The young Ugandan creating apps for Nokia Apps from Africa
Meet Uganda App Billionaire
Abdu Sekalala walks into the Computer laboratory where I am waiting for him to do this interview like he has struck Gold indeed. Aside from the fact that he has a sort of shyness about him, don’t be fooled because when he starts to talk technology, his worth is indeed Gold.
Sekalala, a 22 year old student at the School of Computing and Information Technology, Makerere University has a portfolio of 9 internationally rated mobile phone apps or applications under his arm and is raking in thousands of dollars per month as more users download the apps.
Makerere University, the region’s oldest and once most respected institution has for a while not been in the news for its research or teaching programs.
Rather it has been strikes over pay to lecturers and Professors, political activism and the like, but Sekalala’s story is a fantastic Public Relations opportunity the university needs to take advantage of.
A lot of criticism has come the institution’s way for doling out second rate graduates whose touch with the reality of the job market is wanting.
Now, Sekalala’s story gives credence to the fact that geniuses yet walk the theatres of this ninety year old institution or the long running criticism for the institution is finally bearing fruit.
The bespectacled Abdu swaggers into the interview location wearing sandals, jeans and a collar less blue T shirt, holding his laptop computer. Right away, he is not someone you hope will be speaking much.
He actually appears shy. Then we get down to what he does and it is not far into the interview that it hits me this guy is a rare find. This is not just a student who studies to master his course; he has the future in mind, with the calculated mind of a business man in the market place.
Sekalala, together with several other students in the School of Computing and IT got an opportunity to be trained by Nokia to develop market relevant applications for the Mobile giant’s OVi store in 2011.
He is not the only one who has gone ahead and developed barrier breaking application since the training, a colleague, Kevin Opio, has already developed an app that translates English into Kiswahili and vice versa. But it is Sekalala’s consistence and drive without trying that makes him stand out.
To date he has nine apps to his name and he is raring to go. Among them is nLight Flashlight, Word book, WhirlSports and Uganda theme his most downloaded application so far. Others are 101 Romantic SMS, Christmas Cheer, Happy New Year, Blue Ice and Tutu translate. An application is a computer program designed to make life easier or fun.
Mobile applications run directly on mobile or tablet operating systems. Examples of such applications include the Facebook or Twitter application for tablets. They are generally available in an App store. A user needs to download the application and run it on their Smartphone or tablet to access it.
Some of them could be functional like the flashlight which gives light in a dark place once downloaded or a wallpaper like the Uganda theme which has crossed quarter a million hits so far.
What does the Uganda app do? Why Nokia OVi store? “Nokia is still the most sought out phone in the entire world. Out of every ten people seven have a Nokia phone.
So we have over a billion people out there in the world with a Nokia phone and all those are potential clients for my applications,” Sekalala answers without a thought. Well, other than the fact that the initial training was sponsored by Nokia, Sekalala shares that the flexibility with which one can treat their apps is what makes the OVi store his choice.
Once he develops an app, Sekalala shares it on the Nokia OVi store and any one visiting the site can choose to download it. Sekalala says that the fact that he earns about 70 percent of the money from his applications, his strategy makes great sense. “I can choose to monetize my applications depending on how many hits each is getting in a particular time. Monetization involves putting a price to an application which is charged when one downloads,” he explains.
However he says he makes applications he has chosen to be downloaded free to attract more traffic to them and his other apps and he consequently makes more money from them.
“The free apps actually fetch much more money because I allow companies to attach adverts to them so I share that revenue from advertising,” Sekalala notes.
Any money invested? With a laugh Sekalala says that he does not invest any money. “I simply invest time a lot of time and energy. Developing an application takes a lot of time and concentration,” says Sekalala.
“Even after developing one, sometimes it may not be perfect. What I do different is that each and everyone who downloads my apps can interact with me directly on email and I will fix any bugs which may have come up during usage.”
Sharing his strategy for success “Majorly, it is simple dedication. A Senior Four student can put me out of business if I do not give it time.” While most students his age know Facebook simply as a social site, Sekalala looked at the social networking site differently and wondered whether he could create something along those lines and takes the founder Mark Zuckerberg as his role model.
“I look up to him and I want to make as much money from ICT as he has. Already I make more money than my lecturers; I make at least US$100 (Ushs 250,000) each day from each of my applications,” he says with a hearty laugh.
“My plan is to make a million dollars before year end and at least a hundred million dollars before I am thirty,” Sekalala goes on, this time without a trace of a smile as he delivers this mind blowing number like he is talking in terms of Uganda shillings.
Sekalala’s internationally rated application Wordbook has already gone commercial and is making for him one Euro per down load or Ushs 3,200. It is a dictionary application with word of the day capability fully packed with definitions, examples and a selection of related words. The day of the interview, three of his applications were among the OVi store’s top ten downloads.
His other application Uganda Theme is a free download which has attracted over 300,000 downloads making it the third most downloaded application and it hit the top ten list the day he launched it. Ssekalala’s first application for the Android phones was published on the Samsung store in April 2012.
This application is a modification of the 101 Romantic SMS which is currently between the 8th – 15th most downloaded applications on the Nokia OVi Store. The wowing effect of this young student aside, the lasting question may be whether Makerere University can replicate successes like Sekalala within the School of Computing and IT.
Think about, the US has millions of Sekalala’s. Beyond the School of Computing and IT, can Makerere replicate Sekalala’s story across the board.
Hopefully Sekalala is not a single flash out of the dark and there are other students like him elsewhere who have great ideas or creations but cannot take them commercial because of shortcomings of a different kind.
But one other thing stands out, a few months after Google Uganda appointed its Country Manager, Ham Namakajo, in his exclusive interview in the CEO Magazine, he pointed out that Uganda has rare world talent, which was one of the factors on top of available opportunities for world class growth of ICT as a business which informed the decision to set up a Google country office.
Most importantly though, Namakajo said, “the people to watch are the young people between the ages of 16 to 28.These given the right tools and training will transform not just the ICT industry but the entire Ugandan economy.