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In Kenya, Apps Fizzle Out After Winning Competitions

BY Jessica McKenzie | Tuesday, June 11 2013

Nairobi (Sam Stearman/Wikipedia)

This spring, Kenyan tech blogger Kennedy Kachwanya left the regional Microsoft Imagine Cup competition thoroughly underwhelmed by the quality of the apps presented. He then wrote an impassioned post (in his words, a rant) on his website about the decline of the Kenyan mobile app. He is also outraged because even winning apps seem to fall off the map – basically fail – after the competition is over and media coverage dies down.

Kachwanya wrote:

Kenya is full of winners, winners of all sort of competitions and challenges, but the pressing questions is do winners end up being something beyond the winning. Having been on this industry for a while, I don’t expect instant success but there is deafening silence about most of the winners to the extent that you would think that all their apps died straight after winning. For example I have talked about Tough Jungle but the last time I heard from them was when they won the competition. Where is Ma3Racer which won the Pivot East competition last year, where are the guys who won the Startup Garage, how about the winners of Startup Weekend, same goes to the winner of Nokia Hackathon and Google Android Challenge? Since the judges give all these apps thumb-ups, may be the problem lies with the judges or if not that then the criteria they use to judge them.

Although Tough Jungle was rated one of the best apps in Kenya earlier this year by this tech blogger, Google Play turns up nothing when searched. Meanwhile, Ma3Racer last posted “News” in September 2011.

At the regional Microsoft Imagine Cup in Kenya this year, the applications presented included an app to increase malaria awareness and another to increase gender awareness, as well as “health and fitness outfits.” Kachwanya apparently found them disappointing.

It is not just app competitions that are a problem. Kachwanya also observes that “considering the fact that the likes of IBM don't trust the local talents to run their innovation and research center in Nairobi, something is not right.”

TechPresident reached Kennedy Kachwanya for addition comments. He added:

The apps coming out Kenya are fantastic in every sense, but I think the founders and Developers miss the point when come sustainability and making them successful businesses. Kenya is still a young market, especially to do with getting the funding for startups . There are a number of Venture Funds and accelerator funds but the level of funding for startups is still very low. So the best way for an app to survive is to have business case from the word go. The problem is, that is not the case for most apps, The Founders and developers spend all their time looking for funding instead of looking for clients or consumers.

Maybe companies sponsoring these competition have become aware of winners' failures to turn a good app into a real business. One of the newest competitions on the block is Safaricom AppWiz Challenge, which is a follow-up to their Safaricom AppStar Challenge. However, the AppWiz challenge is designed to help developers learn business and marketing skills so that their successful app becomes a successful, self-sustaining enterprise.

The competition app fizzle is hardly a new problem and it is not unique to Kenya, either. In 2011 Radar published a post that said, “It's now widely recognized that most of the apps produced by government challenges are quickly abandoned.” The article addresses government-sponsored challenges specifically, but Kachwanya observes similar problems with corporate-sponsored challenges.

Kachwanya seems to think the problem is in the judging criteria; that apps are winning that do not deserve to win. Judging Safaricom's newest Challenge, they seem to think the problem is lack of business skills. People have gone app happy, causing one David Levin, a chief medical information officer at the Cleveland Clinic who reviews new health technologies, to nickname the bad ones “CrApps.”

This January MajiRipoti, an app from a Kenyan company, took the top spot in the Open Data category at the 2012 Nokia 'DoGood” Hackathon competition. With the app, users can report broken water or swear pipes and illegal manipulation of the water supply, big problems in Nairobi. Ideally it will make water service providers more accountable and reliable and it will also help with water conservation and pollution prevention. As the latest winning app from a country of winning apps, we can only wait and watch to see if it actually 'DoesGood' in Kenya.

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network for its generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.