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.