If you are an ardent reader of my blog then please allow me to apologize for this late entry. The essence of credible blogging is if the author can keep up with the hunger in blog readers for fresh, authentic and informative material. However what I gathered from the Mind Speak event hosted by Aly Khan Satchu at Silverbird cinemas last Saturday is timeless in the least, a rare element in cyber world.
During the aftermath of the Post Election Violence in Kenya, five bloggers and tech developers came up with the idea of a crowd sourcing website that would allow people, who were already prisoners of their own making in a land they considered theirs, to be able to relay information real time on what was happening on the ground. This included information on cases of Violence, infrastructure damage, shortage of food, clothing, shelter and other outcomes of that surge in national insanity.
Out came Ushahidi, an online platform that receives input from the public via sms or email, sorts it, categorizes it, and then displays it in an orderly fashion for AID agencies, Government and well wishers to respond accordingly. Its proliferation has been phenomenal. Acclaimed worldwide (and sadly not locally), and in use in about 5 crisis regions in the world namely Haiti and the Gaza Strip just to mention a few, Ushahidi is a success story that I as a Kenyan developer, web-blogger and self proclaimed techpreneur hugely admire and maybe even envy a little bit.
Sitting in that dark Silverbird Cinema Theatre with other equally curious minds, listening to Erik Hersman – one of the founders – talking about it, I could barely hide my excitement. But enough about my feelings.
Eric took an interesting angle in talking about Ushahidi, not as an entity in itself, but as a lesson for innovation and entrepreneurship, something that all the people present could associate with on a personal level. I will try breaking it down in the way I wrapped my understanding around it.
They were all stuck in various parts of Kenya, with no access to each other except via mobile phones and email. They were worried about each other and their families. Every minute as they heard the news about the ensuing violence, myriads of questions kept popping up in their minds. Were the others ok? Did they need help? Was there anything they could do to help?
However, the question that reigned supreme in their mind was this, ‘How were the rest of Kenyans coping with the situation?’. Majority were the poor innocent victims who couldn’t even fathom where this madness had erupted from. Surely there was something Erik and company could do!!
Lesson: The best ideas are mostly born out of our own experiences. Look around you, needs that need to be attended to, gaps that need to be filled, things that could be done better…
Resolve: My business idea should primarily be a solution to a problem. Otherwise why would anyone want to be involved with it?
Suggestions were bounced back and forth, experiences were shared, hasty research was done and an idea was born, though fuzzy at first. A dummy rudimentary application that could utilize existing tools to map crisis locations and display them to the public was built in 3 days.
They didn’t really create something new. It was simply a case of combining various technology aspects including email, sms and mapping software. A simple script was then written to sift through the incoming messages, categorize them, point their locations on the map and Vuala! A revolutionary web application was built.
It was simple, it was straight forward and you wouldn’t have to be a computer guru to utilize it.
Lessons:The best of solutions are quite often the easiest to implement. You just need to get down and develop it.
Resolve: Use what works. Don’t try to be an Einstein.
Ushahidi was not designed to be a money making venture, and still isn’t. All they wanted to do was help in crisis hit areas through the one way they knew best, the internet. Like a beacon of light, this vision guided them in launching Ushahidi and letting the world know about it.
They also knew from the very start that Ushahidi was going to be an open source project. This has been a key element in its success.
How did they market?
Through Blogs! Each of them was a renowned blogger and all they had to do was write about Ushahidi and its usefulness. Within a couple of days, Ushahidi already had 250,000 hits and the numbers were escalating.
They had a great product, a clear vision and very loud mouths (or blogs if you may).
How did they finance it?
It didn’t really cost them much to implement Ushahidi since nothing was being outsourced as such save for the costs of hosting the website. Writing on their own blogs would cost them naught.
Did they foresee its present success?
Not in the least bit. It wasn’t until 8 months after launching Ushahidi that they received their first grant of Kshs 4 million. This opened up opportunities to launch Ushahidi in other crisis hit areas and before they knew it, they were in serious business.
i) Be willing to fail. Otherwise you miss out on the chance of success
ii) Be willing to talk about it. Sure someone else might like your idea and steal it from you (thanks to our half baked intellectual rights laws), but what other choice do you really have?
Resolve: Just take the dive. Give your product an identity, gradually grow its reputation by staying true to your word, keep the interaction going with customers, suppliers and partners alike, and ultimately build trust in your business. The rest is simply a ripple effect of this basic law.
Oh yeah, that’s it. 3 simple steps to internet business success, as proven to us so well by Ushahidi.

Pay it a visit and learn a lesson or two. Yours could be the next African Internet Success Story.


  1. 1 veepizsupport June 2, 2010 at 12:40 pm, Our online African Village. We would highly appreciate your blogging on our site. You can sign in by Open ID(use facebook, yahoomail, hotmail, etc to sign in) or register with us.

    NB: We are the premier site in the world with a University Research Tool.You can download term papers, notes, exams and research papers submitted by African students. This feature is completely free.
    Secondly, we have have a lot more features than Facebook(for example, a better chat system, games, chat rooms, university research tool, Open ID sign in, an invite tool and a lot more)
    Furthermore, we are proudly East African. Made in East Africa, coded by East Africans.
    Lastly, we are not trying to copy Facebook but we are trying to be better since it is the benchmark

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