We think that Hackathons in Africa are enjoying mixed results:
There are opportunities which are being missed by focusing on the wrong problems.
There are lack of skills around Shipping Product.
There are also skills gaps around determining the business case of projects / problems etc.
There are of course exceptions to this, thankfully (!), but by and large we’re thinking that by focusing on workplace relevant skills, and problems which can product viable businesses, a Hackathon could have more long term value to the people who participate.
We don’t think that it’s our place to take sides on specific Technologies, and we don’t really want to replicate what other people are already doing.
Which is why the Tech4Africa Hackathons moving forward will do 4 things only:
- Focus on one utility problem which is local & relevant
- Include collaboration technology and business case skills transfer for everyone
- Focus on User Experience – this is the key driver for adoption and is largely ignored
- Result in Shipping an MVP Proof of Concept
We’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what the opportunities are in Africa right now, and what’s clear is that it’s not going to play out the same way it has in the “developed” world until now. The reason is that when you look at the building blocks of the internet, there are clear un-met challenges which make those opportunities both different and harder.
When you dissect the landscape using Maslow as your reference point, and then you overlay that with the mobile market data, we think that the major differentiation will be:
- most everything is going to happen on a mobile device rather than on a desktop PC;
- whilst the rest of the “developed” world is focusing on top of the pyramid problems around self-actualisation, creativity, problem solving, authenticity and spontaneity (as memes for products), the African market still has pretty much all the layers of the pyramid left as opportunities, with the bottom of the pyramid still largely untapped.
When you dissect the opportunities at the bottom of the pyramid, you’ll find that they are primarily “utility” problems which exist in the lives of people everywhere, every day, in all markets.
For example: most diagrams will show “internet” or “wifi” as the base of the pyramid, and as such is probably the biggest opportunity (which is why the Telcos are so dominant in people’s lives).
So this is what has led to our mantra of:
Want to build big tech product for Africa?
- Focus on product with daily value for user. This is the utility & viability part.
- Mobile first. This is the market demographic & adoption part.
- Make it easy to share. This is the common sense part.
- Make sure cash-flow has you in it. This is the “Don’t waste your time” part.
So, when you unpack this, we see examples (these are simple ones) coming out of:
- Education: I want to add to or complete my education
- Transport: I want to be somewhere on time / I need to inform my employer / I need a lift
- Utilities: I want water / gas / electricity / housing
- Personal finance: I want to make a payment / I want to send money to my family who live far away
- Employment: I want to work to earn an income / I have jobs to offer
- Information: I want to know what is going on around me
- Family: Where are my family? Are they safe?
When applied to communities and devices (Internet of Things), some examples could be around:
- Medical devices which are designed for low-resource hospitals
- Infant phototherapy / General health issues
- Smoke alerts
- Air quality
- Using 3G to connect communities and make them aware (using something like BRCK – https://www.brck.com/)
- Tablet devices pre-configured for education and learning
- Community security via drones
- Smart metering applications (eg: energy usage)
- Community / family communication (single button modes, not Group chat)
So we’re not going to be encouraging an “Uber / Facebook / LinkedIn / Buzzfeed / Slack etc for Africa” – what’s the point?
So, instead of following the usual Hackathon experience you can find anywhere, our approach moving forward will be different:
- We’re going to give clear direction on a product that could become a business.
- The RHOK will focus on problems which occur in everyday life (this is where the business value is).
- It will solve something which will mean people will talk about it (because it has given them value).
- There will be a reasonable vision of adding transactions for cash flow, although this won’t be the focus for the RHOK itself.
- Everyone will work together as a team.
- The development focus will be on executing for mobile devices.
- We WILL ship an MVP product in 2 days.
- All skills learnt over the two days will transfer to the workplace.
And instead of focussing on the usual set of development skills (or taking sides on what stack to focus on), we’re going to focus on skills which enable collaboration in teams and shipping code and realising something beyond the Hackathon:
- GIT (source control)
- Continuous Integration (CI – easy stress free deployments)
- App architecture (essential for teamwork)
- App business case (just, essential)
We’ve engaged with Microsoft who have the vision to believe in what we’re doing, and they are going to help with:
- Cloud servers on Azure – The machines will be small but adequate, and limited to the Hackathons.
- Cloud training help, eg: how to build machines running Linux/Win/MySQL,IoT, etc on Azure.
- Free online training via Microsoft Virtual Academy.
For anyone attending, this is roughly what to expect:
- We will announce the problem / focus area of the Hackathon
- This will more than likely be a single page, Minimum Viable Product (MVP) approach
- Explain what viable use & business cases mean
- Group everyone into teams of logical skill sets
- Go through application architecture & needs
- Assign responsibilities
- Push first code to Github
- Setup servers to push & pull code
- Review progress every 3 to 4 hours
- Setup a booth to record teamwork & results for everyone to see
And the rewards will be:
- At the RHoK:
- Learn new skills
- Learn how to ship a product in 2 days
- Meet new people
- Present at Tech4Africa Day 2
- From Microsoft:
- BizSpark / Azure offers
- Demo of Azure Cloud setup for learning
- Small Azure instances to attendees who participate in the RHOK.
- Free training vouchers for their Virtual Training Academy
We’re really excited by what this will produce, and we’re looking forward to rolling this out across all of the cities we go to. See you there!