On 27 March 2010, Erik Hersman otherwise known as White African was invited by Aly Khan Satchu (Rich.co.ke) to come give a talk about Ushahidi and iHub. It was quite an informative and engaging talk. Erik was quite open and descriptive about Ushahidi, how it began, how they got seed money, gaining success and what else is in the works for Ushahidi.
Ushahidi has gone international and has been praised by many sectors of the modern society. It has been used in South Africa during the Xenophobic attacks, Congo violence, India elections, Pakistan violence, Haiti earthquake, Washington snowstorm and recently in Chile earthquakes. Locally Ushahidi has been rolled out to report Crime activity in Nairobi, Kenya through Hatari.co.ke
On technology start-ups Erik was quite straight about a few things
Build first, Money later
One should build their credibility and image so if one has an idea one should work on it and not concentrate on getting funding prior. In his opinion many techies tend to expect seed money first before developing their idea…and that’s how ideas die or someone else develops it before them. He gave the example of Ushahidi where it started from no funding, using volunteers free time which was weekends and nights. In the end the great product that came out of the skills, goodwill and passion of the volunteers gave them a good reputation and credibility. The fact that they made it Open Source and the way they launched did actually add reputation to their name and product.
Erik also happened to comment on one having to always be working on a concept even if it gains success. He gave a point in case of Safaricom’s MPESA which is a revolutionary concept he stated that it has great potential but at Safaricom’s pace don’t be surprised if someone else improves the concept to a much better improved service and take over the Mobile Cash transfer business in Kenya and maybe in the world.
In this regard Ushahidi is always being improved with new ideas and modules being worked on. In order to improve the credibility of data gathererd from the different sources, Ushahidi have developed Swift River. SwiftRiver is a free and open source software platform that uses a combination of algorithms and crowdsourced interaction to validate and filter news.Swift River acts as the verifying filter for different channels (Twitter, email, news sites, blogs, and SMS) and is possible precisely because of the volume of information available from these sources.
Amongst his important advice to all, he suggested
In whatever you do make 80% normal and 20% edgy
The 20% may not produce any fruitful results but is has the potential to yield great results which may help in creating innovative and novice ideas.
Erik also spoke about iHub , Nairobi’s Innovation Hub for the technology community where technologists, investors, tech companies and hackers with a focus on young entrepreneurs, web and mobile phone programmers and designers in the area can use the area as an open workspace. He described its objectives, potential and the dreams he has for this initiative. He dreams that with such initiatives and other innovations Nairobi could be the technology hub in Africa. He further insisted on the need of iHub to remain neutral in terms to the Technology partners they take up so as not to be deemed as partisan to specific platforms hence locking out other potential areas. One of iHub’s main agenda is to create an open environment to be innovative, creative and open doors for ideas to thrive since it can be considered as a pre-incubator.
Erik hopes that such hubs in Africa could create a network between themselves and elevate the technological potential in Africa before reaching out to other hubs around the world.The White African also indicated the need for a 1 Stop Shop on ICT here in Kenya and the void may need to be filled soon which he hoped someone would take up the initiative.
After the session Erik Hersman was kind enough to answer questions from the audience on any issue from ICT, Ushahidi, Venture Capitalism and his advise on various issues for upcoming techies.