RECENTLY a team of Nigerian app developers, Marvel Web, hoisted Nigeria’s flag in Sweden by emerging winners in a world app contest instituted by renowned telecom equipment manufacturers, Ericsson.
Hi-Tech, recently cornered one of the leaders of the team Mr Toks Ogun, who gave us insight into the preparatory and eventual capture of the contest’s top prize. His account was quite interesting. Excerpts:
BY Prince Osuagwu
AMONG top priority professions for Nigerians today, apps development may not be high up on the list. What led you down the path of App developing?
I began studying Jazz Performance at Georgia State University in Atlanta Georgia, United States. During my third year in school, I visited Nigeria and after reviewing the market, realised that there would be limited opportunities for me as a Jazz musician. So I ultimately changed my course to Accounting. Studying accounting was much different from what accountants do from a day-to-day basis. In a nutshell, I didn’t enjoy working as an accountant like I did studying accounting. I found that there was less problem solving in actual accounting whereas I was more interested in the problem solving aspect. I needed a change! After discussing with a friend who was into website development, I got interested in it. That was where it all began for me.
For Marvel Web, we started by developing websites and once we were established in a certain market we decided to swim upstream to a more lucrative part of the business. Actually, we initially only focused on developing websites until our clients started to request that we build some applications into the website. They desired to be able to capture data in their website, and so we started creating web applications and later began developing mobile applications.
We have heard that the erratic, epileptic electricity situation in Nigeria motivated development of your app that monitors electricity. Can you tell us the name of this winning app? How does the app work?
We were trying to secure an office space and checked out a number of properties. Now, when you go house searching, you are hardly given the right information about the property from the landlord. You actually just take a chance and hope that you have not made a wrong decision. There was a particular property we had our eyes on and every time we visited prior to moving in, there was always light.
Information about area or property
Curiously, from the day we moved in, there was no light for three consecutive days. We began to think of different ways to get more information about a certain area and property. We wondered how we could have gotten more information about the light situation in that area. The idea kicked in. We started off with a prototype, and then expanded it to something that could be commercially viable because we imagined that quite a number of people will like to have this information at any given time. For instance, if you are at work, you may like to know if there is light at home before setting out.
The app is called SOP Notify. We have smart sensors in different parts of Lagos and Abuja that sends data to our SOP cloud. Once we get the data, we distribute it in any way the end user will like it. Some of our users prefer email while others SMS; so it depends on what the customer wants. We also use crowd sourced information which means that people can send specific information about a particular area which we then broadcast to people who may be interested in that region. Anybody can send a text to a short code with the information or if you have downloaded the app on your mobile, you can send the information across through the app. All you need to do is download the app on your phone and then select areas you are interested in. Thereafter, you will begin to get notifications on the power situation in those areas.
Can you tell us the other apps you have under your belt and how did you get the inspiration for developing these apps?
Right now, we have the SOP Notify and the DINO Swap which helps people seamlessly migrate from blackberry devices to Android and iOS devices.
There are a lot of people moving from one phone to another and they have difficulty moving contacts without having to either do it manually or speaking with a mobile provider to transfer contacts. But if you download the DINO Swap app on your blackberry and click send, all your contacts will be forwarded to the DINO cloud. Then after downloading the app on your new desired handset, click install and it will bring back all your contacts. All with just one click.
Generally, we get inspiration from personal experiences. There are lots of problems we may have experienced, and we have thought that there must be better ways to handle the situation. Sometimes, we realise that there are no solutions to some particular needs that we may have. We just hit the drawing board and begin to think of what solutions we would like to put in place that will speak to one problem or the other, something that can serve a lot of people.
In participating in the Ericsson App Awards, what would you say were the highpoints of your preparation and what made you submit this particular app for the contest
Really was not so hectic because the submission process was very simple. There was a one-page form, then attach a video with a link to your application. We were already in the process of building a prototype and discussing how we would launch it into the market by speaking with different stakeholders to see how they could use the solution.
When we submitted the app, we had not given it much thought. We were shocked when we started getting some positive feedback saying we were shortlisted. In fact, we actually missed the first mail saying we were shortlisted; seems it went to our junk mail. It was when we got a second mail congratulating us for moving to yet another stage that we realised that our app had been selected. And then we were off to Sweden. It was actually a pleasant surprise.
There were about 300 applications submitted for the Ericsson App Awards. Did you at any point imagine that your app was worth 25,000 Euros?
A friend had sent the Ericsson App competition to us saying that this is something we may be interested in. So we looked at it and thought, well, it will probably take about 20 minutes to complete the form, do the video and submit. We did not expect to hear from Ericsson.
The prize money is a lot of cash especially in Nigeria. How do you plan to maximise the rare opportunity and cash prize at your disposal now?
We already had a timeline and product roadmap of things we hope to achieve with the app. What the win helps us do is that it will help to shorten the time required. So, rather than having a 12 month span, we can actually look at six-seven months because we now have funds to accelerate our growth.
The fact that it has become a little bit of a news story helps create a buzz around the application and people are now more aware of the application which should help us secure the buy-in of more users. Those are the benefits of winning, compressing the timeline and getting people to be more aware of the application.It feels great to win because it is something that came unexpectedly.
Nigeria is a unique market and some would say a difficult market for SMEs to thrive. Is your experience different from the regular difficulty start-ups encounter?
Nigerian market is very fragmented in that you have those who can afford a certain service and those who can’t. It really pays to first know your target market before venturing into the market. You need to ask questions like what is the relevance of the service I am providing, who do I think will be interested in the service, how prepared am I to take up the market?
Do you plan to commercialise the app?
Definitely do plan to commercialise this app. Our potential clients include the general user, those who want to know more about the power situation in their homes or businesses. The way the app works, our customers can receive notifications about the power situation, including whether or not there is light, how long there has been light and even the number of hours they may have had light in a week.