Sunday, August 21, 2016

On Giving Back To The Ecosystem

Hey dolls,

 Been awhile, no? A lot has happened. I don’t even know how to recount it all. A lot of good, an extreme amount of great and some bad but we take it all in stride. What finally got me to write; paying it forward. I am reading a brilliant book by Brad Stone about Jeff Bezos, the prescient founder of Amazon called “the everything store”. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that he was the fifth investor in Google. I find this extremely interesting as I’m slowly but surely nursing a passion for investment especially in tech. I’m intrigued by the cycle of funding, how it happens and why it happens for some and not others. I think because it’s something that is still an enigma in my ecosystem. All deals are shrouded with absolute mystery. And it is never heard of for a founder investing in another founder. It appears we are all waiting for Sequoi Capital to come save us.

But then I remembered something I read recently, a relatively new Nigerian Founder investing seed capital in another. I don’t think anything has made me as happy in recent times as reading that. Because ultimately, African businesses will grow on African capital.Which capital you ask? There’s so few of us funded. We are all still basically hustling. Well, true. But I believe we can all do more that we are currently doing. 

I’m in the middle of exiting the baby store. (More on that in several blog posts later, figures crossed). And the process has taken me back to the time I was scavenging for capital. I basically started that business with the equivalent of $100 but to actually build the business, I needed more. And I talked to several people. Anyone and everyone I could speak to, I did. Heck, I applied for the youth fund.  I sank up to $10,000 of my own money (some of that a personal loan taken out from a bank), $3000 from a dear friend and $2000 from my mother. I was 24. I was a single mum. I was lucky. I don’t know a single 24 year old right now who can pull that off. It was a grueling time. I do not recommend it for anyone. I am an insomniac. And I think it comes from that time. There is nothing like the thought of free-falling into poverty to keep you awake for eternity. The way I got through that time was the constant reminder from my parents that they got me. I just started living on my own at the start of this year because I can finally be able to pay bills, pay back that loan(still paying, heh!) and have some left over for investment and "life".

That experience truly scarred me and Zimba has been a lean mean machine till recently that we got a little bit of funding. Now, I don’t have a lot of money but because of what I went through, I try to give back as much as I can in whatever way I can. I am currently part of a group of young Ugandans trying to set up a Angel Fund because they like me believe in increasing the sources of funding for entrepreneurs in this country because sadly the people who should be doing it, aren’t. We contribute a certain amount monthly in the hope that after a year, we will have raised enough to invest a significant amount as well as attract other people that would be willing to join the fund. I give my time to advise and mentor. I try as much as possible to send opportunities for funding and otherwise to people in my network. My mother (best business cheerleader ever) gave me a data modem, paid up for a year. I gave this to my CTO who’s building his own startup. (She’s going to kill me when she reads this.) 

But I believe in people  and not just because so many people have believed in me but because all we have is ultimately each other. So I will put my money where my mouth is as others have done for me.  I hope to one day have the capacity to actually fund in a big way so many of the people I see executing brilliant ideas so wonderfully on extreme budgets.  I got this from arguably the most interesting founder I've ever met, an extremely brilliant South African; 

"There's only one rule that I know of, babies-"God damn it, you've got to be kind.” ― Kurt Vonnegut.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Dreams come true...

On a random night in February 2010, I posted my first blog. And it read;

I was so full of optimism. I'd started my first job at MTN. I was young and happy and naive. Wow. How I've grown. This blog was meant to be a place to push myself to be better and later when I had my baby, a place she will one day find to see who her mother was. I've tried to be open as I can be (Of-course, there's a lot of self censoring, the world is harsh harsh place) but I've tried.It's amazing even for me to see this growth, from a meek little techie to this rockstar(I wish!) CEO. 

Anyhow, like we do here;
Progress report numero ....(I forget, who's been counting?)

Tomorrow, I head to the Mecca of Technology. Not to tour mind you (even though I'll take even that) but to speak about all things African innovation at Rights Con. *Insert Scream* 

See proximity to Edward Snowden *faints*

There after, I head to Y Combinator to attend their Female Founders Conference and hopefully meet one of the partners. *Passes out at this point*

I honestly can't describe the overwhelm......

Me, right now.

And now for depth; this past week, I met someone I've been emailing and meeting via Skype for a little under a year and the first thing he said to me was, you are very persistent. And then we met again the next day (I'm bugging him for certain deliverables) and he went, you are as persistent in real life as you are online. So if there's anything you can take away from this 6 year journey, It is to persist. In everything that you do, keep at it. One of my favorite quotes is;

“A river cuts through a rock not because of its power, but its persistence.”


Saturday, March 5, 2016



I've been awake since 2am working. I think of my happy place, Miha. Her pet chicken, Goosy, is awake. Cackling outside my window. I wonder why, maybe she misses her like I do. She's spent the night at her grandparents' house. Why am I up working, Sunday night/morning? Because for the past one week; I come home, we go into our yard, she rides her bike or her scooter and I run after her. We do this till we're both dripping with sweat. Then,we shower, we eat and we watch Kungfu Panda. Every.Single.Night. I carry my laptop home every day to finish up work (2 teams and a side gig consulting,the daylight hours are never enough for me) This week though I have been unable to do any work in the night because after that routine with Miha, I am spent. The application portal of a program I really wanted to get into closed this week. That tab has been open on my browser for a week(My laptop never goes off). I was sad about it for only a second though because you know what, this week I have truly lived. It really is the simple things. My little human shows me how to live.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Africa, Where Digital Rights Go To Die #NetNeutrality4Africa

The title of this post was meant to be "Africa, where net neutrality goes to die."
A statement I jacked off my friend, Marcello. I was supposed to write a post explaining how ISPs in Africa have embraced zero rating and are actively pushing for differential pricing of OTT services such as WhatsApp as well as the dangers of Free Basics. Echoing the war cry of many digital rights activists in India who managed to have it banned from their country. 

All this was before 18th February, election day for Uganda.The fateful day that my government turned my beautiful nation into a frightening mimic of North Korea, blocking access to Social Media (read Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp, apparently movements cannot be started on Instagram or SnapChat) and mobile money (money transfer services via mobile phone) for 4 days. Their reason; security. According to the President, people (enemies of state) use these mediums to propagate lies. And he doesn't like lies. Abhors them in fact. So much so, he'd rather we all went back to expensive and rudimentary means of communication.  Interestingly enough, many government entities continued to use said mediums to communicate. I guess to address the 1.5 million Ugandans who had bypassed the blockade using VPNs. 

But what does this say about our state of digital rights? According to Wikipedia, The term digital rights describes the human rights that allow individuals to access, use, create, and publish digital media or to access and use computers, other electronic devices, or communications networks.
Then there is the Right to Internet Access; also known as the right to broadband, it states that all people must be able to access the Internet in order to exercise and enjoy their rights to Freedom of expression and opinion and other fundamental human rights, that states have a responsibility to ensure that Internet access is broadly available, and that states may not unreasonably restrict an individual's access to the Internet.

A United Nations report released 16th May 2011 stated that disconnecting people from the internet is a human rights violation and against international law. It also protested blocking internet access to quell political unrest. 

I took out the essential articles in the document and highlighted for emphasis;

78. While blocking and filtering measures deny users access to specific content on the Internet, States have also taken measures to cut off access to the Internet entirely. The Special Rapporteur considers cutting off users from Internet access, regardless of the justification provided, including on the grounds of violating intellectual property rights law, to be disproportionate and thus a violation of article 19, paragraph 3, of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. 

79. The Special Rapporteur calls upon all States to ensure that Internet access is maintained at all times, including during times of political unrest. In particular, the Special Rapporteur urges States to repeal or amend existing intellectual copyright laws which permit users to be disconnected from Internet access, and to refrain from adopting such laws. 

Stock Image

Clearly, this is no longer a matter of discriminatory access projects like Facebook’s Free Basics. The state has turned against its own. It disregarded the fact that many (if not most in this fledgling economy) businesses depend entirely on social media and the fact that this is now our primary mode of communication. Instead of breeding calm, it spread fear and panic among the citizens. The saddest thing about this is that the President said this was a test. The state can go to greater lengths. All in the name of stifling dissent, which makes me wonder what that bodes for even the investors. If your services can be shut down on a whim, is it really worth your while?

The removal or censorship of Internet is in essence a breach of the human right to freedom of speech. The Egyptian government shut down the Internet a number of times during the 18-day uprising in Egypt in a meek attempt to stifle the protests during the Arab Spring. And even though services were only cut off for a few days, this hampered Egyptians ability to access basic services like ambulances. I shudder to imagine what would have happened had severe violence actually broken out in many parts of the country with the blockade still in place.

But I have hope, the thing I love most about technology is that evolves, quickly. Luckily, governments (especially African) rarely do. Therefore, like off the grid solutions for electricity are starting to proliferate the continent so will "Off-telecom-infrastructure" solutions for internet start to rise. Already, there’s the Google loon project and Facebook's Aquila.

Change is coming!

PS: I'll be speaking about all things #NetNeutrality4Africa at this year's RightsCon so I'm going to be writing abit alot about that. 



Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Coming Full Circle....

This morning, I head out to my alma mater (Mt St Mary's College Namagunga) I've not been there since I picked my O'level certificate and had vowed never to return because I definitely suffered trauma whilst there.(Strict Catholic Nuns, Only girls' school, you can imagine the trauma. See Lady Gaga and Paris Hilton for further illustration)  But today, I return. And happily so, to launch a STEM camp. Zimba is partnering with Lacel Technologies, United States Uganda Mission, Women Techmakers and others to run a camp to ignite girls’ natural curiosity and creativity while they build critical thinking and problem solving skills related to the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

It was in the dingy computer lab in Namagunga that my love for computer science was firmly planted not by the school but by a chance encouter with 2 volunteer Computer Science students from the University of Uwaterloo. I remember being regaled with tales of the things they were working on and going online to see the university,this was definitely what I was going to do. Alas, I never did make it to UWaterloo but I did end up with a degree in CS. And I do believe I'm doing awesome things with that degree.

So today, I go back to regal young uncertain girls like how I must have been tens of yrs ago on tales of STEM in particular, computer science and the beauty of what you can do with it. Armed with my story and one of another classmate and woman that I'm incredibly proud of who's now an engineer at Apple. Yes, Steve Jobs' Apple. Super excited. Super proud.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Of a Chamber of Commerce that Works.....

I honest to God did not until very recently know of the existence of a chamber of commerce in Uganda. You might claim I'm an ignorant little person hiding under a rock and thus the lack of this knowledge but I'm not. I own a business. I've owned a business for the last 4 years. This business has been formally registered for 3 of those years. I pay tax. I pay council fees. I interact heavily with multiple government trade agencies. But I just found out about the national chamber of commerce this year. If this in itself doesn't illustrate how big of a problem we have as a nation strongly pushing youth into entrepreneurship then I don't know what is.

Andrew Rugasira, who I admire greatly, wrote a poignant article in daily monitor yesterday on how a strong chamber of commerce leads to a strong economy. So far there are no comments on the article and it's been barely discussed on social media (Have nudes leaked? Is it the holiday season? What are Ugandans so focused on that they've missed this highly insightful piece of information). Allow me to make a wide sweeping accusation here, I bet most people don't even know what a chamber of commerce is and how it's supposed to help you. Andrew's article does a good job of giving you a preamble as to how a Chamber's supposed to function.

I want to share my lessons from a chamber I had the pleasure of spending the afternoon at early this year; The Metro Atlanta Chamber. Based in Metro Atlanta that accounts for two-thirds of Georgia's GDP, 60 percent of the state's jobs and 55 percent of it's population.

The goals of the chamber are;

1. Start, Grow, Recruit Companies
2.Promote innovation and Entrepreneurship
3.Advocate for a competitive Business Climate and Quality of Place
4.Tell Atlanta's story.

Almost similar to the goals of our own UNCCI. But unlike us and our lofty dreams which are just economic pychobabble (read bullshit), theirs are broken down to a policy agenda that is SMART. It's a long read but bear with me, a lot to learn (my comments in italics);
1. Transportation Policy;
-Increase transportation Funding: Create innovative, sustainable ways to fund their transportation infrastructure, operations and maintenance through 2065. (Even our own African Union plans end at 2063,this is why we can't prosper shortsightedness)
-Expand transit operations: Support expansion of all of our public transit operators and encourage effective coordination among them. Strive for seamless, efficient service for riders, whether the long-term future is a single system or multiple interconnected systems.
-Upgrade existing freight networks: Increase freight capacity and safety on existing interstates and rail networks. maximize operational and regulatory efficiencies for movement of freight.
-Add diverse travel modes; support initiatives that encourage transit, managed lane options, telecommuting, bike/pedestrian facilities and public/private solutions.

2.Business Climate Policy
-The Chamber strategically focuses on growing innovation and knowledge- based industries, fostering entreprenuership, boosting small and midsized business growth and creating more partnerships with metro Atlanta colleges, universities and technical colleges. (Why is our private sector so removed from the tertiary institutes of learning yet these are the people who will staff our companies. You can't complain about lack of skills if you have not tried to be part of the solution. )

-Support additional funding for Invest Georgia: Secure $2 million appropriation in FY16 for the Invest Georgia Venture Capital Fund.
-Protect Georgia's Reputation as a Leading State for Business: Defend against legislative measures that would negatively impact our business climate and harm our ability to create, attract, retain and expand jobs.
-Support Incentives that encourage economic investment: Renew the Angel Investor tax credit (certain Uganda doesn't have this) and support continuation of the Film, Televison, Digital and Entertainment tax credit. Advance a new funding mechanism to help certified Georgia sports commissions secure and finance sports events in their communities.
-Support Global Commerce: Advance Georgia's standing as a global hub for international commerce by ensuring implementation of temporary driver's licence legislation that was passed in 2014.

3.Economic Development Policy
-Global Commerce: Developing metro Atlanta into an international business center and attracting FDI, companies and jobs while also assisting metro Atlanta companies to do business abroad.
-Supply Chain and Advanced Manufacturing: Positioning metro Atlanta as the world's premier center for supply chain management, operations, talent and innovation.
-Technology: Shaping Atlanta as a center for technology and innovation by attracting and growing companies in the IT, Software, financial processing,internet security, mobility and other industry sectors.
-Bioscience-Health IT: Growing metro Atlanta's bioscience industry by focusing on marketing, workforce development, venture capital and clinical trials. (I bet you $100 our chamber has no clue what this is!In-spite of the fact that there are 4 startups currently focusing on bioscience in the country)
-Mobility: Establishing the metro Atlanta region as the recognized global hub for mobile and wireless technology.

4.Education Policy
(The chamber recognizes that a highly-educated and skilled workforce is essential to attracting and retaining quality jobs. As the global workforce evolves, they are striving to improve the alignment between employee skills and the jobs employers need to fill)
-Support Georgia Common Core Standards: Implement rigorous college and career readiness standards and support students and teachers to achieve best possible academic outcomes.
-Build an educated workforce: Support initiatives such as complete college Georgia, Go Build Georgia and other efforts that prepare graduates for college and careers in strategic high growth and high wage industries.
-Prepare teachers and school leaders: Advocate for policies and legislation that appropriately prepare teachers and school leaders to be effective and strengthen the teacher and school leader workforce.
-Promote STEM initiatives:Support the promotion of STEM in k-12 and post secondary education that prepares students to become innovators and problem solvers.
-Support Early learning: Engage in early childhood development and learning efforts with a special emphasis on initiatives that ensure students are reading on grade level by third grade.

There's a water ,energy and environment policy but I assume you are now too depressed to continue. At-least I am, extolling the excellence of others.And in the 10 years of the MAC's existence, they have assisted  more than 600 companies with relocation and expansions , creating more than 58,000 jobs.

I know that the comparison is unfair and that America is not without it's own faults but we need to wake up and smell the coffee, see how backward we are. We are operating like we are still in the 90's yet the world has (is) rapidly moving on. We need to be jolted awake from the deep slumber we are currently in. Squabbling over oil in a world where data is now more valuable.
At the end of that afternoon, I was asked if I'd like to move my company to Atlanta. I said no. Out of nothing but deep seated illogical love for this continent.

This is a presentation from an economy that is developed. Yet,they are still striving for excellence. Going above and beyond to attract investment and making the environment suitable for any upcoming entrepreneurs. This is what we are failing to understand as a nation and as a continent. Expecting the business community to be resilient or innovative in the light of all that it is faced with bare minimum to no support is like milking a cow that you have not fed. The results are showing in our struggling economies. I used to be so mad at all the capital flight that our economies faced from multinationals repatriating their funds but it serves us right. We cannot reap where we have not sown. Our addiction to mediocrity is slowly but surely killing us.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Why We Desperately Need Women In Stem

Many think pieces have been written on this and I’m sure many of you are tired of the topic but I feel it needs to be rehashed until dramatic change occurs. Last week, I had the pleasure of attending a briefing for a hackathon that is going to be held by Marie Stopes Uganda(MSU) for a reproductive health solution. During the three-day hackathon, developers will be expected to create mobile and web-based solutions to address real healthcare challenges in sexual and reproductive health. The organization’s core services include family planning; safe abortion and post-abortion care; maternal and child health care, including safe delivery and obstetrics; diagnosis and treatment of sexually transmitted infections; and HIV/AIDS prevention.  MSU are doing a lot for their mission : ”children by choice not by chance” and are looking to technology to further the impact of their efforts. Technology, always the universal enabler.

During the briefing, though there was a good showing of women, 99% of the techies present were men. I guess you are thinking gender shouldn’t matter because reproductive health is universal. And it is. But in Sub Saharan Africa, the brunt of the challenges with reproductive health lie with women. A man can sire a child and have his life continue as it was, uninterrupted. A woman simply cannot. She’s left to grapple with a myriad of issues, made even more if the pregnancy was by “chance” not choice. Whether to keep the baby? Finances? Childcare?  Nature and poor governance have deemed it so. 

I digress, back to developing solutions for family planning. See, most interventions for family planning are for women; pills, injections, IUDs and Diaphragms. Only one (thus far) is for men; condoms. Ha! Though one would think that it makes more sense to unload a gun than to wear a bullet proof vest.The biggest challenge that Marie Stopes faces with disseminating its interventions is awareness. Now, go back to the interventions and think, how many condom ads have you seen?  
How many IUD adverts have you seen? (Dear man, an IUD is an Intra-Uterine Device. Read here) Now, as a developer, it is not prerequisite to be a sufferer of the problem that I’m solving but  I should at the very least be able to understand and empathize with this problem. And men have. Their problems with their interventions for family planning are; awareness and access. Solutions have been devised. Respectively, heavy aggressive marketing on all media (heck, I follow the Durex account on twitter) and instant delivery (see this ingenious startup that delivers condoms to your doorstep)  

Women’s problems?! *crickets*
Bu then awareness is not of just family planning interventions, even just a better understanding of one’s cycle would go a long way in helping a woman gain some semblance of control of their reproductive health. Like me, most women's period is a travelling salesman, never to occur on the same day.  But imagine, even the great big Apple doesn’t have a period calculator. HealthKit, Apple's health-tracking app, apparently thinks that its female users don't menstruate. The app, which includes dozens of metrics like blood type, body temperature and exercise, does not have a single way to track one's period. This is befuddling because the IOS operating system is preferred to Android by women. How can they ignore something so essential for women?
And this is not just about reproductive health. Every sector is lacking in technological interventions that can make a lot of women’s lives easier just because women are not at the table. Watch here as Chris Sacca, a famous VC talks about how he almost passed up an opportunity to invest in a hair services startup because he didn’t see value in it. He only appreciated it’s value after his wife told him how much she spent on her hair in a month. Then he saw the hugely untapped market opportunity sitting right in front of him. So, from healthcare, beauty, retail, manufacturing in fact all sectors, there are pain points (I like to call them opportunities) that only women can see.  And for these to get the attention they require, we need women to sit on development teams for these solutions. Unlike the saying that goes that you can only know an experience unless you have walked a mile in the other person's shoes, there are some experiences you simply cannot know by proxy. For example, I can never know or even understand the discomfort of an erection. I can try but I cannot even imagine it.
Like my mother likes to say, if men had to go through child birth, they would have found a way, a long time ago to deal with the trauma of it. Technology can and should solve many of women’s problems but we need women at the forefront to get anywhere with these endeavors. Women need to have easier lives because then we can be happier and inadvertently, everyone else will be happier. Happy women, happy homes, happy earth. We need more women in STEM. Desperately.