Introducing the Random Hack of Kindness (RHoK)


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:

  1. Focus on one utility problem which is local & relevant
  2. Include collaboration technology and business case skills transfer for everyone
  3. Focus on User Experience – this is the key driver for adoption and is largely ignored
  4. Result in Shipping an MVP Proof of Concept


Maslow's Heirarchy of Needs
Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs
Internet Heirarchy
Internet Heirarchy

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:

  1. most everything is going to happen on a mobile device rather than on a desktop PC;
  2. 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).

Maslow in the Internet Age.
Maslow in the Internet Age.

So this is what has led to our mantra of:

Want to build big tech product for Africa?

  1. Focus on product with daily value for user. This is the utility & viability part.
  2. Mobile first. This is the market demographic & adoption part.
  3. Make it easy to share. This is the common sense part.
  4. 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 –
  • 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?


Maslow's Heirarchy of Software Development
Maslow’s Heirarchy of Software Development

So, instead of following the usual Hackathon experience you can find anywhere, our approach moving forward will be different:

  1. We’re going to give clear direction on a product that could become a business.
  2. The RHOK will focus on problems which occur in everyday life (this is where the business value is).
  3. It will solve something which will mean people will talk about it (because it has given them value).
  4. There will be a reasonable vision of adding transactions for cash flow, although this won’t be the focus for the RHOK itself.
  5. Everyone will work together as a team.
  6. The development focus will be on executing for mobile devices.
  7. We WILL ship an MVP product in 2 days.
  8. 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:

  1. At the RHoK:
    1. Learn new skills
    2. Learn how to ship  a product in 2 days
    3. Meet new people
  2. Present at Tech4Africa Day 2
  3. From Microsoft:
    1. BizSpark / Azure offers
    2. Demo of Azure Cloud setup for learning
    3. Small Azure instances to attendees who participate in the RHOK.
    4. 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!

Africa: It’s time to rise

I can remember what it was like as a young “digital” person in Johannesburg in 2000. The internet was exploding on the other side of the world, and (South) Africa was an afterthought (and still is for many), over and above being a small market. There were various attempts at exciting things, much like all over the world, but most of them fizzled and died, and that no-mans land between 2004 – 2009 was a worrying time.

Looking at the industry now, things are looking very different. Now has never been a better time for innovation, disruption, and growth.

If you’re in Africa, and if you don’t already know, you should know that there are circa 800m mobile SIM cards in Africa, which dwarfs the rather paltry 250m odd desktop PC’s.

And unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’d also know that the cost of mobile smartphones is just about at that inflection point where it becomes affordable for the majority of the mass market.

On top of that, it’s never been cheaper to start, test, and re-iterate an idea. Crisis, I remember the days of buying in $100k email servers just to send email! Imagine what you could do with $100k today?

For anyone reading this now, those three ingredients mean that for the first time in Internet history, we’re going to see a tidal wave of consumer technology and service adoption in Africa, on mobile devices, which I believe will dwarf the early oughts’.

If we’re really lucky, it will bring with it a surge in economic, social and political change too.

I say really lucky because for the economic, social and political change to take root, the benefits of this disruption need to be realized by people who are local and who keep those benefits local. If all the benefits are gained by people who are based overseas, then that trickle down, knock-on effect you see in other parts of the world, won’t happen. I know which one I want…

So we believe that there’s going to be 3 to 5 year window where local knowledge, local networks, local people and local expertise will play a significant factor in success.  So where will you be when this happens?

After that, and like any other emerging market which is seen as a growth opportunity, that local experience and knowledge will be bought in or acquired, and then the opportunities will get harder and harder, and require more capital.

So if you’re involved in tech today, then now is the time to show yourself, to launch your product, to find that co-founder, to hustle those first deals, to look for that growth, to seize the moment.

There hasn’t been a better time in history, and there likely never will be again.

As for Tech4Africa, we’re going to do four things:

  1. Be more aggressive about the opportunities we see as important for us.
  2. Be more vocal about our opinions.
  3. Continue to focus on catalysing the ecosystem through relevance, leadership, authentic content, and connecting people and ideas.
  4. Roll out our model and platform throughout Africa, focusing on local tech innovation, startups and entrepreneurs.

And whilst doing that, we’re going to remain open to help and collaboration from anyone.

There hasn’t been a better time in history, and there likely never will be again.

Thinkst is looking for an awesome Front End Developer

We’re Thinkst and we like to tackle fun/interesting problems.

From a SaaS offering that allows companies to test their Phishing
defences ( to modern, quickly deployable honeypots

We’re looking for a junior dev to handle front-end work, basic support
and light sysadmin.

The stack is pretty standard (a combo of LAMP(y), Flask, Bootstrap,
jQuery, D3, Redis, Celeryd, EC2), and our focus is on delivery rather
than zealotry.

The front-end role is a precursor to working on the heavy lifting code
and you’ll eventually migrate from JS to Python. It’s ideal for a
young dev looking to gain exposure while working with a small but
experienced team that ships.

Our products are used all over the world, and theres a good chance
that companies you use, use Thinkst :>

Get in touch:

My Tech4Africa Experience

The moment felt very surreal when Afrocast was called up as the local winners of the IBM SmartCamp award at Tech4Africa 2014. So you can imagine my shock when we (Afrocast) were also announced as the Regional winners of the IBM SmartCamp award! It was unbelievable and it still has not sunk in almost 2 days later.

When I look back at the journey and even at that moment as I was standing up on the stage, the only thing that I could think about was how just a year ago I was at my first ever Tech4Africa hackathon at JoziHub with a few colleagues where I was about to set off a domino effect that would result in me being where I am today and possibly shape my vision of where my journey in IT is heading.

The Tech4Africa JoziHub 24 hour hackathon was an amazing experience for me as it was my first ever hackathon and it was the first time that I was in the same room with a bunch of people that were doing what I love for the love of it. The people there were amazing. The food was good and of course the free drinks! All the problems everybody set out to tackle were very ambitious especially for a 24 hour coding session but it just made me proud to be a part of a group of people that were as ambitious as I was and not afraid to set out to tackle a problem and try everything that they could to make sure it got done.

We managed to stay up the whole 24 hours working on our application and managed to complete a large portion of it except a few geolocation features that still till this day make me cringe at how simple the solution was but I guess after the 23rd hour even the most simplest solutions don’t seem so simple. The next day I actually changed a line of code and it worked…

The most important things I took away from that hackathon was the realisation that apart from being something one does for a living and as a hobby there are some common traits that I shared with the people in that room: The need to be good at they do, the desire to leave a mark on the world through what they do and the thirst for knowledge and to better ones self.

I also got the opportunity to go to only my second Technology Expo (Tech4Africa) via the hackathon where I got further introduced to the South African technology community and see how creative individuals and thinkers in our country are solving problems and sharing their expertise on some of the most interesting fields in IT. I thought I knew a lot about IT but at my first Tech4Africa I got introduced to some of the most amazing topics and fields in our industry, some of the most amazing technologies (which I have been able to carry into work and apply to create some amazing solutions) and some of the most amazing people that still recognise you when you are walking down the street.

– I will never forget the day, about 3 months after Tech4Africa 2013, when a student I met at the event stuck his head out a taxi flying by and yelled “Great talk at Tech4Africa!”. It was priceless. –

I think the opportunities that Tech4Africa presents the average techie cannot be taken for granted. The networking opportunities, the opportunities to get your ideas out to the right people, the opportunity to sit amongst people better than you at what you do and get inspired and of course a reference point from which you can use as a benchmark for all your endeavours.

In fact at the time I was at a startup (Fresh Thinking Technology) where we were building solutions that were revolutionising the government sector I met another startup (Boxfusion) that was turning the government sector upside down and inside out with some of the most innovative solutions addressing problems specific to the public sector on a scale where your competitors can feed small african countries. I had to be a part of that and I now work there!

I cannot even began to thank all the individuals that make Tech4Africa happen and the effort that they put in to make sure that it is well executed and especially Gareth Knight who seems to have more belief in the South African tech community and is responsible for igniting more flames of ambition and desire in young tech entrepreneurs than he will ever know.


Thank you!

Mobile / Research Top 10

What you need to know in the world of mobile trends

November 2014

#1 Mobile Is Eating The World

There is no point in drawing a distinction between the future of technology and the future of mobile. They are the same. In other words, technology is now outgrowing the tech industry. – Benedict Evans

#2 Global smartphone penetration 2014

“What’s the smartphone penetration in…?” is one of the most frequently asked question by our clients. Here’s the data for 47 countries (Singapore wins, by the way).

#3 Alibaba smashes China’s Single’s Day record with $9.3B Sales

Up from $5.75 last year and 42.6% of sales came from customers using mobile devices. For the uninitiated – Alibaba is Chinese Amazon on steroids, Single’s Day is China’s largest online shopping festival.

#4 Getting In on the Emerging Markets Smartphone Boom

Suhair Khan works at Google and spends most of her time focusing on trends in emerging markets – her observations and recommendations are bang on.

#5 The Fall 2014 GRIT report

Market research industry trends mapped, again. We’re thrilled to see that mobile research has firmly established its position but there are plenty of challenges ahead.

#6 Google Consumer Barometer

The Consumer Barometer helps you understand how people use the internet across the world – data from Q1 this year from over 45 markets. All free to explore and play around with.
Bonus link: Mobile-first is not a future trend in Asia, it’s here now

#7 An #MRX Hallowe’en Parade

Leave it to Tom Ewing to cram ghosts, zombies, Dracula and a mummy into an article about market research. It’s a tongue-in-cheek take on the monsters in the market research industry with plenty of painful truth in every sentence.

#8 Impact of the mobile internet in Africa

Mobile internet is having a massive positive influence on the lives of ordinary Africans – education, health, communications – no aspect of life is left unchanged as masses come online for the first time ever.

#9 Advertisers Are Moving Hundreds of Millions Of $ Away From TV

TV ad dollars are down, not much, but down, and the money is moving to digital, perhaps some to multiscreen around hit shows.

#10 Mobile is changing shopping decisions in the Middle East

Sky high smartphone penetration meets the super mall culture, at least in Saudi Arabia and UAE. Mobile is changing shopping decisions but also offers a new way to (re)capture people in shopping centres.

What’s the most insightful opinion piece or useful resource that you’ve seen this month?

Siim @ On Device

Getting ready for Tech4Africa tomorrow

Email sent to delegates today, applies to everyone at all Tech4Africa events!

Hi All,

Just a quick note to remind you of a few things for Tech4Africa.

To get the most out of Tech4Africa, you should be doing the following:

  1. ​Arrive early so you miss traffic, and you get parking​
  2. Bring a power supply for your laptop
  3. Bring a 3G dongle, just in case (Always Be Prepared, Scouts motto!)​
  4. Bring business cards so you can network
  5. Bring a notepad​ & pen for notes​, you’ll get distracted by typing something whilst listening to talks
    ​, and it’s easier to walk & write​!
  6. Create an account & setup your own custom schedule:
  7. ​Make sure you know where the rooms are for the talks you want to go to​
  8. Don’t treat it as an easy day out of the office – come prepared to learn and be inspired
  9. ​Bring an open mind​
  10. ​Go to sessions which are out of your comfort zones
  11. ​Sit next to people you don’t know, introduce yourself, say hello!
  12. Have fun!!!​

If you are a speaker:

  1. Make sure you are tweeting about your talk from now until you do it!​
  2. Make sure your talk title is exciting and engaging
  3. ​Make sure your description is accurate​
  4. Make sure you have a picture setup in the schedule
  5. Make sure you post your slide deck online, and tell people so they can download it
  6. Make sure you bring business cards to hand out afterwards
  7. Make sure you arrive at least 30 mins before, and that your presentation is ready to go. There will be music between sessions, so we’re not waiting for anyone if they run late in their session.
  8. Make sure your slides are NOT Death By PowerPoint – if they are, it’s your fault if people walk out of your talk due to boredom
  9. Have fun!!

If you do all of that, it will be awesome!!
​And that’s about it 😉

See you all tomorrow,
Team Tech4Africa​

WomeninTechZA Panel Discussion – Tech4Africa

Despite what you might think if you take a look around, there actually are women in the tech sector. And they’re not just in sales, marketing, or hiding behind a screen coding. They’re engineers, developers, BAs, project managers, founders, CEOs and most everything else.

Samantha Perry, co-founder of WomeninTechZA, an initiative that aims to address the gender diversity gap in the tech sector, will be chairing a panel on WomeninTech at Tech4Africa. Panellists Mich Atagana (managing editor, Memeburn), Ellie Hagopian (CEO, Nomosphere), Shana Kay (CEO, IntelliCred), Lisa Lyhne (executive director, Dariel Solutions) will share their thoughts and experiences, specifically around:

– Why are we battling to attract women to the tech sector? And why can’t we keep them here?

– Why do we need women in tech anyway? If they don’t want to be here we shouldn’t force them?

– How can we start framing the discussion so that we start solving the problem? Debate at present seems to be: “We need more women in tech.” “Ok”.

We look forward to seeing you there.