At its core, a start-up either creates a new market or disrupts an existing one.
With over 3 billion smartphone users across the world and well into the mobile computing era, emerging start-ups are not only disrupting legacy industries with innovative technology. Some are also taking other start-ups concepts and recreating them, betting that they can execute the idea better or exploit the niches within these broad markets.
For over a century, Yellow Pages and other print business directories served as the primary medium to inform customers of local businesses. However, in the 2000s, the industry transformed with the rise of search engines, creation of digital-native business directory platforms, and widespread use of social media to inform and share.
Today, although Google, Facebook, and Yelp are global in nature and serve as directories from Silicon Valley to Silicon Savannah (Nairobi). These platforms don’t always meet the specific needs of every market, giving room for bold entrepreneurs, willing to take on these titans, and build a platform that can better meet the needs of their market. Listing Kenya, a comprehensive business directory is on a quest to be the go-to platform for Kenyans.
A website that started as a directory for hotels in Kisumu Town has now transformed into a multifaceted listing directory with over 6,000 businesses across Kenya. I spoke with Vincent Ochieng, software developer and founder of Listing Kenya, about building a business directory website, the challenges associated with it, and Tech in Africa.
How do you translate the requirements of a specific business problem into code?
Listing Kenya started in 2014, as Kisumu Finest as it was only for hotels in Kisumu Town. In 2017, I felt the idea could be bigger than a platform for a few hotels within one town. I rebranded as Listing Kenya and expanded to the entire country, adding restaurants, schools, travel agencies, other businesses, and events.
The business problem I wanted to solve with code was that Yelp and other websites didn’t provide adequate contact information or the exact business location. Also, the most prominent contenders at that time, Yellow Pages, didn’t have a visual element. A good business directory has all three. You need a visual experience and access to quick information (phone numbers and location).
When building the second website, I wanted to capture more information about each entity: name, location, phone numbers, email addresses, social media links, and photos. Now with the third site, I’m adding some additional features, including suggestions of nearby registered businesses.
How important is empathy in the software development process?
The first platform was chaotic due to the poor user experience. For the second version of the website, I wanted something futuristic and modern, but also functional. On the old site, there was no light search available. Users had to go page by page, or do a blank search and hope what they were looking for popped up. It also had no images, ratings, and only included one category, hotels.
To keep users on the platform longer, I knew I needed diverse categories, something that was easy to use and looked good. Empathy for the end-user led to the improvement from the first website to the new one.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in the software development process?
I’m adequately skilled in executing the idea. However, the biggest challenge was Web hosting. The website started out on a shared hosting platform, but that has proven not to work because the website is huge. The second version of the site was close to 30 GB, which can’t work on such a hosting environment. It needs a VPS or a dedicated server. So currently, we are switching to VPS to ensure the website functions properly.
What do you believe are the keys to being a successful software developer in Africa?
One, you need to be good at your craft!
Second, is knowing how to set your rates. I require finding the balance between your professional skillset and the end product you can produce, and how much you want to charge. You have to know your value.
I transitioned from just an ordinary developer to one that takes on high-end projects. Initially starting, trying to fight with the others in the crowded market, I would put my fees fairly low to get clients. But when you advance in your skills and produce better quality work, you have to remind yourself that your value is no longer the same. Once I pegged how much I charged to my value, my prices shot up. I realized that I’m not just developing something for clients, that they’re getting value out of what I’m building.
Also, there are some projects you won’t win if you underbid. Some clients equate higher rates to professionalism. There’s that silent perception that if you’re charging a certain amount, then you’re actually good.
Built In Africa? What does that mean to you, and what are your thoughts on Tech in Kenya?
It means showing the world that we’re capable of having ideas and are building products.
Kenya is miles away from where it was five years ago. It’s a huge leap in terms of the interest people have right now in tech, which is something to be excited about. High-speed internet opened up the flood gates. You see, before High speed, data was capped, so people conserved their data to light browsing. However, now that high speed is in abundance people are using the internet to learn through tutorials, YouTube, Skillshare, etc. Back then, you wouldn’t even spend more than two minutes on YouTube because you’d run out of data. Now we are seeing the rise of self-taught developers and people in tech.
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