Proptech startups, an umbrella term that describes innovative technology for real estate, includes products built to optimize the way people research, rent, buy, sell, and manage a property.
In 2019, according to research firm CREtech, investment in PropTech companies globally reached $14 billion in the first half of the year. Currently, US and Chinese companies make up the lion share of the venture-backed PropTech startups. However, over the coming decades, markets outside of these two regions are likely to play a vital role in the industry’s growth.
Africa’s PropTech market in 2019 jumped to more than $10 million, from just $900,000 in 2018. Still in its infancy, there is much room for growth as the continent’s population is set to double by 2050.
Founded in 2020, Move In, a Kenyan PropTech company, aims to make finding and managing rental homes in Kenya simple and convenient.
A double-sided marketplace, Move In’s free property matching service allows renters to find a place easily. While, at the same time, Move In gives property managers the ability to manage rental payments, utilities, and maintenance issues.
I spoke with Sally Musanga, Co-founder of Move In and recent graduate of MEST Africa, about building Move In, how their team persevered through the pandemic to create a user-centered product, and what it takes to be a successful software developer in Africa.
Explain what Move In is designed to do, what value it provides to the marketplace?
What inspired Move In was the difficulty that my co-founders and I noticed when it came to finding a house in Kenya, specifically for young professionals and students.
The process either requires you to move from estate to estate on foot or via Uber, checking and viewing their open places. Or hiring an agent who will give you a list of places, and then you spend your time and money viewing the listings. And not to mention there are some untrustworthy agents who have scammed people.
Moreover, both options are expensive and pretty tiring experiences. Our platform cuts the cost of looking for a place and shortens the timeline for renters.
In our user research, we noticed that there are specific details that play into someone’s decision to rent a house or not. Move In gathers those details and curates a listing based on those preferences. Then once a renter finds a place we also help with the documentation.
How did you translate the requirements of your business problem into code?
We started with a lot of research. Since we were working remotely, we had to schedule lots of interview phone calls, and we sent out a lot of surveys to prospective tenants.
We used various design thinking principles, such as drawing an empathy map and a root cause analysis to get a deeper understanding of the problem we’re trying to solve.
After that, we translated our research, insights and solution to the problems that we found into something that could be seen. We came up with prototypes and got sponsored users who tried out the prototype and gave feedback that we implemented. Then we started building the product.
What role did empathy play in building Move In? And how important is empathy in the software development process?
Empathy is something that I learned here at MEST Africa. Prior to coming to MEST, I would build a product then push it out. The user would use it, and then I’d do maintenance when the product had an issue.
But after going through a class in design thinking, I realized that you really need empathy when you’re building solutions. There are pain points that the user is experiencing that we won’t discover without going through the whole design thinking process.
You have to put yourself in the shoes of the user. It helps you build a user center product, and they’ll actually use it because it addresses their pain point. I feel like there’s no point in building a product and putting it out there, and no one is using it because it doesn’t solve their problem.
You can see it in many dev portfolios. They have a lot of products, but some of them are not even being used. They are just sitting on GitHub.
How did your experience at MEST help you grow as a developer?
The first thing that stood out to me about MEST Africa was the opportunity to learn and stay with individuals from 14 different countries. From that experience, I learned the importance of cultural sensitivity when building products and got exposed to other cultures.
Specifically, as a developer, I strengthened my communication skills. You find that most developers are introverts. They sit in front of a computer building and building. At MEST, you get thrown out there. You have to talk to various stakeholders as you build your product and participate in different pitching sessions before your peers and investors.
Lastly, I think the pan-Africanism that I experienced here at MEST was great because it dispelled stereotypes I had since I got to meet people and learn from them firsthand. I also appreciated the oneness and togetherness around the belief that we are all Africans working together to build Africa.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced building Move In?
It has been a bit challenging working remotely. We’re in Accra, and we’re dealing with landlords in Kenya. It has been pretty tough since most Africans prefer one on one in-person meeting.
We had to leverage our network in Kenya to meet with the landlord and onboard their properties. Since most of them are not millennials rather from the older generation.
Also, the pandemic has been quite a challenge. We believe in user-centered design but could not meet our customers and test out our product with them. Under normal circumstances we would have sent someone to Kenya to connect with users and create partnerships, but we couldn’t because the borders were closed.
Having people on the ground to represent us helped out a lot. They could close some of the deals on our behalf as we waited for the borders to open up and travel back.
What do you believe are the keys to being a successful software developer in Africa?
The first thing is passion. You have to be passionate about software development. There are days where you’ll be stuck debugging, and you’ll feel like quitting. People who are passionate look through a different lens and keep working until they solve the problem.
This flows into my next point, which is that you have to be open to continuously learning. Day in day out, new relevant technologies come out.
Third, for you to be a successful developer, you need to be able to communicate with different stakeholders throughout the development process, from users to investors.
Fourth, the code quality that you write should be on point. You can’t risk creating software that will be breaking. I’m a fan of test-driven development. So do unit, iteration, and usability tests before you put your product out to your user.
Lastly, learn to collaborate and work with teams. Sometimes the scope of the product you’re building is too big to do it alone; so you have to be willing to work in a team.
Built In Africa? What does that mean to you?
I think Built in Africa means the realization of a better future for Africa spearheaded by Africans.
Most of us look up to and over-consume western products. For example, many of us have a subscription to Netflix as opposed to a local service. As a continent, we’re losing a lot of revenue and our culture/ identity is slowly withering away.
If we can actually stand up and support African built products and startups, we’ll create more employment opportunities and have a better future for Africa.
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