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

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Journey of an Afropreneur: A haunted house and 1 or 2 good things

So after much lobbying and literally having to beg I managed to get internet access at home ..woohoo!!..that might not seem like such a big thing if your from a country where internet access is like electricity (You just need to have it) but it is quite a big deal where am from, we all hoping that with the Fibre optic cable that's supposed to be running under the sea will be put in place by the end of the year so that my fellow Afropreneurs can work from the comfort of their home and blog until the sun comes up :-)

So I've taken advantage of the access to the internet and started doing all those things I couldn't do from the office (No it's now what you think..porn..torrents..streaming..) I actually decided to use the Riya Uploader and just upload my pictures to my Riya profile. For those of you who don't know Riya its a image search and repository that identifies faces in a picture and allows you to put a name to it,eventually it does it automatically for all other pictures that match the facial features, that way next time somebody can search for me and it will bring all photos that have me in them, I think it's pretty cool you should check it out.

Last Sunday 14th January 2007, I had to meet up with a few other Afroprenuers and go look at a house we had been offered as an office by the "prolific CEO" . I was so excited but the further we drove into suburbia the more scared I got, so we eventually pull up into this compound and 101 thoughts are going through my head "What if its a dump?..What about access to the main roads?" not to worry my questions were answered once the gates were open by a rather scrawny looking security guard who didn't look like he could protect a rock let alone a compound of that magnitude. Calling the house a dump would be an understatement, I made a point of taking pictures :-) for this very moment, I tried to be open minded but I kept looking at the ceiling and the floors and the kitchen and finally I just gave in and my mind just rejected the place. You must be thinking that am not a very sharp person, after all how many people are given a 5 bedroomed house rent free to use as an office for a startup? the answer is not very many.




This was just the outside the inside was a site to behold, kinda reminded me of "House on Haunted Hill" (I've never watched the movie..just think of a haunted house...:-)...) We finally decided that this wasn't the best place to run a small company considering the amount of repairs needed (the house is to be pulled down so no one is willing to part with money to fix it up)

Monday, January 15, 2007

Journey of an Afro-preneur: Leap of Faith

Faith along with Passion are one of the most important ingredients towards starting and running a successful business. If your not passionate about what your doing you'll never strive to make it a success, if your business is a "tedious chore" then like any other chore it will lack the perfection and attention it deserves. Faith and an absolute belief in what your doing will go a long way in ensuring the success of that idea, you have to believe that it's a brilliant idea even when the naysayers crowd you with negativity, but the faith just like anything needs actions to accompany it.

I believe and am passionate in the ideas I have and in the projects am involved in, and my faith in turn deserves an act that solidifies it and ensures that I not only stand beside my words but also act up on them. Lately I've been overwhelmed with the demands of the projects I have undertaken on my spare time, sometimes I wish the day was about 48 hrs so that I could get more done but I know that won't happen. My fulltime job takes away about 8-9 hrs of my day meaning that am left with about 6-7 hours (by the way am still in University so I have classes to attend) to handle my projects and this has proved to be hard, so last weekend I made the decison to leave my current fulltime job and pursue the projects I'm, passionate about on a fulltime basis.

I know this is a risk am taking but again faith requires that I stand beside what I have preached for the last few months, Spirit of Entrepreneurship.What does this mean to me?:

  1. Loss of "steady" income (please note am not using the word guaranteed in this because a paycheck can never be guaranteed).
  2. Full time concentration and focus on projects.
On one hand I lose the income on the other I get to concentrate on several streams of income, I think that's a leap of faith am willing to take...

Friday, January 12, 2007

Building,Tearing,Cracking,Shaping..The Idea

I think yesterday Thursday 11th January 2007 will have to go down in my journal as one of the most interesting days in my life. A few months ago I had posted an entry about a business idea that had been presented to me by a colleague of mine, basically the CEO of one of the largest manufacturing companies in this region had the idea of building an online brand and he wanted us to be the team to lead this idea. The idea wasn't new but it had died a very unatural death at the hands of another team and as such he felt that with the upcoming technology boom (apparently an underground fibre optic cable is being setup and its bound to significantly lower the price of bandwidth within the region) he needed to be in the forefront in harnessing the internet as a medium of communication. The CEO is a visionary in his field interms of embracing ICT as a key component of any business, infact his company was once recognised for its cutting edge adoption of technology for its day to day running, I'm told by close sources that as the CEO he leads in the adoption of technology and the rest of the organisation follows and that my dear friend is a recipe for success, rather then the small people of the organisation trying to convince management that new technology needs to be adopted it is the CEO who spearheads that vision and as such the organisation is well placed.

Anyway for the better part of the night, 5 hours to be exact, we discussed sustainable and profitable business models for the web that would work in a market like ours, we don't have the luxury of having internet penetration at high levels and as such before you launch any business that uses the web as a platform it is important to take into consideration the current and future trends within the region. A sticking point in every business model is "How will you make money?" I think that question is even harder to answer when dealing with the web where a hot idea today is cold in the next few months, just look a the number of web 2.0 companies that have closed (Techcrunch Dead Pool) down in the last 1 year or so the numbers are quite shocking which almost brings me to another major question "Are we on the verge of another tech bubble burst?" but thats another point for another day, we had to go through all possible avenues of generating revenue all of which were pegged on us attaining high amounts of traffic which then led to another question "How will you attain the large and active numbers?"...

The Numbers Game

Every business is built upon the "numbers game" which basically means that they all attempt to gain the largest numbers out there based upon the target market they had in mind (am no Harvard business school graduate so you'll forgive my rather layman approach). With the web as your business platform attaining the numbers is key, just look at Myspace.com, the challenge comes in growing and sustaining the numbers, it's one thing to get 100,000 registered users but its another thing to keep them coming back and participating. Our business needs to keep the numbers growing and how do we do this? "addressing a common need identified by the users and adding value to a product that makes it easier to achieve a key objective" we aim to highlight the value of being part of the web community by giving users access to value add that makes them want to come back everyday.

How do you know what users want?by asking them what they don't want..

I was reading the book written by the team at 37signals.com, the developers of the famous project collaboration tool Basecamp, where they say always find out what users don't want from the application, they argue that we spend to much time asking users what they want and forget to ask them what they don't want. A barrier to adoption of any technology has always been the features that make it harder for the user to gain access, this could be in the form of very long registration process, so we decided that we would ask the users what they want and didn't want :-) that way we can build an application that works for them.

I can't go into details of what the business will entail but I can tell you that the social aspect will be a core aspect of it. The CEO even coined an acronym that went something like Building Internet Communities (BIC) :-)

I will keep you posted on the progress of this idea..

Monday, January 08, 2007

Embarking on a new journey

As 2006 was coming to an end I began to really consider what 2007 had for me in terms of challenges and the general direction of my career, one thing was obvious to me that is I didn't want to be in the same place I was in back in 2006 and as such I had to set things in motion to ensure that the general direction of my life was heading towards a place where I would grow.

I kept asking myself "What do you want do?" the same answer kept coming back to me "Develop applications that set trends in this part of the world by showcasing the power of the internet" I know that sounds like a line from a company mission/vision statement but it kindoff captures where I would like to be, the bottom line (money) for me at this stage seems to be irrelevant (that doesn't mean I have more money then I need), the chance to be part of something that changes the way people work, communicate or just lets them share who they are (kwangoo) is my driving force.

I had already decided that working 9am-6pm in a commercial environment wasn't the best place to be but at the end of the day bills need to be paid and even the most boring full time gig allows one to do that.

So i began networking with people who would ensure that my vision was achieved, as the year ended I met up with Al Kags(he runs a small technology startup) who contracted me to develop a web application (by the way it's still under development although the core is done) , to say he challenged me would be an understatement. At one point I thought I would crack, I had already gone past the stated timelines which can be attributed to many factors one of them being the lack of a proper understanding of the application and its objectives, It took a 4 hour sit down at a local food place to get me to understand the objectives of the application. I would eventually do a presentation at the client's premises and despite a few hiccups I managed to pull it off and then head off to the University for my final exams.

It's at that point when I realised that Al Kags was onto something, he had explained to me his vision for the company that he was heading and despite my interest i always shrugged him off since I had and still have a lot on mind. In him I saw a person who was willing to go the extra mile to do what others had obviously run away from, you rarely meet people with that kind of drive and when you do they scare you silly because they challenge you to think "outside the box" in a world where conforming to conventional ideas is the norm.

I'll leave Al Kags to explain his vision which is herculean in nature but in a nutshell it aims to change the way Kenya and Africa use the internet, if I may quote him "we must drive people to the internet and develop a culture of using the internet as an information repository.." in other words we haven't in this part of the world seen the internet as way of sharing information we basically check mail and log off and this needs to change, if applications like kwangoo.com will grow and thrive then we need to drive people to the internet to share and contribute information.

When Al offered me a chance to be part of his team I'll admit I was practically scared shitless but I was also excited because here was a guy who saw something in me that I probably couldn't see and was willing to take a chance at working with me, It would have been foolish for me to say no, I accepted his offer without thinking of the monetary aspect (yes I did) because for me its all passion and the challenge that lies ahead.

I haven't quit my day job just yet..Billz..Billz..

I'm sure your wondering what does this mean for Kwangoo.com?...welll kwangoo.com is my baby and it doesn't matter whether am working at "The Sweatshop" or with Al, it is something I started and I must finish even if it kills me. Even as I embark on this new journey, I must conclude all other areas that contributed to making who I am.

As I embark on this Journey with all of its challenges I pray that I am able to rise up to the occassion and be part of something that changes this continent...

Friday, January 05, 2007

Getting the best of what's out there...

Occassionally when am pretending to be working in the office (which I do very many times) I stumble upon blog posts that really make an impact on me. I'm a very big fan of absorbing knowledge from the captains of industry (boy would I love to meet Mark Zuckerberg of facebook.com) so when I do get to this posts I make a point of pasting most if not all of it onto my blog while making sure I give credit to the original author.

I enjoy reading Guy Kawasaki's blog and I've even made several references to his articles here, a couple of minutes ago I saw a post on his blog really got me pumped up, no details and descriptions from me but I've pasted here for all your eyes to feast on...enjoy..:

The 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint

I suffer from something called Ménière’s disease—don’t worry, you cannot get it from reading my blog. The symptoms of Ménière’s include hearing loss, tinnitus (a constant ringing sound), and vertigo. There are many medical theories about its cause: too much salt, caffeine, or alcohol in one’s diet, too much stress, and allergies. Thus, I’ve worked to limit control all these factors.

However, I have another theory. As a venture capitalist, I have to listen to hundreds of entrepreneurs pitch their companies. Most of these pitches are crap: sixty slides about a “patent pending,” “first mover advantage,” “all we have to do is get 1% of the people in China to buy our product” startup. These pitches are so lousy that I’m losing my hearing, there’s a constant ringing in my ear, and every once in while the world starts spinning.

Before there is an epidemic of Ménière’s in the venture capital community, I am trying to evangelize the 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint. It’s quite simple: a PowerPoint presentation should have ten slides, last no more than twenty minutes, and contain no font smaller than thirty points. While I’m in the venture capital business, this rule is applicable for any presentation to reach agreement: for example, raising capital, making a sale, forming a partnership, etc.

Ten is the optimal number of slides in a PowerPoint presentation because a normal human being cannot comprehend more than ten concepts in a meeting—and venture capitalists are very normal. (The only difference between you and venture capitalist is that he is getting paid to gamble with someone else’s money). If you must use more than ten slides to explain your business, you probably don’t have a business. The ten topics that a venture capitalist cares about are:

1. Problem
2. Your solution
3. Business model
4. Underlying magic/technology
5. Marketing and sales
6. Competition
7. Team
8. Projections and milestones
9. Status and timeline
10. Summary and call to action



You should give your ten slides in twenty minutes. Sure, you have an hour time slot, but you’re using a Windows laptop, so it will take forty minutes to make it work with the projector. Even if setup goes perfectly, people will arrive late and have to leave early. In a perfect world, you give your pitch in twenty minutes, and you have forty minutes left for discussion.

The majority of the presentations that I see have text in a ten point font. As much text as possible is jammed into the slide, and then the presenter reads it. However, as soon as the audience figures out that you’re reading the text, it reads ahead of you because it can read faster than you can speak. The result is that you and the audience are out of synch.

The reason people use a small font is twofold: first, that they don’t know their material well enough; second, they think that more text is more convincing. Total bozosity. Force yourself to use no font smaller than thirty points. I guarantee it will make your presentations better because it requires you to find the most salient points and to know how to explain them well. If “thirty points,” is too dogmatic, the I offer you an algorithm: find out the age of the oldest person in your audience and divide it by two. That’s your optimal font size.

So please observe the 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint. If nothing else, the next time someone in your audience complains of hearing loss, ringing, or vertigo, you’ll know what caused the problem. One last thing: to learn more about the zen of great presentations, check out a site called Presentation Zen by my buddy Garr Reynolds.

Written at Atherton, California

http://blog.guykawasaki.com/2005/12/the_102030_rule.html

Reading up..Stacking up..

So last year I decided to buy a few books and read up, I've always enjoyed reading but have always been skeptical of buying books from the shop, I keep asking myself "what if I don't like it?what if it doesn't meet up to my expectations?" with those kind of questions in my mind you can imagine how many books I've purchased so far :-) (I think about 2 in the last couple of years)..

Amazon.com to the rescue..with the comments and reviews I get from Amazon.com I decided to take a leap of faith and purchase three books that I felt were going to be good starters:

  1. The Search
  2. Google Story
  3. Small is the new Big

So far I've only read The Search, authored by John Battelle, and I can assure you it was worth the purchase. It has really opened up my eyes on the history of search engines, current trends and the future of search, I would most definitely recommend it for any serious web savvy person. I'll be finishing it in the next few days then I can start on the Google Story.

Now that I'm about to finish that book, I've embarked on learning Ruby (not RoR (Ruby on Rails)because I want to learn the language before I start on the framework) I downloaded a few ebooks which have gone a long way in helping me understand Ruby as a language and I must say it is quite interesting. The language is lighter but the perl like structure makes it a mouthful sometimes, I'm currently stuck on Regular Expressions chapter which I keep reading and re-reading just so that I don't miss anything. Weird thing is once I finish a chapter I go back to the starting of the book and start from scratch almost like I'd never read the book before, I think its because I really want to understand every facet of the language even before I start writing any applications. Lately I've been thinking of developing an application using RoR but am still not sure if I should go down that road, I'd hate to think that am abandoning PHP when it still offers me so much, in fact so many frameworks have been released in PHP that attempt to mimic the MVC (Model-View-Controller) structure of RoR that am beginning to wonder which way to go in my next application development.

Let's see how it goes..who knows..may be I'll end up learning 2 powerful languages (by the way I kindoff gave up on learning Python for web dev since I valued my brain cells but I've installed it on my new laptop)..time will tell..

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

New Year New Challenges

The fact that am posting this means that I survived the crazyness of the Christmas and New Year Break and believe you me it was crazy (damn hangovers!!).

A couple of resolutions were made and am hoping I'll stick by them, the main ones had to be included:
  1. Loose the extra 2 inches I gained in 2006.
  2. Make peace with my enemies..hahahaha!!..
  3. Spend more "me time"

I've always said that our modern life is driven by two masters Bills and Dreams, we choose who has more control..2007 will be the year of Dreams...