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4IR in Africa: Technology Innovation, Women and Young People at the Fore

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Kate Krukiel is Managing Director of Sera Afrika based in Nairobi, Kenya. Her work with the United Nations at Microsoft, driving policy through data across Africa with Sera Afrika and facilitating the newly formed UN Digital Solutions Centre for shared innovation across the UN family, has spanned the Middle East and Africa, focusing on private and public sector partnerships, non-profits, the UN and civil society groups to break down political, social, and language barriers in creating lasting technological change in emerging markets. In this interview with Heath Muchena of Business Africa Online, Kate explores tech, women empowerment, business leadership and work-life balance, amongst others.

Heath: Africa has the largest concentration of young people in the world. How can private-public partnerships and policy help youth take a right-first approach to digital transformation and how should businesses in Africa define a digital transformation process?

Kate: With young people representing over 65% of the population in Africa, we should focus on them for opportunities for digital transformation and growth. It’s exciting to note that we can leapfrog ahead exponentially in business areas from finance, mobile access to Agtech, opening new markets, new jobs and new job types. Given current technology constraints in Africa, we need to focus on access to affordable connectivity to access such e-services and enable new and growing businesses to participate online. Africa still has the most expensive Internet access on the globe – and this must change.

Heath: Is Africa ready for the transformative change the 4IR brings and the impact on businesses across the continent? How can private-public partnerships and ICT leaders to foster this change?

Kate: Of course! Africa is ready for a giant leap into accelerating growth. It countries and tech counterparts have the resources to do this. But there are a few barriers to getting there, including more maturity in technology infrastructure and skill development in these new areas of innovation. While there has been progress in eliminating the digital divide (people with no access to smart devices and the Internet), there is much more to be done there.

Connectivity, trade and collaboration between countries, accurate policies to allow this growth are just a few areas that need advancement. The majority of consumers are youth who are under-skilled without relevant jobs available in the digital economy. For this we need to work with governments and organizations create new types of jobs, build capacity and modernize fragmented policies to enable this growth.

Heath: What do you think is the best part of being a woman leader in the tech industry and what advice would you give to women looking to break into the tech field?

Kate: Being the only woman in my computer science university class at Mary Washington College to moving into a world where I’m working with 95% men, it’s all I know. I am lucky in that I was raised with strong and supportive male figures who gave me a good foundation for this field. 

The best part of being a woman leader in tech is knowing that women have the inherent characteristics of collaboration and inclusion. Mapping these female strengths to technical capabilities and digital innovation and knowledge makes me unique.  The second-best part is, at this time, knowing that I am and must be a role model for other women moving into this career path.  We don’t have enough women in tech as thought leaders and movers and shakers! 

I mentor my staff, my teams and interns but also, I choose to create open dialogue and spaces for fellow women to get guidance – this is incredibly important.  My advice? – get mentors.  Surround yourself with strong women and men that possess skillsets and characteristics that you need.

Heath: How do you maintain work-life balance and what are your views on goals, timelines, and measuring success?

Kate: Work life balance means something different to everyone you ask. We have different times when we’re productive or not – we have different priorities in life and at work. To me, having flexibility in my days to do things like avoiding the traffic or going on walks to clear my brain are important. 

I’m a morning person and the first thing I do is make a list, for the week (on Sunday) and for each day. That keeps me on track with timelines, to set clear goals, long term and short, but also know my own balance. I’m a big fan of having events, launches or a moment in time to mark progress and this offers milestones for commitments and results. I’ll be at my desk at 6 a.m. and be on a walk at 9.

Heath: How important is it to be exposed to all areas of the business in order to be an effective leader within your Sera Afrika business?

Kate: Incredibly. From the very basics of using advice from Oprah Winfrey to always ‘sign your checks’ (transparency) down to understanding the different leadership styles my directors have and how they differ and augment mine, to sectors we work across and to the talent that we possess.  Every organization is a machine of moving parts and I don’t need to understand the deepest aspect of each, but general knowledge core areas of business is key.

Heath: What influences your leadership style and what values are important to you?

Kate: I need to be me – which means I need humour in each day, I need transparency and honesty, passion and hard work.  I’m a very flexible leader in that I don’t need my team to be in the office when I am but allow them to work in the best method and manor for each of them, as I do too.  This creates trust, as we work hard and value each other.

Most important? Value our commitment to growing and changing lives.  At the end of the day, if we aren’t having fun while trying to change the world, we are doing something wrong.  The Kate you see at the office will be the same Kate you see on the weekend.

Kate Krukiel

Heath: In your experience, what is the key to developing a good team and how do you manage performance?

Kate: One thing I learned years ago during my first management role is that you must know what motivates members of your team in order to build a good relationship. Knowing their passions and strengths, at work and out of work.

I don’t agree that work and personal life should be separate. I found out one of my interns is an artist (as well as a wonderful lawyer).  When we needed art for our office, I called her. Now our office is full of personal touches. For managing performance, setting clear objectives, understanding work styles and allowing employees to have ownership and flexibility, plus having regular check ins.

Heath: How far has Sera Afrika gone with its digital transformation?

Kate: As a policy tech start-up, we’re able to begin from a different place. In addition, having a leadership team that has been entrenched in technology for a collective 70 years, we fully understand the power but also the enabler that technology must be in changing the lives of Africans.

Visit: Sera Afrika

 

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5 Important Steps of Launching a New Tech Product (Part 2)

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Article by Darlyn Okojoie, Tech entrepreneur (Image: iStock)

As a continuation to part 1 of the article “5 Important Steps of Launching a New Tech Product,” we will look into the final steps that are crucial to launching a new tech product. 

As noted in part 1, knowing how to create a successful product launch strategy from development to launch, promotion, and delivery to users is as important as the tech idea itself. The reason for this is that we have seen great ideas fail due to poor market entry strategies. Hence, the need to share some steps for launching a new tech product to assist founders, creators, and developers in increasing the chances of their product’s market success.

Here are the final 5 crucial steps in launching a new tech product that we have tested with Memo.Africa and recommend that every founder should consider to increase their chances of success:

1). Build anticipation for your product by pre-marketing

Creating teasers, disclosing some features of the product bit by bit, and creating strategic product awareness to build anticipation for the product before launching it cannot be overemphasized. When you build anticipation among your audience by promoting the product before launching it, it helps to create more dominant brand awareness in the market and ultimately drives sales for the new product when it eventually hit the market.

Building anticipation includes; creating a landing page, an email campaign for signups, reaching out to a journalist, bloggers and industry influencers, engaging in PR and advertising etc.

2). Build a solid supply chain or seamless distribution channel

Aside from taking inventory of your products and ensuring you have enough to meet demand when you eventually launch them, you must also ensure you establish a manageable supply chain or distribution channel for this product. Work closely with your vendors and distributors, and ask them what their maximum capacity is for how many units they can provide at one time. This initial response from customers will determine how to scale production if your product launch yields more demand than supply.

3). Network and share your product with your target audience

Now that you are getting closer to the launch date, ensure you stick to it to avoid having to inform the media, customers, vendors, or anyone involved, of any changes. Use every opportunity you have, both online and offline, to talk about your product. Promote the new product with all the available media tools and encourage your contacts to spread the news. 

Go all out at this, sell your brand, and make sure you get the public’s attention on every platform available. For example, set a countdown on social media to herald the eventual launch of your new tech product.

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4). Reach out to the press post-launch

Take your audience on a journey from inception to production to commerce using the media. People love to hear the origin story of a great product, especially if it has an interesting story, and you deploy the media both from a personal platform and through paid media.

Concerning the paid media outfits, once you have launched your product, and good reviews and feedback start rolling in, reach out to the various media outlets that covered your story pre-launch and ask them to share an update. 

From the personal brand point, use your platform to post your story on any of our social media channels. Your audience wants to hear that inspiring product story of yours. This help to create a connection between your product and your customers.

5). Consider and prepare for public feedback and reviews post-launch

After the launch, brace yourself for customer reviews. No matter how successfully you have introduced your product to the world, public perception of your brand can be brutal if your organization delivered below expectations.

In the case of a negative review, be empathetic and always respond politely and provide a short-term solution to address the consumer’s immediate concerns and a long-term solution to ensure future customers won’t encounter the same issues. You command more respect for your brand when you respond as soon as possible to any question raised by the target audience.

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5 Important Steps of Launching a New Tech Product (Part 1)

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Tech Entrepreneur & Co-Founder/COO Memo Africa, Darlyn Okojie 

Knowing how to create a successful product launch strategy from development to launch, promotion, and delivery to users is as important as the tech idea itself. The reason for this is that we have seen great ideas fail due to poor market entry strategies. In fact, most consumer tech products that are launched have a higher chance of failing; according to publicity.com statistics, 95% of the 30,000 consumer products that are launched annually fail. This is a common occurrence among small businesses attempting to launch a product. 

Hence, the need to share some steps for launching a new tech product to assist founders, creators, and developers in increasing the chances of their product’s market success and not continuing to second-guess whether the product will survive the next day. 

Here are 5 crucial steps in launching a new tech product that we have tested with Memo.Africa, and recommend that every creator should consider to increase their chances of success:

1). Does Your Tech Product Meet the Users’ Needs?

The first question behind every founder’s mind should be why would someone buy your product? If you can provide a good answer to this question, you have solved a significant part of the question of meeting the users’ needs. Figure out how your product could solve a problem, satisfy a desire or improve someone’s quality of life. You can get answers to this question by conducting a basic market survey. Through this survey, you will be able to understand how your customers will justify buying your product, and that is how you can begin a promotion strategy. A good product launch plan should always put consumers’ needs first and satisfy them in the best way possible.

2). Know Your Competition

Knowing your competition is a crucial aspect of any product development, especially those that are leading in your industry. What is it about the product that makes users prefer them over others? What is their branding like? What makes them unique, what is their price? And compare this with what you are offering. Leverage these insights to build your product. Ask your team, what will set your product apart from the other product in the same category. Why should consumers choose your product over the competition? Identify your product’s unique advantages and leverage them to sell your brand.

3). Make a Prototype and Test it

This is one of the most critical aspects of any new tech product. If you ignore testing, your product outcome might end up failing grossly. To avoid the risk of investing in a product that is overly flawed before it hits the market, create a prototype and get beta testers to try it so they can offer feedback on how to improve it, if necessary. Don’t wait for customer reviews after launch to improve your product, it can be disastrous to the product and your brand, scaring away partners and investors. No matter how excited you are about your product, always test before launching.

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4). Reconfigure Your Product

This is a follow-up to the above point. Once you have a prototype and start testing your product and gaining feedback from testers, friends, family, and colleagues, to correct the defects; do not hesitate to adjust where necessary. Little changes here and there can make a big difference in your product’s quality. Getting somehow outside the team to vet the product can lead to discovering new features that should be added or those that should be removed, which eventually makes the product better. You may not eventually end up with a perfect product, but you will arrive at a product that excites your customers and that you are proud of.

5). Identify Your Revenue Model and Run the Numbers

It is not enough to have a fantastic idea or product; you must be able to identify its primary revenue stream. Some tech ideas are great but they do not have market value.

Also, it’s wise to establish your profit margins as one of your product launch phases. Compare similar products’ performance in the market and, as much as possible, determine the likely number of products sold, total revenue generated, break-even sales volume, and net profit earned. 

In the area of marketing the product, you need to decide what to establish as a reasonable conversion rate for any of your marketing channels e.g., website and then figure out how much traffic you would need to reach that goal. You need every bit of this knowledge to make informed decisions, and avoid winging any aspect of it.

I hope you have learned a thing or two from this piece. Kindly go to Part 2 of this article to complete the basic steps to a successful product launch.

 

Written by: Darlyn Okojie, Co-Founder & COO, Memo Africa

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Waxed: Revolutionising Africa’s Transport Industry

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Waxd Group CEO, Anthony Stewart (Image & Article: Waxd)

An estimated 70% of Africa’s urban population live in informal settlement housing. They rely on privately-owned minibus taxis and public bus transport systems to travel to work, send their children to school, and live out their day-to-day lives. The need for digital payment and cashless fare collection solutions – that provide a secure and seamless way for people to access the routes they use every single day – is critical.

Digital payment systems for the transport industry will remove the need for physical tickets and cash payments, and speed up transactions and transport times. With public transport spending accounting for up to 10% of consumer income in Africa, the implications for the transport industry are vast. South Africa alone has over 200,000 minibus taxis transporting more than 15 million commuters daily.

The Waxd story started when Waxd patented a method for processing app payments through EFT rails, cutting merchant fees from 2-3.5% to 0.4%. Although the idea was good, it needed the co-operation of the banks. This was not very forthcoming as the solution would cost the banks in transaction revenues. After months of frustration, Waxd decided to look at areas of innovation where the banks had failed.

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Waxd provides an accessible payment solution that enables public transport drivers to accept different payment methods from passengers, including biometric and prepaid cards which can be recharged by commuters to pay for their rides. Transport operators, owners and drivers can also track their revenue in real-time and manage their fleet with improved efficiency and transparency.

An informal, unregulated transport industry leads to many challenges being faced by all stakeholders. A digital payment system leads to a simpler, safer payment solution for all – from commuters and drivers, to owners and government.

The Africa transport revolution is happening at a rapid rate, and Waxd is at the forefront of developments – committed to providing technologically-advanced payment solutions and to enabling financial inclusion for everyone.

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