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You do not need an App for that

A pattern I consistently notice with my Nigerian clients in the last two years is that they are unclear of what they need technology to do for them. They just know they want it. Interestingly if you dig deep enough, the issue they want to solve requires them to build no technology at all. This was initially brought to my attention in a discussion I had with Bankole, a very interesting guy who is building a media empire in Africa, ever since then I could not stop seeing it everywhere.

Beyond building custom technology, it is my job to use my past experiences to advise a client on the best route to take their business technology wise, even if it entails them not building any technology at all... this is why I do not sign NDAs.

"Software" is a hot new buzz word in Nigeria and anyone who does not have a software aided business is under the pressure of looking old school and not moving with the times. The problem is that software costs a lot of money and for young companies who have a limited budget, the cost of software can cripple them before they even start, so it is unwise to build software for the sake of having it. The most common software request I get by far is, how much will it cost to make Uber but for Plumbers, electricians, painters etc? Basically, an App that with a few taps you can get verified workers at your door to get something done for you. But this is the wrong question to be asking.

Let's use Uber for plumbers as an example. A client wants to start a business where she connects households with high quality verified plumbers. This is a huge problem in Nigeria. I cannot tell you how many times I have changed plumbers in the last two years. She comes up with a bright idea "What if there was an app for that?" and then she set out to find a developer to do this. This is akin to putting the cart before the horse. Your company is not a tech company, your company provides verified plumbers. That's it! That's the core of your business anything else is flash and optimizations. But before you get to those you need to find out if people want to pay for verified plumbers or if they are ok in their current situation. You have to test this in the cheapest way you can and if this is a real problem, people are willing to do all sorts just to never have to look for a plumber again so do not worry about how refined your process is yet, if you really deliver verified plumbers people won't care much... for now.

So what is the most effective way to make Uber for Plumbers? Just make a marketing site, explaining clearly what you provide, how much it costs and a bold phone number on the homepage of where anyone interested can call. What your company needs is visibility, not a mobile app. It is harder to find and recommend an app than to recommend a phone number or a website. When the clients' business is running and she has more calls than she can handle and she needs to optimize it, it is now time for that app. She will also be able to pay for it at this point and it will be a no-brainer.

There are so many businesses I see that want to start with an App but a phone number or a website with a contact form will suffice. After that conversation, anytime I am approached by anyone who wants to build something and is just starting out, I work with them to reduce their idea to its simplest and cheapest form if it applies. That way I have done my job and the client is always happy because they embarked on their project assuming the smallest amount of risk. Before starting any software buisness always ask if the software is needed at all to start.

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