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I first came across Jumia when I was in Nigeria this summer following conversations with a fellow HBS student who was interning at Jumia. He was there to review their Nigeria operations and then go help the company launch in Kenya.  Jumia wants to be the Amazon of Africa, and it is no surprise that majority of the founders are former Amazonians, who started the company in Nigeria in 2012 with funding from Rocket Internet.  Today Jumia has warehouses in 10 African countries.

The Jumia founders have seen the potential of e-commerce in Africa. With a population of just over 1 billion opportunities in this space are endless.  According to a report by Frost & Sullivan, e-commerce is expected to be worth US$50 billion by 2018 compared to US$8 billion in 2013 in Africa. However, like its inspiration Amazon, Jumia operates at substantial losses and due to substantial infrastructure challenges in Africa, lack of cashless payment systems, low levels of internet penetration and the endemic lack of an actual addressing system in many areas where majority of the population live. Jumia’s staff complement far exceeds that of Amazon in order to make up for the various inefficiencies in the African market.  The Managing Director of Jumia in Cote d’Ivoire, Francis Dufay, purports that only improvements in Africa’s infrastructures like roads will enable Jumia and others be able to meet the ever growing demand of e-commerce sector on the continent.  I actually disagree and I believe that African entrepreneurs need to think creatively about addressing their perceived infrastructure challenges.

For example, how many years did Africans lament the inability of their governments to provide reliable telephone lines and service?  We saw all those complaints nullified with the penetration of the mobile phone, and this revolutionized communication and even facilitated transactions with mobile money in Africa.  I believe the octocopters or drones, which will be launched in the next couple of years will revolutionize e-commerce and delivery systems in Africa.  Amazon is taking the lead in fine-tuning these new drones and once all technical and regulatory barriers are overcome these drones will revolutionize delivery services in the US by making delivery of small packages faster.  A Washington Post report, estimates the sales of drones will be worth US$11 billion in the next decade, but this also includes personal drones. These drones can cost as little at $499 and as much as $6,000. But in Africa, this means that the need for good roads and addressing systems will be circumvented and we will no longer need to wait for government to come mark where I live and tar our roads to make it easier to get my delivery.  If I have a cellphone everything will be done using it.

I imagine a world where I can order a product on my phone and then an e-commerce company can take my order, I pay using my mobile and then when I am ready for delivery I let the company know and the drone is loaded with my package, gets my GPS and takes off and goes to the coordinates where I am located. Then once my package is dropped outside my door, the drone sends notification to my phone and then I come out and pick it up.

Some naysayers worry that is technology will never get off the ground and that it will not work. But in the world there are always naysayers, think of those who laughed at the Wright Brothers when they were adamant to invent a flying vehicle that would be able to carry us across oceans in the air? Every great technology has its fair share of critics. Some of them argue that the technology will not be approved by the FAA in the US because of high crash rates and poor maneuvering.  I have no doubt that the technology will continue to improve and be more superior and address these concerns and others.  Some also argue that the technology will be subject to high-jacking and theft.  I ask myself what makes a delivery guy immune to those? Nothing and in fact it is better a machine is high-jacked than an actual human being.  But what these cynics fail to think of is that the technology can be fitted to the drones to track their movements and even little hidden security cameras.  In fact, one final argument is that people will game the system and pretend they did not get the package.  I have heard of instances where people game the system today with our current postal services.  And so these hidden security cameras can also be installed in the drone to take a picture of who picks up the package before they fly off back to base.

I strongly believe in the future of e-commerce in Africa, but it will not happen with the current inadequate infrastructure we have.  Yes we must continue to work on improving the infrastructure but this may take years, time we do not have. Revolutionary thinking and adoption of out of the box technologies can change the way Africa develops and even leapfrog us into new businesses and industries beyond even our wildest imaginations.

By: Laone Bukamu Hulela


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It’s common to feel trapped when starting an online company; one has a great idea, but neither the ability to build it or the funds to have to build. If only you could find a technical co-founder to take your idea to market, you could both be rich!

It’s a nice thought, but getting someone to sign up to build a high-quality product for free is non-trivial; it’s a lot of work!

Here are a few tips I’d like to give as a multiple-time technical co-founder, specifically targeted to the MBA crowd:

1)   Co-founder!= founding developer.
If you are bringing on some technical talent for equity, but they are not your full peer at the company, do everyone a favor and make them a founding developer. A founding developer is entitled to a salary and enough options/equity to bring their holistic first two years’ salaries up to industry average based on a pre-seed valuation of your company with an aggressive vesting schedule, discounted aggressively based on a rational expectation of time to exit. (This is not a small amount of equity!)

Generally, only a technology company needs a technical co-founder. And in the tech space, the hardest part about finding technical co-founder is not that they don’t exist, but because they don’t need you (or don’t understand why they do). Bringing us to:

2)   Be clear about what you bring to the table.
For better or worse, there’s a meme among entrepreneurial engineers of expecting to be disrespected/undervalued as a technical co-founder or founding developer. Particularly when we haven’t started a company before, we tend to consider most startups to be predominantly engineering efforts and the business co-founder as getting a free ride. And all too often, this is in fact exactly what happens. (I suspect that this not happening is a hallmark of successful startups so we don’t see this as much when we examine winners.)

To counteract this, as a business co-founder you need to be very clear about what you’re bringing to the table. Identify the non-product pieces up front, and set explicit metrics and goals for those contributions. Things like: “I will secure X business partners, Y suppliers, Z marketing initiatives, coordinate N user feedback sessions, source M beta users from my peer group…” The reality is that these are all as important as the code itself, and are precisely the part which the technical co-founder needs you for.

(Note: “the idea” is worth almost exactly nothing in this exercise. The world is full of good ideas.)

3)   Consider what kind of engineer you need.
You want to find/hire someone to direct your technical evolution and focus on the right problems. If you’re building a consumer-focused website, then you want someone with a passion for users and user experience. If you’re working in big data you need someone who can get excited about massive distributed systems and math. These two areas could not possibly be more different, but MBAs are rarely aware of the distinction.

Not only do developers function immeasurably better when their work aligns with their passion, but it can help MBAs access the right talent by filtering out technologies which are explicitly tied to that area. ie: UX junkies will be at the local amber.js or d3.js meetup, data engineers at the hadoop user group. Finally, as your company scales you can always hire people to fill in the gaps on non-core areas, but your core competency has to always be kept in constant focus.

4)   The hallmark of a great technical leader is someone who simplifies.
Many engineers have a tendency to embrace complexity, either because they enjoy wallowing in it as an intellectual exercise or because it provides the safe comfort of indispensability and protection from criticism. The best, however, have the ability, self-confidence and inclination to explain things to their non-technical colleagues in a way which makes it both accessible and useful.

The moment I hear someone explain a difficult (but important) technical concept in a friendly and supportive way to a non-technical colleague I squirrel away their name for the next time I need to build a tech team.

Conveniently, this is something a non-technical person can very easily screen for (arguably more easily than a technical person!)

5)   Get a technical advisor first, a technical co-founder/founding developer second.
Finding a great technical advisor is much easier than finding a co-founder or founding developer, and can be incredibly helpful in starting off in the right direction.

There are a handful of truly phenomenal engineers in our class, who can tell in just a few minutes how well someone can code or can help you scope out a product over lunch. We’re in the HBS network now, use us.
You can make friends with successful technical co-founders who will be happy to help you evaluate candidates or ideas just to be friendly, and we’re happy to get engaged just to see a different business and because we love technology. Find those connections through your network of entrepreneurs.
You can barter your own skills or expertise in law, finance, travel planning, wardrobe consulting, etc. for a few hours of top developer time to help refine your approach and lay the groundwork for an early engineer.

But please make it easy on a technical advisor:

a.   If you’re hiring, reduce your list to the top-3 list of potential founding developers based on how well they communicate and whether you think you can work with them (see #4 above), then ask us to filter on ability (as needed by your venture, see #3). We’ll help you sell the job too, if needed (ref: #2).
(Also, we usually have a handful of really great candidates in our back pocket in case of emergencies, and if we really like you we’ll share.)

b.   If you’re trying to scope out the cost of a product, come prepared with good estimates of the size of your market, the complexity of the offering (or number of skus), etc. All of these factors go into figuring out the right technical approach, and if you’re just guessing than so are well, reducing the value of the exercise and applicability of our recommendations.


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Engaging your Audience with “Gamification”

Overview of Gamification

Your user base is growing complacent. You have difficulty getting them to complete mundane tasks. They are spending less and less time interacting with your product. Sound familiar? Perhaps your product is a candidate for “gamification.”

“Gamification” involves applying game mechanics to non-game applications in order to increase engagement and promote desired behaviors in users. The logic of implementing these elements is that if you are able to capitalize on humans’ predisposition to engage in gaming, you can encourage them to perform and complete those tasks they would not ordinarily… at least not for free, that is.

Incorporating these elements into product design can be helpful to, among other things, encourage users to complete surveys, read content, offer personal data, give feedback, and generate content and ideas (crowd-sourcing).

A popular early example of this technology can be found in location-based platforms (e.g., Foursquare), who having recognized that the utility of their products are a function of both the size and level of engagement (measured by instances of providing location data—i.e., “checking in”) of their audience, implemented game elements (e.g., achievement badges and leader boards) into their systems.

In addition to social applications (e.g., Foursquare), gamification has been successful in task-based platforms like DevHub, which saw an increase in task completion on the part of its users rise from a lowly 10% to an enviable 80% after adding game elements to its site.

Implementation Examples

The success of the aforementioned companies has demonstrated the potential of gamification, spurring a number of companies (across many industries) to implement gamification in their products. Some prominent examples are as follows:

Wellness and health: Nike+ (www.nikeplus.com), Striiv (www.striiv.com), FitBit (www.fitbit.com)

Entertainment: NBC’s The Office (www.nbc.com/the-office), Telemundo (www.msnlatino.telemundo.com/clubdenoveleras)

Non-profit: One Love Foundation (www.1love.org)

Online shopping: Bluefly (www.bluefly.com)

Education: Beat the GMAT (www.beatthegmat.com), Livemocha (www.livemocha.com)

Associated Business Models

Clearly, all of this interest on the part of companies wanting to use gamification techniques was bound to create a need for implementation experts, and it did—a number of these experts have built businesses around developing platforms (Gamify: www.gamify.it, Badgeville: www.badgeville.com, Bunchball: www.bunchball.com) and services devoted to helping companies build gamification into their products.

How to Implement Gamification in your Product</h2>

It’s easy for managers and developers to get excited about implementing gamification and subsequently haphazardly slap game elements (e.g., progress bars) onto existing products. However, without proper design and implementation, these efforts can prove ineffective or worse, sometimes creating confusion or otherwise adding unnecessary complexity to products.

In order to guide managers and developers in developing gamification strategy and implementation, Gartner identified four principal means of driving engagement using gamification:

1. Accelerated feedback cycles: In the real world, feedback loops are slow (e.g., annual performance appraisals) with long periods between milestones. Gamification increases the velocity of feedback loops to maintain engagement.

2. Clear goals and rules of play: In the real world, where goals are fuzzy and rules selectively applied, gamification provides clear goals and well-defined rules of play to ensure players feel empowered to achieve goals.

3. A compelling narrative: While real-world activities are rarely compelling, gamification builds a narrative that engages players to participate and achieve the goals of the activity.

4. Tasks that are challenging but achievable: While there is no shortage of challenges in the real world, they tend to be large and long-term. Gamification provides many short-term, achievable goals to maintain engagement.

Criticisms of gamification

Some experts note that so-called “gamification” is neither new nor novel as it has been around in many forms (e.g., loyalty programs) for years. Additionally, many critics point out that gamification misses many important elements of effective game structure by glossing over storytelling and oversimplifying user experiences. Further, and most important in my view, is the very real risk that users will become so accustomed to these “games” that they will develop even more reluctance to complete mundane tasks—many of which are critical to learning and daily functioning—that do not incorporate game mechanics. The effects of this disenchantment would likely be more pronounced in children and could potentially increase an already apparent trend in children avoiding less engaging activities—especially involving learning.


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