitting in a dark corner cursing at your own existence.

12 hour marathon

I found myself this week sitting on my rather uncomfortable sit for close to 12 hours trying to develop an application. I keep reading about Kristopher Tate of Zooomr.com who spends close to 19 hours developing zooomr.com into the application it is now and am impressed, but then again I wonder if he does it on a sit like mine?

I tell you 6 hours on this sit and even the thought of sitting on a cactus plant is welcome. By the way as I took this pic a few pieces of timber fell of the "Death Sit" :-)

CEO of the week

A few weeks back after Al had expressed his frustration at how things were moving in the company (attitude) I made a rather funny suggestion which I labeled “CEO of the week”. Basically to ensure that we all felt the challenges of running a company, we had to assume the CEO role for 7 days on a rotational process, to solidify this Al gave us his heirloom (a silver ring that belonged to his grandmother), he said it had significance and I bought into it, Charo (iron yet warm lady) on the other hand didn’t but since she was to be CEO she took the ring.

This week it was turn to run the show and I started by setting up my objectives and communicating it to the team.6 days later as I look at my list, I notice that may be about 3 items have been addressed. It's not easy running a company, even when it only has 3 full time employees, I guess that's why people hire another person to deal with all that.

Return of the peeps

Despite what you think this story has nothing to do with being a peeping tom. Peeps is my/our cat which of late has taken quite a liking to roaming the bad lands like a wild animal. On Sunday evening as I was recovering from a rather nasty attack of gastritis (phone diagnosis by the way) peeps walked out and did not return for almost 3 days. On Wednesday she returned and was rather badly beaten up, my suspicion is that it was a human inflicted injury bearing in mind that there are no scratches on her. I think it’s really sad when people decide to hurt animals.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Journey of an Afropreneur: An exam and getting things done

This doesn't truly qualify as an afropreneur post but I figure that since part of who I am is a student I have to chronicle even the most academically annoying experiences, so please do bear with me.

This evening I had the rather painful experience of sitting for a Probability & Statistics CAT (Continuous Assessment Test) at the university, needless to say despite the many attempts by the lecturer to impart all the knowledge into our thick skulls, even going as far as far as taking as through the topics she was going to examine us I still managed to loose a major cache of brain cells, oh well what to do?..

Mathematics has never been my forte, I cruised on rather mediocre grades in high school and if there is one place that can show you that you have no inclination towards math it must be high school. With my mediocre grades I somehow managed to convince myself that I wanted to be an engineer. Now you don't have to be a genius to know that engineering, all forms whether mechanical, chemical or even civil requires a strong grasp of math, eventually my bubble was burst and I almost found myself becoming a "domestic engineer" (househelp) as I spent the better part of 2 years at home while deciding which direction my career was to take. Actually when I think back to that period (1999-mid 2000) I laugh at myself not because I've lost my mind (I figure I lost it a long time so I honeslty cannot tell the difference) but because it was a period of indecisiveness for me.

I jumped from one career choice to another, luckily no one was bothered with all this jumping since after all it didn't involve any money being spent, at one time I was sure I wanted to be a chemical engineer then an aeronautical engineer, the engineering phase ended when I realised that whichever country I went to study I couldn't escape the dreaded mathematics that is the basis of engineering. Soon after my engineering phase I moved into the financials phase, this time I wanted to become the leading stockbroker having spent many hours watching Money Line on CNN (that Lou Dobbs character really made the stock market sound like the place to be), I then moved to becoming an accountant (too much calculations) then finally a certified financial analyst CFA (that acronym has meanings in university circles that I cannot get into right now but needless to say it involves being promiscous :)..).

Mid 2000 I finally settled down to information technology as a way of keeping me busy, well its been almost 7 years now and IT has not only kept me busy, it's made me some money albeit in modest amounts, made me a lot of friends and quite a few enemies.

To much technology and very little business

Those are the words Al used to describe me a few days ago. It seems I am more engrossed in technology rather then business and that doesn't go down well with my role in the company as a Technology Director. I honestly don't know what to do on this one, It is true I am more inclined towards using technology to build applications rather then seeing the business opportunities for our company. So Al keeps sending me this business articles and interesting reads so that I can work on my "corporateisation" if there's a word like that, and occasionally I do read them which isn't enough since I have to apply what I've read otherwise it does me no good, it's almost like programming you either apply it or its useless.

Kwangoo???Kwangoo??Where art thou?

My friends keep asking me what's happening to Kwangoo and despite my eternal optimism (am a natural born pessimist) even I can't seem to convince myself that it will ever take off. It's becoming clearer to me everyday that Kwangoo is now an Army Of One venture, Bluefi5h has failed to deliver and I had so much faith in him. About 4 weeks ago, he assured me that he would deliver the concept in 7 days, well that 7 days has come and gone just like all the other deadlines that I had given him. I've learnt a lot a few things from this whole experience, and I would like to share a few of those lessons with you oh dear reader:
  • People will let you down even when they don't mean to.
  • The dream is yours and most people will never understand it or appreciate it no matter how many times they tell you they "get it and feel it".
  • All the talent in the world doesn't mean anything if you can't be reliable.
  • Failure though not an option is an acceptable outcome.
  • A little bit of money can really go a long way in getting things done.
  • If you can do something on your own do it.
  • A large number of those free offers from your friends rarely come to fruition.

I had a chat with a friend of mine Anne and she really did give me the energy to push on. So I've decided to do what it takes and get Kwangoo up and running no matter the setbacks I've faced, if it means I'll have to spend some money getting somethings done then I guess I'll have to.Will keep you informed on how it goes.

Cheers

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Journey of an Afropreneur: 26 year journey that continues

The 13th of March marked my 26th year on this planet and boy do I feel old. Sometimes I can't believe that it was just a few years ago I was heading to primary school to attend my first class (I'm not counting Kindergarten) and beginning the journey to be the man I am today. I consider myself favored since I developed a keen interest in technology while doing absolutely nothing at home after the completion of my secondary education. It was during my stay at home that I picked up the book that would eventually chart the direction my life and career would take, the book called Creating Cool Web Pages Using HTML was an eye opener for me since it opened my closed world to the power of the web, even though the book was basic in terms of what it had to offer it planted the seeds that would eventually lead me to become a web developer.

Once I joined college (Strathmore College though now a university) in June 2000 I lost my "HTML energy" as I got caught up in the chaos of doing a course that combined business and Information Technology, the energy would eventually return when I picked a web based project for my diploma class. The project taught me about Active Server Pages (ASP) and gave me the foundation to start building interactive and dynamic applications. I submitted my first web application in late April 2001, a system for students to build their resumes online and have them searched by the college placement office. The application was never implemented (I don't blame them it really was just a series of many add,edit and delete forms) but it would form the evidence of my knowledge when I walked into a leading web development company and asked them to give me an internship.

A lot has happened since that internship and all of it has eventually culminated in me getting out there and trying to change the way technology is used in this country as well as this continent. I look forward to another 26 years on this country and on this continent.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Journey of an Afropreneur: Pursuing and Living the Dream

A few words of advice before and after you decide to quit your day job and become a freelance techie or an entrepreneur whatever comes first.

  1. Build a trust network, a reliable network of people who can recommend you for projects that will ensure that you always have business coming in even when things seem very dry for other people. Trust me this is a must have.
  2. Do the leg work even when you don't want to for the very reason that you need to. Go out there and talk to people, even volunteer to do work for free in exchange for your name/company being mentioned in the next issue of a technology/business magazine.
  3. Always do the research for any major product/service. If your going to pitch for any contract, facts and figures will always win the day since they show a serious commitment to the bottom line which is what all managers care about.
  4. Don't be afraid to outsource some of that excess work you have even if it means it will reduce the size of your pie. Look at like this if you have 6 projects and your constrained for time, outsource 3 and deliver all 6 on time, at the end of the day you have happy clients who then give you more work in the long run your pie gets bigger.
  5. Form mutually beneficial partnerships with individuals and groups. At the end of the day they are the same people who will refer business to you and vice versa.
  6. Pick a mentor who will help you focus and work on your weaknesses as well as help you build that business.
  7. Don't be afraid of meetings (my techie friends will hate me for this). Despite what people say or think, meetings do yield a lot, but only well planned meetings that address the key issues.
  8. Take time off to enjoy the fruits of your labour, "All work and no play makes jack(jane) a dull boy". Take a drive to the countryside or even just go for a swim, release the steam and when you get back to the hustle of building that business you'll be better at what you do.
  9. No project is ever too small to undertake. On many occasions people will approach you with projects that may not offer large financial rewards and you might be inclined to turn them down but remember for every project that you do you build a portfolio and gain mileage in the industry they also go a long way towards paying your bills.
  10. Take time to plan and strategise. A leading CEO of one of the most successful companies once told me "80% planning and 20% execution" what this means is that planning well gives you a strong foundation and will sustain through some of the most challenging times.
  11. Last one is don't think too long about making that "giant step" or big decision as to whether your ready to go solo, sometimes you just need to do it even when you see no light ahead, may be the reason there is no light is because its waiting for you to come with your ideas and light the place up.
I guess that's all I have for now, I'll be sure to add some more as I learn new lessons.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Journey of an Afropreneur: 10 days and counting

I honestly can't believe its been more then a week since I last blogged but in my defence I can say that about a week ago I did submitted a post but when I checked the blog the following day it wasn't there which made me go hmmm..then grrrr...then w*&^f&**((..k but it's all good for now I have reason to post even some more.

I was just going through my daily updates when I saw an interesting blog post Zdnet, apparently Wordpress server was hacked and a malicious code inserted in the wordpress download. Now you don't have to be a genius to realise that this is a really bad thing, not catastrophic, but bad enough to make you think twice before downloading wordpress, considering that wordpress is the number one blogging software in the world that means that the malicious code could be on a couple of thousands of machines out there may be even more but whose counting? Earlier on today I was trying to access a few wordpress blogs and none seemed to be opening could this be a side effect of the hack?

Last week Al and I spent the better part of a whole evening trying to come up with a proposal in response to an RFQ (Request For Quotation). I left Al on thursday night (2am friday morning) working on it and returned to his place in the morning to finish up what was left. We finally managed to send it.

On friday I decided to pass by my former employer (the sweatshop) and drop off my office identification card. It felt really weird being back there but it was good to see some of my friends and just catch up. I made it known to them that I had no intention of coming back. I got a lot of questions related to what i was now doing and I answered them as candidly as possible "I'm now engaged in private business (entrepreneurship) and am currently building a company with 2 other people" now when you tell people you are building a business they get all excited and don't be shocked when you hear many of them saying "Now that's the thing to do..I also want to do that..." trust me you'll hear it so many times your ears will bleed.

I realised something rather funny last week, when you aren't looking for somethings they find you. Taking the example of a job, right now am not looking for a full time job but occasionally some guy or company will pop up, call me and say "Join us..". A job is like a relationship, when you don't have one you always looking for it but when you get it you keep hoping you could get something better or end it. That's where I am right now the only difference is that for me am not looking but people are offering.

I think this week will be very exciting and may be very boring at the same time since on one hand I'll be following up on some proposal while on the other hand I have CAT's (Continous Assessment Tests) at the university, but only time will tell.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Journey of an Afropreneur: Managing, Bears and Rails


Managing myself and others

I count a total of 5 days since my last post I guess I really haven't had much to say even though a lot has happened.I'm currently leading/managing the development of our main products and that has been and continues to be a challenge for the very reason that I have to shed the "coder" image and become a "manager" in the words of Al I need to become more corporate and less of operational. Almost 5 years of web development you realise that writing code is easier then getting a contractor to work and deliver a product that meets the standards your business is targetting. I now have to organise meetings, deliver progress reports, develop product standards, formulate budgets, negotiate costings and sell the idea to new people whom we would like to join the team. A herculean task whichever way you look at it considering that managing myself is already hard enough, I am always tempted to just push away the developer of our current product and get my hands dirty, that's the natural thing for me, but I am always reminded by Al that I am now a manager and I have to lead and manage people, try telling that to a person who gets excited when they hear such words as Python, REST, Web Services and you'll see what I mean.

It constantly is a series of personal improvements on my part as I try to learn and put into practise at the same time the lessons of being a manager. I keep focusing on the bigger picture and try to focus on my strengths while constantly working to overcome my weaknesses. I must admit that occasionally I do give into my weaknesses almost like a little child who can't control their desire to consume large amounts of candy, I find myself spending hours trying to learn a new language or to brush up on those I touched a long time ago, instead of seeing it as a chore or a duty that I must fulfill I view it like a retired athlete who keeps on going to the track to practise even though they know that they have now become a coach.


"Why would you put yourself through the agony of learning a new language?" I think because it keeps me fresh and upto speed, If we ever get a client who insists on having an web app developed in a certain language I'll be in a better position to quantify how long it will take, how many developers we need and how much it will cost based upon my experience and knowledge and that isn't such a bad thing considering that I now have to focus on the "bottom line".

StocksKenya.com goes "Bearish"

On another front, our favorite stocks portal www.stockskenya.com seems to have gone down. I'm informed by reliable sources that it's a database issue which will be resolved soon. I hope they address the issue fast enough since they do have a loyal fan base which I'd hate to see die.

RoR-Sailing using Rails


I'm not sure that's a fitting heading but for now it will do, I spent a couple of hours last weekend reading up and trying out RoR Ruby on Rails. I had earlier on started reading Agile Web Development with Rails and was eager to put what I'd learned into practise, so I decided to develop a blogging application just to see how far I could go. It really is interesting to see how Rails makes it so easy to do stuff with the minimum effort. Hopefully when am done I will put it up so that my people can see :-)

Strategising

On tuesday we had our first full day strategic meeting at MultipleChoices, demanding on the mind but necessary for any successful business.

Let's see what the next few days will offer

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Journey of Afroprenuer: Office,Laptop and Security Issues

This past tuesday I had a meeting with Al and Charity, a sought of brainstorm right before Al and I headed for a presentation at one of the Blue Chip companies. We usually meet at the 5th floor in a cafe at Teleposta Towers which happens to be where the General Post Office and where the Ministry of Trade & Industry is located there. Since we needed to review our concept and presentation I had carried the laptop with much trouble all the way from where I alight to the meeting point, Al arrived late despite the fact that he had insisted that I arrive at 10am sharp!!.

The meeting started at around 10:45am and I proceeded to remove my laptop from the safety of its bag and place it on the table so that Charity could look at the document Al had come up with, while into the discussion of the contents of a document a young man approached us and informed us that we couldn't continue to use the laptop for the following reasons:

  1. It would turn the cafe into an office.
  2. Security....yes my friend no explanation on the security aspect.

Now your probably wondering how we could turn a whole cafe that occupies half of the 5th floor into an office during a short meeting consisting of only 3 people!!??..But what left as all baffled was the whole "Security" issue which the young man so no reason to explain, he informed us that he was the manager of the establishment. By the way there is no Wi-Fi hotspot located in the building and even though we had no intention to access the internet it was shocking that a building that represents the GOK (Government Of Kenya) move towards the 21st century and its intention to embrace technology would not allow us to use a laptop for a short meeting.

It makes one question how serious the government is towards embracing technology particularly internet access for the masses.

We proceeded to shut down the PC and leave the premises with questions still lingering in our minds.."What is this security thing?"...

Monday, February 12, 2007

Journey of an Afropreneur:Loads of Rails, A bit of Java and a couple of methodologies

It's been one of those rare weekends where I get to code and learn at the same time but with my car down for the count I didn't have a choice, combine that with the fact that our weekly management meeting for MC was cancelled it gave me the perfect opportunity to read up and stack up on a few new things plus brush up on the old. With all that free time I decided to pick up Agile Web Development with Rails and just go through it and pick up a few concepts about rails, that proved to be very exciting for the main reason that the Rails framework really makes web development very easy.

At some point I decided to brush up on my Java just a little bit by opening up a few of my ebooks, I decided to start with Struts for Dummies just to refresh my brain on the workings of Struts that proved to be a bit of a bore (the configuration details are just to much sometimes) so I headed over to Agile Java Development with Spring, Hibernate and Eclipse which was way better then the Struts book but still so much to learn and so little time. It was while I was reading this book that I began to really get interested in Agile Modeling and Extreme Programming (If you don't know what they are I suggest you head over to the following links and read up on them http://extremeprogramming.org/ and http://agilemodeling.com/).

I sometimes get the feeling that after all that learning when it comes to a project I'll always go for the language that I have more experience with, in this case that will be PHP, but of late I've been thinking that if I never experiment with any of my new projects I'll never acquire the experience I need. May be I should just stick to PHP and leave the rest for everyone, you tell me..

Journey of an Afropreneur:Loads of Rails, A bit of Java and a couple of methodologies

It's been one of those rare weekends where I get to code and learn at the same time but with my car down for the count I didn't have a choice, combine that with the fact that our weekly management meeting for MC was cancelled it gave me the perfect opportunity to read up and stack up on a few new things plus brush up on the old. With all that free time I decided to pick up Agile Web Development with Rails and just go through it and pick up a few concepts about rails, that proved to be very exciting for the main reason that the Rails framework really makes web development very easy.

At some point I decided to brush up on my Java just a little bit by opening up a few of my ebooks, I decided to start with Struts for Dummies just to refresh my brain on the workings of

Thursday, February 08, 2007

650$ Madaraka or 100$ Green PC

One of the initiatives the Kenyan government has embarked on is the development of a high quality, affordable and locally assembled PC to wade of the influx of clones and give people access to affordable computers. I guess the reasoning behind it is that all the internet connection in the world isn't worth anything if people can't afford PCs to access the facilities. The computer is named Madaraka (Independence in Swahili) and is a collaboration consisting of 3 educational institutions and the government, a week before the expo began the Permanent Secretary had made it known that the PC would sell for about 200$ which made a lot of sense, considering that a clone can be acquired for about the same price and with a focus on functionality rather then aesthetics this would prove to be a good even not better alternative.

So yesterday while at the expo I headed to the Madaraka stand and to my dismay I found that the PC was retailing at price of Ksh40,000 about $650USD which was a far cry from the $200 USD (ksh15,000 equivalent) I had so hoped for, my sentiments were later on echoed by a Professor from USIU(Kenya) during the afternoon session. The specifications of the machine consisted of 192MB RAM (apparently they can add that if you ask), 15inch TFT LCD and I think 40GB hard disk although I need to confirm that. The question going through my head was "Why is Madaraka so expensive?" the PS later explained that it was a high quality PC with a very good warranty.

Today while going through my mail, I stumbled upon a post that really got me excited, the post was entitled High Security for $100 Laptop when I read it further I learned that there was an initiative to provide cheap $100 PC to children all over the world (Africa being a major beneficiary). The PC is green in color and is aptly named Green PC :-)

A left wondering will Madaraka do it for us or should we just wait for the Green PC?

Check out the specs here:
http://www.laptop.org/laptop/hardware/specs.shtml

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Journey of an Afroprenuer: ICTExpo 2007

So today was a rather interesting and tiresome day, I was at the ICTExpo 2007 being held at the KICC(Kenyatta International Conference Center). The ICTExpo 2007 is meant to be a showcase of Kenya as a region of ICT and a hub for outsourcing. The government is eager to position Kenya as the prime destination of ICT investment in the region, and several initiatives such as submarine fiber cable is one such initiative, think of it like this, it costs a call center in Kenya $7,000 USD to purchase 2MB of bandwidth yet the international rate is about $200USD for 2MB, this means that it's almost not cost effective to build a business whose backbone is internet bandwidth.

The event was scheduled to start at 8am, but true to my nature I reached there at 10am sharp just in time to watch the Safaricom CEO Michael Joseph aka Sir Mike finish up on his speech which from what I got had something to do with lowering of taxation on calls from the current 26% to 16%, in his view this would translate into more people calling and as such spending more money which would then cover the 10% reduction in tax collection Government Wins, Consumer Wins and Private Enterprise wins. Next on the podium being introduced by the ever imposing Permanent Secretary (PS) in the Ministry of Information and Communication, Dr.Bitange Ndemo(a true ICT visionary) was the Microsoft Africa Director, Dr.Chieck Diarra , who went on to tell us that Microsoft was behind us all the way as a country and as a continent as we venture to use ICT to change lives and empower societies. The speeches would not be complete without the Minister of Information and Communication, Mutahi Kagwe, putting in his 2 cents on the matter.Eventually it was concluded by the Chief Executive of Telkom Kenya Eng.John Waweru, who assured as that good things were on the horizon.

The tea break gave all of us the much needed opportunity to schmooze with the captains of industry and I did my best to exchange cards and build contacts with a few people. We then headed to the exhibition hall where we had the opportunity view various products and services being offered in the market. One particular stand caught my eye, the OpenSource stand which featured certain opensource products, what caught my eye was the presence of Google and a CD they were offering called OpenCD which contains open source software, I've just inserted into my machine and it contains some really good stuff like OpenOffice, 7Zip and a couple of other applications. There was also the Madaraka Stand, which was a showcase of the first ever locally assembled branded computer, the computer was developed in collaboration with Strathmore University, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, and KCITI.

The afternoon session proved to be the most interesting when different speakers talked about what they were offering. The Permanent Secretary outlined the governments plan and vision and asked us to come on board as entrepreneurs and partners. All in all it was a good day well spent.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Journey of an Afroprenuer: Dreams, Determination and Fear


So today was my 1st day since I resigned on Friday 2nd February 2007, and the realisation that I had no guaranteed source of income began to sink in. I don't know how to describe it but it's a combination of excitement and fear as I realised that for the 1st time in a long time I wouldn't be going to an office and putting in the hours and then demanding a salary at the end of the month. The last time I was unemployed was back in early 2002 when my internship had ended and I was left asking myself "Where do I go next?" but that didn't last for long because after a week I was able to land a job at a small design firm where we worked like the survival of mankind depended on us.

A lot of people will tell you that always have a plan before quitting your day job to pursue your dreams, but that isn't always the case because if you look around you realise that its taking you more effort to come up with that plan then it is to pursue your dreams. In the last few days since I resigned many people have asked me "Did you have something better?" and I always answer YES!!becuase nothing can be compared to waking up every morning in pursuit of a dream, nothing can replace passion, even when faced with the realisation that you might not be able to feed yourself in the next few weeks you push on.

I believe am up to the challenge, and I will succeed not because am smarter then everybody else but because I see where I am and where I want to be. I am surrounded by people who question my decision but am also guided by people who understand my decision and are willing to back me up. I am determined to see this to the very end.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Journey of an Afropreneur: YouTube vs Viacom


It seems that Youtube (bought by google for $1.65 billion) isn't rubbing some people the right way. We all know that youtube contains thousands of pirated videos, in fact just a week ago FOX sued Youtube because it aired episodes of the famous 24, so it was no shock when I read a post on ZDnet that Viacom also wanted Youtube to pull down pirated clips.

Read it all here:

Viacom to YouTube: Take down pirated clips

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Journey of an Afropreneur: Just about anything

Late Nights..

Last week was rather interesting for me and the tech/comm startup am involved in, mainly because we got leads on several new projects that will most definitely boost our profile and also ensure that we have some money coming in to help us focus on our other projects (Our other projects form the basis of the company). So we spent a few evenings with Al Kags brainstorming on one or two projects infact the last time we brainstormed we finished at 2am (I then have to drive a few kilometers home) but its all good because as you know every successful business built on sacrifice.

Losing It...

On a sad note I lost my 3 year old trusted leather wallet :-( so that puts me in the dog house in terms of money and identification documents but I''ll survive.

M-Banking..

I was listening to the radio today on the way to University when I had an interesting news item, that Mobile Banking was on its way to Kenya, actually it was going to be a reality by february. Now that is interesting because that opens the door to many services, web applications and services could be built to leverage this new service, the possibilities are limitless.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Ten Tips for Effective Meetings

Here are ten things that you can do to hold more effective meetings.

1) Avoid meetings. Test the importance of a meeting by asking, "What happens without it?" If your answer is, "Nothing," then don't call the meeting.

2) Prepare goals. These are the results you want to obtain by the end of the meeting. Write out your goals before the meetings. They should be so clear, complete, and specific that someone else could use them to lead your meeting. Also, make sure they can be achieved with available people, resources, and time. Specific goals help everyone make efficient toward relevant results.

3) Challenge each goal. Ask, "Is there another way to achieve this?" For example, if you want to distribute information, you may find it more efficient to phone, FAX, mail, e-mail, or visit. Realize that a meeting is a team activity. Save tasks that require a team effort for your meetings.

4) Prepare an agenda. Everyone knows an agenda leads to an effective meeting. Yet, many people "save time" by neglecting to prepare an agenda. A meeting without an agenda is like a journey without a map. It is guaranteed to take longer and produce fewer results. Note, without an agenda, you risk becoming someone else's helper (see tip #6 below).

5) Inform others. Send the agenda before the meeting. That helps others prepare to work with you in the meeting. Unprepared participants waste your time by preparing for the meeting during the meeting.

6) Assume control. If you find yourself in a meeting without an agenda walk out. If you must stay, prepare an agenda in the meeting. Collect a list of issues, identify the most important, and work on that. When you finish, if time remains, select the next most important issue. Note: you can use a meeting without an agenda to recruit help for your projects.

7) Focus on the issue. Avoid stories, jokes, and unrelated issues. Although entertaining, these waste time, distract focus, and mislead others. Save the fun for social occasions where it will be appreciated.

8) Be selective. Invite only those who can contribute to achieving your goals for the meeting. Crowds of observers and supporters bog down progress in a meeting.

9) Budget time. No one would spend $1000 on a 10¢ pencil, but they often spend 40 employee hours on trivia. Budget time in proportion to the value of the issue. For example, you could say, "I want a decision on this in 10 minutes. That means we'll evaluate it for the next 9 minutes, followed by a vote."

10) Use structured activities in your meetings. These process tools keep you in control while you ensure equitable participation and systematic progress toward results.

http://topquicktips.metrolity.com/20655.php