Recently, an article came to my attention about a Ugandan IT student who has become wealthy / successful through developing mobile applications, leading him to be known as the Mark Zuckerberg of Africa. If you want to read the whole article, you can find it at http://www.africabusinesscommunities.com/index.php/rss-abc-blogs/200425-erika-amoako-agyei-africa-business-review. Basically, the article describes how the 22-year-old Abdu Ssekalala made a fortune via mobile app development through in-app advertising deals and revenue share per download. To date, he has nine internationally-recognized applications, of which one is Wordbook. Wordbook, according to Nokia’s Ovi Store, is “a dictionary application with word-of-the-day capability fully packed with definitions, examples, and a selection of related words.” Available worldwide, this application alone earned Ssekalala US$375 000, with most of the application’s downloads coming from Asia.
This seems like an obvious notion, but it’s something that most software developers often forget: the reason that apps such as Ssekalala’s Wordbook become successful is that they fill a human need. As software developers we tend to fall into the trap of trying to write the most complex of applications before thinking about the value they will actually provide to users. Some developers just go ahead and develop software / apps without stopping to think if there’s a demand for them. If you’re a developer, you must recognize that it’s important to identify a real human need before starting to develop software / apps. Some say you should develop apps that solve problems you actually have as you can directly relate to the issue you are trying to solve. Your passion for software / app development must go hand in hand with a desire to fulfil certain needs of the people you hope would use the output of your hard work.
Look at Wordbook as an example. At first glance, it seems strange that a mobile app originating from Africa would gain most of its following in Asia. However, it’s a lot easier to understand why this may have happened if you look at recent trends. There has been a steadily growing demand for English language learning in Asia, particularly for facilitating business deals / contracts. More and more companies, institutions, and individuals in Asian countries like China and Taiwan are realizing that the ability to speak English is a vital asset if they want to succeed in their respective fields. They know that understanding English allows them to be globally competent, enabling them to communicate effectively with American and European associates.
Wordbook isn’t the flashiest or the most sophisticated mobile app out there – it’s a simple, straightforward dictionary app. Sometimes the most trivial or simplest applications can succeed because they fill a human need.
So if you’re an application or software developer, learn from Abdu Ssekalala’s example and develop applications that people would actually find useful and valuable. Finally don’t limit yourself to a local mind-set or a certain geographical market. Ssekalala didn’t restrict himself to making apps only for fellow Ugandans, for instance. With the rise of the app stores, its now easier to deliver your software on a global scale. If you know that there’s a demand for your software or application in other parts of the world, there’s no harm in thinking globally.