According to Partech Africa, $1.43 billion went to African startups in 2020. With Francophone Africa receiving a small percentage of it, Senegal and Ivory Coast being the only countries to break the top 10, raising $8.8 million and $6.5 million in funding, respectively.
While startups from all parts of the continent struggle to access funding, according to ELAN RDC, what’s contributed to many Francophone ecosystems lagging behind is the cultural perception of entrepreneurship.
In ELAN RDC’s “The DRC entrepreneurial ecosystem” report, they examined the Democratic Republic of Congo, Africa’s largest Francophone country, and uncovered the roadblocks preventing businesses from getting from idea to scale.
The report revealed that entrepreneurship in DRC is not a natural choice as it’s perceived as something that one does out of necessity after failing to find “proper” employment. And how this makes it difficult for aspiring entrepreneurs to convince their parents that entrepreneurship can be a viable career choice and attract seed capital from family and friends.
However, with the global trend of digitalization and a growing number of companies using technology to build products and services that ease the lives of everyday consumers, the mindset is slowly changing, and solutions like Be Served are contributing to it.
Launched in 2019, Be Served is a product of the software development and IT management company ZX Connect. Be Served is a service for ordering and home delivery of ready-made meals in Lubumbashi, DRC. Through their mobile application and website, customers can browse their restaurant list, order their favorite dish, and get it delivered.
I spoke with Eric Ampire, Mobile Engineer at ZX Connect, about running a food delivery service, the importance of UX and designing for the end-user, and serving as the community lead of GDG Lubumbashi.
My name is Eric Ampire, I’m a Mobile Engineer at ZX Connect, and I recently graduated from Salama Higher School of Computer Science with a degree in software engineering.
My interest in tech started in secondary school. I began learning how to program my first year at university. As time progressed and I learned more about software development, my drive and motivation increased. What excited me most was that I could create products that people could use.
I started off building web and desktop applications, but I didn’t find it interesting. Building mobile applications, on the other hand, excited me. It was challenging, yet where I felt most comfortable.
I’m also involved in our tech community here. Currently serving as the Community Lead of Google Developer Group (GDG) Lubumbashi. I took on this role because I’m passionate about sharing my knowledge and experience with others.
What is Be Served, and what were some of the biggest challenges you faced building it?
Be Served is a delivery system currently operating in Lubumbashi, and our goal is to make the process of delivery easier. Through our mobile application, customers can order food from their favorite local restaurant from the comfort of their homes.
Our biggest challenge during the development phase was our skills. Building a robust product like Be Served requires a team highly skilled in the technology they’re using to build the solution. But when we had the idea to develop Be Served, I was not a professional in mobile development, so I made a lot of mistakes with the application.
Unfortunately, the university does not teach you enough programming to be able to build robust projects. While I worked on several projects as a student, it’s not the same as the professional arena. To overcome my skills gap, I did self-learning. I spent a lot of time reading books about the principles of building scalable applications and watching videos about software development.
The biggest challenge we ran into post-development was realizing that we had built the project without having a UX design process. What I’ve noticed here in Africa is that most products don’t succeed because we don’t think about the user. As developers, we rarely consider the person that’s going to use the product. But to have success, you must have a good understanding of the final user; that way, the solution meets their needs.
After launch, we got a lot of feedback from them saying the application was not easy to use. We also learned that we had features they didn’t feel comfortable with and didn’t need. Recently, I completed Google’s Foundation of UX Design course. I wanted to learn how to understand a user’s needs to ensure I don’t make the same mistakes again.
Why is it important for developers to take the time to understand their users?
One of the biggest mistakes I’ve made in my professional career was to build software with only a general understanding of the problem. I overlooked the importance of analyzing the problem in-depth or understanding what the user needs. Building an application that is working and is functional isn’t enough. You have to build an application that provides a great user experience and solves the user’s real problem.
I recommend that before you start development, build a prototype. Initially, I couldn’t imagine that it was important to create a prototype in the mobile development process. When I heard about it, I thought, I’m a software developer; I don’t need to worry about that.
However, now I know that it’s important to work with a UX designer when building any digital solution, whether it’s a mobile application or website. Unfortunately, here in Lubumbashi, it’s hard to find a designer with a strong skill set in user experience. That’s why I started taking courses to learn more about design because a product can’t succeed without good UX.
Challenges with delivery and payments.
We have two mobile applications. Our customers use the first application to place their order, and our 5 delivery guys use the second app to complete a delivery. The second app is integrated with Google Maps to help them navigate to the customer’s location. Unfortunately, Google Maps is not accurate in Lubumbashi, which makes the delivery process challenging. Most of the time, the delivery driver has to call the client to get some additional information about their location.
We have tried to solve this problem with customers filling out more information while placing their order, but it’s an imperfect solution because it requires the customer to know the area of the city they live in, which is not always the case.
Another challenge is payments. While solutions like MasterCard and Visa work fine here, most people don’t use these payment methods. The most popular payment solution is mobile money. But we don’t have access to the APIs of M-Pesa and Orange Money. Currently, we have a manual process for customers to pay outside of our application. However, we are working on finding a solution that allows them to pay within the application.
Starting GDG Lubumbashi.
In April last year, we started GDG Lubumbashi because we realized the importance of having a community where people can meet others with the same interests from looking at countries like Nigeria and Tanzania. Their tech ecosystems have evolved thanks to the strength of their communities. We’re working to create that kind of environment here in DRC. As developers, we’re not meant to evolve by ourselves. Without a community, it’s easy to feel like you’re alone. And that no one thinks like you or understands the challenges you experience.
Initially, when we started, I thought that to grow our community, we had to organize a lot of events. And while organizing events is important, it’s not enough. What’s more important is to provide value to the members at the event. That’s the technique that I’ve used to grow the community to 200+ members.
Recently we hosted a Google I/O recap event where we discussed Google I/O, Google’s annual developer conference where they introduce new software updates and hardware products. The event's purpose was to ensure our community is aware and up to date with the latest Google technologies.
Thoughts on tech in Lubumbashi?
When it comes to technology in Lubumbashi, we are progressing, but our challenge is that we’re not moving as fast as other cities like Lagos and Nairobi. What’s slowing us down is that we don’t have enough support from the government because they don’t prioritize technology here. So most of the time, we, the people of the tech community, have to rely on ourselves.
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