Home to six out of ten of the world’s fastest-growing economies, Africa’s GDP is projected to reach $3 trillion by 2030.
A key driver of the continent’s economic growth will be small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The cornerstone of the continent, SMEs make up two-thirds of Africa’s formally employed workforce.
With the continent’s population growing exponentially, the opportunities for business growth are undeniable. However, some will likely face challenges around HR and payroll as they scale, given that many rely solely on excel spreadsheets for management.
Manual payroll management increases a business’s vulnerability to human oversight, incompliance, fraud, and other payroll and HR-related issues. Over the years, a handful of startups have popped up across Africa that are building tech-enabled solutions to meet the Payroll and HR needs of SMEs.
Founded in 2018, Everwage is strengthening the trust between employers and their employees with its Payroll and HR solution. Through Everwage’s platform, companies can manage their employees’ payroll, documents, attendance, and leave online.
I spoke with Delali Kanda, Software Developer at Everwage, about the challenges he faced in the development process, what it takes to build world-class software solutions and Tech in Africa.
How did you translate the requirements of your business problem into code?
My former boss was starting Spry Limited, the parent company of Everwage, and presented me with the opportunity to join him. I didn’t have any startup experience, so I saw it as a good opportunity to learn new things and get a taste of the whole startup environment. In June 2018, I joined him.
The whole goal of Everwage is to create a payroll and HR solution that is highly available and affordable for small to medium size companies.
To translate the requirement into code, our business development manager paid visits to companies to talk to them about their needs and pain points, as well as to develop an understanding of their current process and how they wish to improve it. This helped us build a set of requirements that included different companies in a variety of sectors.
From there, we did a bit of research on Ghana’s tax laws. Then based on the laws and the fleshed-out requirements, we created the user stories using the SCRUM method. Every two weeks, we planned what to do based on the requirements. During our two week sprint, we’d implement the feature and test. If everything worked fine we moved on to the next feature. We’ve done that over the course of two years, and we’ve managed to create a great product.
The first version of our product came out in August 2019. Initially, we got a few customers to beta test the software, and they gave us feedback on how to improve. We tweaked it until we reached the point of stability where we are right now.
When you think about the hot sectors in tech, industries like Financial Services and Healthcare, come to mind. Why a HR and Payroll solution?
You are right; not many people concentrate their efforts on HR and Payroll service products. The reason being it’s actually very difficult to build and manage, so a lot of people stay away. In Ghana almost every year, the Minister of Finance announces a few changes in the laws that affect payroll, like tax rate adjustments.
This means you have to be on top of your game and update your product to comply with the most current laws in place. I’d say that’s one of the main reasons people don’t build products for this industry.
We, however, were attracted because of the wide target audience; any company can use HR and Payroll. Also, we saw an opportunity in the security sector. They have a high turnover rate and sometimes pay people who have already left the company because they forgot to take them off the payroll.
Lastly, we plan to use the payroll platform to build other solutions, for instance, providing employee loans through bank partnerships.
What role did empathy play in building Everwage?
I have always seen software as “who is the end-user going to be.” I build software so that someone who is not too technical can use it comfortably, and by achieving that, you automatically meet the needs of a technical person.
So in every feature I build, I always ask myself if I were the user how comfortable am I using this? Is there a pain point? How fast is it for me to enter my data? These types of questions need to be asked at every stage in the development process.
For example, we were building a form to add employees to our system, and it was really long. That’s when we thought, what if someone has 100 employees, would it be an enjoyable experience if they had to sit down and add them one by one? No, it wouldn’t. It’d probably give them a headache. So I created an import feature where you can just copy the data, paste it into an excel file, and then upload the data into the system to set all the records for your employees.
You have to always think about the user in your development process. Build something that they would love to use and that they find very easy to use.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced building Everwage?
The biggest challenge is starting. When you start, you have no clue what you’re going to do, how you’re going to do it, or whether it’s going to work. There was a lot of doubt and fear. I had never built an architecture where you have Microservices communicating with the data through a Message Queue. I worried if the whole thing would work and if it would be stable in production. But you have to take the risk and hope it works for the best.
Also, with careful planning, implementation, and testing at every stage to ensure it’s stable, you’ll increase your chances of success. But even if you make a mistake, just backtrack, find another solution, and soldier on.
Another big challenge was code optimization. In general, in software, one of the biggest challenges is how to manage huge data. As data grows, how does your software handle it? How does your software scale?
Currently, things are good. We’re able to do some huge data processing. But initially, we had a lot of issues with processing payroll for companies with 2,000+ employees because it’s a lot of processing for a server with standard CPU, so we really had two options, either optimize our code or get a more powerful server with a powerful CPU.
What do you believe are the keys to building successful software solutions in Africa?
You need to know your market. Start by investigating the viability of the product in that market. We went out and asked companies about their pain points and listened to them share their problems and give us feedback on our idea. After speaking with them, we knew that there was viability somewhere and that our product could actually work. Hard, upfront work must be done to see the viability of products before you start anything.
Then, when you do start, you need to be disciplined. Often, people start and then lose sight along the way. They get sidetracked by other things because the journey from idea to execution is long. You need focus and discipline that’s concentrated on building the product, no distractions whatsoever.
Most people try to do it part-time, and it doesn’t always work because you don’t devote as much time as you should. If you have a great startup idea, there are probably other people who have the same idea, so they’ll likely beat you to market.
Focus on it with all your attention and build it.
You have over 6 years of software development experience. Do you have any advice for younger developers?
Having a mentor had the most significant impact on my development. At the first company I worked at post-graduation, I always went to my mentor whenever I had a question or problem. He’d tell me about new technologies and the current trends in software development. My advice to younger developers is to find someone who has the experience that you can learn from. Learn how they got there and maybe follow in their footsteps.
I see a lot of developers are lost, wondering, “Should I do back0end, front-end, or mobile?” Some even attempt to learn all three at the same time. But if you have a mentor, they’ll guide you in the process and help speed up your development.
Also, you can learn from anyone. Some people think, “I’m older than this person, I should know more than you.” So they’re too proud to ask. No, learn from each other. If you don’t know something, ask, and learn. When I got to Hubtel, my old job, I didn’t know React. There was a young guy who just finished his national service that did. I got assigned a React project, and he was there to help and answer my questions. It’s all about teamwork.
Discipline and time management are also important. Not once in my whole time working for National Trust Holding Company and Hubtel was I late, not once did I get a warning letter. I was always on time, always disciplined. As a professional, discipline is a very, very important attribute, and it makes you admirable in the eyes of your employer.
Lastly, make sure your work is always top-notch. You have to be consistent from beginning to end. It’s not just about your skills. It’s also about who you are.
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