Despite the emerging trends in the Mobile ecosystem in Africa, the reality is that many African mobile entrepreneurs mainly the young Africans are yet to benefit from the growing opportunities around them largely to the fact that there is little or no structured system to support tech entrepreneurship in Africa.
Looking at Nigeria for example that has over 100 million connected lines, with projections to sale over 35 million mobile devices this year with a 3G growth put at 12% and then the overall GDP growing at 7%,mobile web growing at a very fast rate in Nigeria as seen in the increase in number o Nigerian users on mobile social networks like WhatsApp,2go, Eskimi.
With all of these interesting statistics, there isn’t much to show for as benefits around these figures because we are mainly consumers of technologies and not realizing that in the mobile ecosystem the big players are always the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), the Mobile network operators (MNOs), Mobile platforms and then the app and content developers. We have seen the MNOs and the OEMs making huge money from the Nigerian mobile market, the question is how many Nigerian companies are among these MNOs or the OEMs? How many Nigerian Apps are globally recognized? These are salient questions that should inform our decisions today as a country as to determine our future relevance.
One is easily drawn to several distractions signifying the enormous challenges of Technology development in Nigeria and why things can’t work here. Of course the nascent app development community in Nigeria is just a part of the overall Technology Entrepreneurship Ecosystem in Nigeria faced with several limitations.
My recent visit to the tech hubs in Nigeria has prompted this piece at this time basically from my own perspective. Just the way I see things. The app development scenario in Nigeria is like a rat race where nearly every young person you see in the Tech space in Nigeria is a mobile app developer and a startup founder. This is indeed a welcomed development but what I see on ground right now goes beyond that. I have met with several young developers most of them have really good mobile applications that are set to solve real issues in Nigeria like location based apps, traffic focused apps, eduApps, mHealth apps but they are always stuck after development of the app. How to move to the next level of making the app known and then becoming a profitable venture is a hard nut yet to be cracked.
Not every app will be profitable agreed. But every good app that solves problems in the society should be a rewarding business for the developer as seen in other countries like Israel, the US, UK etc.
Off course the question on the lips of most app developers I met is: when and how can I make money with my app? How long is the journey, and how close is such reality for Nigeria App developers?
The first principle is that app developers should have apps that are relevant and can solve problems for the people and then more people use the service. It is very important for app developers to see what they are doing as running a business where all the qualities, strategies to make a business succeed are applied. That mindset in itself leads to focus. I see a very wide skill gap in this area, young developers need mentorship and business advisory services at this stage to help shape their ideas toward a business venture, This is where incubators, accelerators have roles to play in the system.
In addition to other perennial challenges of entrepreneurship in Nigeria (which are lack of accessible capital, Funds and investors for startups, poor infrastructure in the country, lack of legislation and policies that encourage entrepreneurship) that app developers in Nigeria face comes piracy, copyrights, lack of software development guidelines and issues around Intellectual Property(IP). This is a major challenge. Many app developers have complained about situations where their products are being exploited by individuals and organizations that have the financial strength and the enabling environment all in the guise of helping them or supporting the app developer community. There have been situations where the ideas of these young app developers are stolen as a result of pitching the idea to people or organizations they believe can support them, it’s sad, unhealthy and this happens a lot here. These app developers go into negotiations with no legal framework to support and protect their ideas.
Leveraging the MTN Mobile App Store and the Mobile App Challenge
Despite the fact that the Mobile app development is not yet structured to benefit the app developers and the growing concerns and challenges as pointed out, there are growing opportunities for these Nigerian app developers to leverage from and one of such is the initiative from the leading Mobile network in Nigeria-MTN who has over 50% of the mobile network users in the country. This is certainly an opportunity!
MTN recently launched their app store for her users where Nigerian apps are showcased. This offers a great market for developers to promote their apps and possibly make money through the growing network of MTN users. In addition to this, MTN also launched the MTN App Developers Challenge in collaboration with the Co-Creation Hub. This gives app developers not just the opportunity to win lovely prizes but to leverage the MTN platform to develop and promote relevant Nigerian focused apps that will perhaps win global relevance.
The MTN App Developers Challenge is designed to empower Nigerian developers and tech entrepreneurs to build locally appealing and relevant apps for the millions of customers who rely on MTN for their daily lives. The competition runs across the Android, Blackberry, Java ME and Windows Phone (up to 7) platforms and under the following categories: Education, Health & Wellness, Entertainment & Lifestyle, Gaming, Productivity, Students.
According to the schedule of the competition, Phase I runs from July 24 – October 24 2013, where app developers are expected to build and submit their apps to the MTN NextApps store. The Phase II runs from October 24 – November 24 2013 where apps will compete for downloads to qualify for the initial draw. Developers are expected to promote their apps alongside MTN.
To ensure that apps developed meet the needs of the millions of customers on the MTN network in Nigeria and beyond, there will be ideation sessions with experienced practitioners in Health & Wellness, Education, Entertainment & Lifestyle and Gaming to help developers/tech entrepreneurs deepen their knowledge, understanding of the market and identify potential areas where consumers are looking to apps to improve their lives. Developers will also get the chance to get feedback on their app ideas from the experienced industry practitioners.
Last week I was invited to one of the Ideation sessions that featured Ayeni Adekunle,Publisher, Thenetng; Omoyeni Akerele,CEO Style House; Femi Longe, Partner, CCHub; Tannaz Bahnam, Founder,Lost in Lagos blog.I was really impressed with the discussions around what Mobile applications are needed by Nigeria users in entertainment, Fashion and lifestyle.
To conclude this article, I find the recommendations of a detailed research on Accelerating Entrepreneurship in Africa by Omidyar Network very key. The truth remains that the mobile app developers in Nigeria can only benefit in a structured technology ecosystem. Government has a major role to play in first providing the enabling environment with good software regulatory measures and policies for the growth. A lot needs to be done to ensure a level playing ground for players in the ecosystem. I don’t need to over emphasize the fact that we need to build a system that supports tech entrepreneurship in Nigeria.
For app developers, I will encourage you to continuously develop apps which are very relevant to the realities you see in Nigeria, learn the businessing in App development, leverage every opportunity you can find around because challenges are merely opportunities waiting to be explored. Don’t be so desperate in making money, court attention with your app and build user base. Also look beyond just winning prizes in app competitions and focus to grow relevance with your product. Finding alternative areas to make money like developing apps specific for a particular organization or government will keep body and soul together while you hope for the big break. The future belongs to you as the distinguishing factor of mobile phones of the future will solely depend on the apps running in them!