Bursting into Nigeria's app market
The advent of the global system for mobile (GSM) in Nigeria more than a decade ago brought with it opportunities for entrepreneurs and innovative minds. Perhaps one of the untapped gold mines in the sector is the apps development sub-sector.
Bayo Puddicombe is a young entrepreneur who is tapping into the apps development sector in Nigeria. He sees the market for apps in Nigeria and Africa as a whole as ‘limitless’. He spoke with Lukas Ajanaku in Lagos, Nigeria.
LA: How did you enter the apps development market?
BP: I started developing mobile applications about five years ago shortly after completing my university education and the mandatory one year National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) programme.
This was before the advent of smartphones and the app explosion as we are experiencing it today. I quit my job as a network administrator and formed a company along with my cousin and a good friend to pursue the opportunity as we saw it then.
The reason why we choose to pursue mobile development was because even then, we could see that there was huge market internationally and it was only a matter of time before a similar revolution was experienced here in Nigeria.
In just the same way that the introduction of desktop computing revolutionized the way people used computers, mobile devices (feature phones, smart phones and tablets) will further reduce barriers to accessing information and will flatten the world significantly, giving people all over the world equal opportunities and access.
A major factor in the emergence of this trend especially in developing countries such as ours is that mobile devices come with an inherent ability to connect users to the internet at a cheap and affordable rate.
Unfortunately, after developing our first application, we realized that the Nigerian market was not quite ready for it at that point in time (2007).
We then put our activities on hold and I took up a position as an IT Analyst. About a year ago, I felt strongly that the time had come to again pursue this opportunity as several of the elements needed for a viable industry were already in place.
To kick-off my re-emergence as an entrepreneur, I signed up with a fellowship programme for aspiring technology innovators with the Fate Institute for Venture Design (A subsidiary of Fate Foundation).
The programme was designed in collaboration with the Centre for Design Research at Stanford University, and is geared towards cultivating a culture of risk-taking, a mindset of unconventional behaviour and creativity amongst Nigerian entrepreneurs using lessons learned from working with successful start-ups in Silicon Valley.
Apart from the training which was fantastic, the programme gave me the opportunity to reassess possibilities across a wide array of business ventures, while receiving valuable feedback from coaches and facilitators. Eventually, this process helped us to assess the prospects and viability of the mobile development landscape and we believe that mobile development could serve as a vehicle for wealth creation across Africa.
LA: What is the potential of the local apps development market in Nigeria and indeed, Africa?
BP: Firstly, I think there is a huge market for mobile apps in Nigeria and in Africa. Because Africa has been underdeveloped for so long, mobile technology in general represents the possibility of bridging the digital divide and making information, entertainment and productivity tools easily accessible to the man on the street.
This is simply because of the great work our mobile operators have done in providing network coverage across the continent; operator mobile network infrastructure is possibly the most robust communication network infrastructure available in Africa today.
Already, we see strong demand for applications in Africa. However, most of the supply to this is coming from foreign markets/developers.
This means there is an opportunity for mobile developers to create relevant content which will be useful to local users within the African context.
Coming to Nigeria, it is said that one out of every five Africans is a Nigerian. We are also the 7th largest country in the world by population count. This country has generated a lot of interest from several international players due to sheer volume of traffic generated from people who access the internet using their mobile devices.
For instance, Nigeria is rated as the fourth largest market for the Opera Mini (mobile phone) browser in the world today. What we have found is that for a number of people in Nigeria, the mobile phone is the primary means of accessing information via the internet. This represents a huge market for local applications and tools.
LA: How rewarding is apps development in terms of revenue since the apps so developed do not run on their own but through OEMS?
BP: Unfortunately, I am not at liberty to reveal our revenue from published applications. However, I will say that so far, it has been very rewarding, so we must be doing something right. In addition, apart from developing self-published applications, there are also opportunities to assist brands and corporates develop and execute strategies on how to best leverage mobile technologies to reach their target markets.
We believe there is still tremendous room for growth in this market and that is why myself and along with a co-fellow from the Fate Institute for Venture Design programme (Zubair Abubakar; developer of the Nigerian constitution app for Blackberry) recently founded a company; Pledge51 to further develop these opportunities and make it easier for local mobile applications developers to make money from their efforts.
Working with OEMS such as Nokia actually helps remove some of the barriers to entry, rather than increase them. For instance, Nokia's mobile application store simplifies the process and reduces the costs of making your application available to a worldwide audience. They eliminate the costs associated with setting up, maintenance, hosting, application quality testing, etc.
LA: Do you think the country has enough apps developers?
BP: Honestly, I would say no. I am aware of a number of people who are doing great things in the field of mobile applications development, but I don't think we have come close to hitting a critical mass just yet. There is still a tremendous opportunity and it is in our best interests to encourage more young people to consider this opportunity.
This is probably one of the many answers to the unemployment challenges amongst youths facing our nation today.
The barriers to entry for an aspiring developer are relatively low. If well harnessed, this can be transformed into a huge industry with significant potential for growth. When critically analysed, the major resources required to develop mobile applications are your mind, a half decent computer and maybe internet access. Then once you have succeeded in developing a mobile application product and made it available online, you open yourself to not just a local market, but a global one.
LA: What sort of apps do you consider more relevant/needed in Nigeria than elsewhere?
BP: In Nigeria, there is a huge need for applications that enable people have access to information, one of the major aspects that require attention specifically is education.
A wise man once said that "Education makes a people easy to lead, but difficult to drive; easy to govern, but impossible to enslave".
In the country today, there is a very strong need to strengthen the impact of education on the youth. It has been noted the world over that the quality of a Nation's development is directly tied to its' ability to develop her people. This development should come primarily through her educational institutions.
However, the degradation of our educational systems across all tiers has led to a situation where the fact that an individual has passed through an institution does not guarantee that they are educated.
Mobile apps can help provide innovative solutions to these problems by providing personalized learning systems that can directly address learning needs on an individual basis using our available infrastructure.
LA: Where do you think the strength of the apps market lies? What are the coming apps, types of devices and growing trends?
BP: The real strength of the apps market lies in the smart phone segment. What we have seen is that as phones have gotten smarter, their capabilities have been enhanced and this translates into the additional functionalities and features that developers can work into their applications.
For instance, there are several smart phone applications available today that allow people convert their phones into blood pressure monitors using the devices' built-in accelerometers.
Over the last two years there has been an explosion in the smartphone market share and it is estimated that 25% of the 4 billion mobile devices in the world today are smartphones. Unfortunately, I do not have the statistics for Nigeria, however, my educated guess is that the numbers are much lower.
LA: From your experience, what type of apps do you think are most popular in Nigeria?
BP: Definitely, I would say games are the most popular type of mobile application in Nigeria today. We've done quite a bit of research on this and the numbers are quite interesting. Our premier mobile game title; Danfo has seen tremendous success in the past three months after we released it on the Nokia store.
I understand that a lot of people may not like the idea of producing games. However, this also presents an interesting opportunity to merge current market demand with our local needs by introducing game dynamics into educational apps so that people can learn and have fun at the same time.
LA: Do you think there are enough local skills to grow the mobile app industry in Nigeria?
BP: I definitely think the raw man-power potential is there if you look strictly at the unemployment numbers. However, most of the developers I have had the privilege of meeting were self trained/taught. We still need to build these skills by developing training programmes for young undergraduates, school leavers and maybe even secondary school students.
I strongly believe that one of the catalysts that will grow our local skill base will be the emergence of a number of successful mobile developers. Just like it happened in the music industry, once people see the opportunity and how it has been harnessed by a few individuals, they will themselves be motivated to develop the skills required to tap into it. The good thing is that all the information required to learn are already available freely online.
LA: As an apps developer, do you think there is enough support, funding and other resources to developers locally?
BP: I believe that several critical elements for the establishment of a vibrant mobile developer community are already in place. A number of OEMS have specifically expressed their desire to support local developers and anybody with the right skill set can readily tap into that. In Nigeria, funding for innovative start-ups of any nature is still a bit of an issue as the venture capital industry is still in development.
LA: What challenges do apps developers confront in Nigeria?
BP: The most significant challenges are due to infrastructure deficits in several key areas such as power, communications, e-Payments, etc. These add significantly to the cost of developing applications and also reduce the opportunities for revenue generation. Our hope is that there will be marked improvements in several of these challenge areas in the years to come.
LA: So what can/should be done to stimulate the application development sector?
BP: Most of the resources required are freely available online and so I would say that what is most required is infrastructure in terms of stable power supply and affordable quality internet access. Then we will truly be positioning the country to produce a generation of innovative internet/mobile start-ups that emerge from a garage or basement somewhere and grow into successful multi-million naira entities.