Building Digital Solutions to meet the Continent’s Challenges
The massive successes enjoyed in Silicon Valley forever dwarf the African tech scene, but despite this there are some truly amazing things happening on the continent, especially in the vibrant tech-hubs found in Kenya, Ghana and South Africa.
I have been an entrepreneur since I was 19, when I started a student event organising agency called Sinsation Promotions.
Starting Sinsation was actually a no-brainer: after working for a friend selling black bags door-to-door for two weeks, I knew then already that I could never work for anyone but myself.
Since then I’ve launched a number of entrepreneurial ventures, some of which have failed and some of which have succeeded.
Today, I manage and co-own Living Your Brand, one of South Africa’s leading events and conference agencies, which counts Bentley SA, FNB Wealth, Nedbank Capital, Sanlam Investment Management, Vodacom and Standard Bank among its client list.
You may be wondering how any of this makes any opinion I may have on the African tech-startup scene to be of any value, but this brings is where the second venture I’m involved in comes in.
The second venture I currently co-own and manage is what opened my eyes to the many great tech stories on our continent. Magnetic is a cloud-based, end-to-end business management solution that helps streamline business and increase efficiency and profits.
While many were sceptical when the idea to launch it first came to mind, the success Magnetic has achieved in a relatively short space of time has put those nay-sayers to bed.
Many thought that either South African businesses would be too wary to get involved in a cloud-based system or, if not, that instead those businesses would be wary of the connectivity costs they may incur from relying on a cloud-based system for a core business function.
However, the response from the business community allayed all those fears. In two short years, Magnetic has become so successful that Tim Bishop (acknowledged as the ‘father of mobile’ in South Africa) has invested in our company so that we can take it international.
The success of the venture has been heart-warming. However, what I’m also incredibly grateful for with Magnetic is how it has opened my eyes to the amazing work being done throughout Africa’s tech scene, as well as the opportunities that are now available.
Of course, relative to Silicon Valley, we are a small community, but what cannot be denied is that we match our international friends when it comes to passion. In fact, I’d go so far as to say we more than match them.
Whether it’s here in Cape Town, South Africa, or in Lagos, Nigeria, in Nairobi, Kenya, or even in a tiny village outside of Accra, Ghana, what’s happening is that Africans are developing a slew of technologies that address African concerns.
I’m also amazed how these ventures so often mirror the Magnetic story. Whether you’re talking South Africa’s WooThemes and Motribe, or Kenya’s Mpesa and Ushahidi, though we’re building digital solutions for African challenges, they’re making a mark globally.
If ever there was a living, breathing example of “African solutions for African challenges”, it would have to be our tech scene.
Here are four examples of how start-ups can be successful witha bit of innovation:
WooThemes was started in 2008 by three Wordpress enthusiasts who met online, from three different countries, South Africa, London and Norway.
It has now grown into an international team of designers, developers and support ninjas catering for a passionate community of hundreds of thousands of users.
From starting out selling a handful of commercial WordPress themes the company, based in Cape Town, now offers a huge catalogue of feature rich themes, and a suite of plugins that extend Word Press experience, and the ambitious team have even more exciting plans lined up for the future.
South African mobile social networking platform Motribe was started in August 2010 by founders Nic Haramlambous and Vincent Maher with the aim of empowering brands to set up mobile web communities.
Motribe is a platform that allows anyone, anywhere to build, manage and generate revenue from their own social mobile website and it grew to 1.5 million users in just 10 months.
In 2012, it was taken over by Mixit, Africa’s largest social network, becoming one of the first start-ups founded, funded and exited in the ‘Silicon Cape’.
Ushahidi is a global non-profit technology company with its origins in Kenya. Today Ushahidi’s mission is to change the way information flows in the world and empower people to make an impact with open source technologies, cross-sector partnerships, and ground-breaking ventures.
The company is responsible for founding the iHub, a technology hub in Nairobi which has helped build the technology community in East Africa, growing to over 14,000 members, has incubated 150 tech start-ups that have created more than1,000 jobs.
It originally grew from a website which was initially developed to map reports of violence in Kenya after the post-election fallout at the beginning of 2008. Ushahidi means testimony.
M-PESA is an innovative mobile money transfer solution which enables customers to send and receive cash as well as make payments anytime using a handset and Safaricom line.
Introduced seven years ago by Kenya-based telecommunications’ company Safaricom, it has continued to lead the world in mobile money technology and has been a source of great transformation in the lives of Kenyans.
GfK and VMware: Innovating together on hybrid cloud
GfK has been the global leader in data and analytics for more than 85 years, supplying its clients with optimised decision inputs.
In its capacity as a strategic and technical partner, VMware has been walking GfK along its digital transformation path for over a decade.
“We are a demanding and singularly dynamic customer, which is why a close partnership with VMware is integral to the success of everyone involved,” said Joerg Hesselink, Global Head of Infrastructure, GfK IT Services.
Four years ago, the Nuremberg-based researcher expanded its on-premises infrastructure by introducing VMware vRealize Automation. In doing so, it laid a solid foundation, resulting in a self-service hybrid-cloud environment.
By expanding on the basis of VMware Cloud on AWS and VMware Cloud Foundation with vRealize Cloud Management, GfK has given itself a secure infrastructure and reliable operations by efficiently operating processes, policies, people and tools in both private and public cloud environments.
One important step for GfK involved migrating from multiple cloud providers to just a single one. The team chose VMware.
“VMware is the market leader for on-premises virtualisation and hybrid-cloud solutions, so it was only logical to tackle the next project for the future together,” says Hesselink.
Migration to the VMware-based environment was integrated into existing hardware simply and smoothly in April 2020. Going forward, GfK’s new hybrid cloud model will establish a harmonised core system complete with VMware Cloud on AWS, VMware Cloud Foundation with vRealize Cloud Management and a volume rising from an initial 500 VMs to a total of 4,000 VMs.
“We are modernising, protecting and scaling our applications with the world’s leading hybrid cloud solution: VMware Cloud on AWS, following VMware on Google Cloud Platform,” adds Hesselink.
The hybrid cloud-based infrastructure also empowers GfK to respond to new and future projects with astonishing agility: Resources can now be shifted quickly and easily from the private to the public cloud – without modifying the nature of interaction with the environment.
The gfknewron project is a good example – the company’s latest AI-powered product is based exclusively on public cloud technology. The consistency guaranteed by VMware Cloud on AWS eases the burden on both regular staff and the IT team. Better still, since the teams are already familiar with the VMware environment, the learning curve for upskilling is short.
One very important factor for the GfK was that VMware Cloud on AWS constituted an investment in future-proof technology that will stay relevant.
“The new cloud-based infrastructure comprising VMware Cloud on AWS and VMware Cloud Foundation forges a successful link between on-premises and cloud-based solutions,” says Hesselink. “That in turn enables GfK to efficiently develop its own modern applications and solutions.
“In market research, everything is data-driven. So, we need the best technological basis to efficiently process large volumes of data and consistently distill them into logical insights that genuinely benefit the client.
“We transform data and information into actionable knowledge that serves as a sustainable driver of business growth. VMware Cloud on AWS is an investment in a platform that helps us be well prepared for whatever the future may hold.”