Building mobile apps and services for emerging markets

Markets like Africa present a unique challenge and opportunity when it comes to the development and rollout of mobile centric services, as they present the full spectrum of user scenarios. From user needs to device types the roadmap is not always clear.

While in other markets it is common to see focus on “vanity” applications and services; which bring in huge amounts of revenue, I believe that for Africa and other emerging markets the real numbers and revenues lie in utility based applications that will improve the lot of their users. We are yet to crack the code on a wider scale but we have seen the potential in outlier services like Mpesa.

Is there a production model that will allow us to create with a high level of accuracy applications and services that will hit the spot? One size may not fit all, but there are four points that should be part of any development process.


Highly assumed in local mobile application development, research should inform everything and should be the first process applied to any project to optimize both resource and capital constraints. It need not be the expensive commissioned type; a well thought out desk research may provide the needed intelligence to get going.

Business Models

Generating revenue to at least break even is a must. This has been the bane of many pilot projects that while looking to address the needs of millions of users have failed to nail the business model that will see services support themselves once funding support is withdrawn. Both commercial and social enterprises must get their models right to avoid the dead-pool.

Choice of technology

One may be lost in the excitement of new technology that many developers are experimenting with and the media highlighting. This needs to be informed from research that was carried out to determine the medium of choice used by the target consumers. While you  may want “mama mboga” to take up “ice-cream sandwich” Android’s latest variant, the reality may be that a USSD based app will rock her world.


Downtimes don’t auger well for any service therefore when talking scalability think availability. For services that will hopefully have users in the hundreds of thousands or millions, you must deliver on the promise and build with scale in mind.

This may seem pretty straightforward but you may be surprised at how many services go straight from idea to production only to grapples with issues brought about by having ignored these basic components.

An Africa based entrepreneur in the pursuit of opportunities without regard to resources currently controlled striving to build services that have real-world value for my beloved continent and beyond while having fun along the way.

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