H ardly a day passes without a news report that a new mobile application has been developed in Kenya.
However, behind this success is the untold story of the challenges that developers face as they seek to break into the market and access funding to develop and market their inventions. Top on the list is lack of support from corporate organisations.
Most of the developers are either college students or fresh graduates and often lack the money to complete their projects.
To compound this is the fact that financial institutions don’t offer loans for software enterprises since most banks are yet to appreciate that intellectual property is something they can put money on.
Felix Kiptum, a developer of a mobile application called Pesadroid that provides a database of mobile phone money transfer and payment services such as M-Pesa, is one such.
One year since he developed the app, he is yet to earn substantial money from it.
He published his application on the Android platform but discovered few Kenyan entrepreneurs have credit cards with which to pay for the premium application.
He decided to develop a free version of the app, which is available on the Android market but with limited features.
Within five months, his free Pesadroid model had more than 2,000 downloads. But the problem is that his main target is Kenyans who use M-Pesa, majority of who have no android or other smart phones.
According to a iHub Research survey released this month, Android-based devices form only six per cent of Kenya’s market.
Faced with this harsh reality, Kiptum has resorted to direct marketing but this has come with its own challenges.
A group of five students from Strathmore University has also developed an application called M-Calc that is targeted at farmers. They can download the app and sign-up for the alerts on weather and how to care for their crops.
“We developed the application without doing any market research and we realised later that our Android and Ovi store-based applications is irrelevant to the farmers,” says Elisha Bwatuti, the team leader.
Mr Bwatuti says most farmers have no phones with features than can support the M-Calc applications, which has forced them to rework their application. They have now developed a system that can send SMS to farmers.
Many young developers are struggling to adapt to the dynamics of mobile phone applications in Kenya.
They have no idea who their target market is and they struggle to fit the market to their product, instead of their product to the market, according to industry experts.
“They build their software for people and markets whose needs they don’t understand,” says Enock Kiprono, CEO InfoKen.
Mr Kiprono says due to this, developers face hurdles pitching their ideas to investors.
“They quote figures they can’t justify, markets they don’t know precisely how to penetrate…(and) investors do not fund unless they are sure of the returns,” says Mr Kiprono.
To complicate the matter, many of the applications being developed are Android-based, hence are charged hefty fees.
“When you sign to publish your applications with them (Android), you are signing to give up 30 per cent of your income,” explains Mr Kiprono.
Some of the challenges have caught the eye of industry players, and some have moved to try and provide solutions.
Last week 23 students’ graduated from mLab where they underwent four month training on business for mobile meant to improve their entrepreneurial skills.
Investors are also warming up, with the latest entrant being Savannah Fund, which has set aside Sh840 million ($10 million) as seed capital for early-stage techpreneurs in the mobile and web space.