MTN Uganda App challenge 2017.

Lessons learned and why I will participate again.

First day pitch of the idea. No body had laid hands on their keyboard to write code yet, well at least I followed the rules. Some people brought existing apps. (12th may 2017)

App challenge, such a heavy burden to bear for just a few days of the hackathon with very little reward.

Now don’t get me wrong, I learned a lot, in fact someones’ opening speech quote was, ‘the journey is the reward’. It all started when I had this crazy idea of applying for the challenge (with no clue of what it would take) on a Friday evening. One week past and I get this email telling me that my Idea has been accepted and I get to participate in the hackathon. I was filled with excitement and quickly notified my friend George about the news and asked him if he’d like to participate with me, of which he said yes. We planned our project and after three days I received three different emails asking why I had only one other team member. They thought we would never be able to pull of the idea in just 48 hrs.

Day 1.

Arrivals, introductory speeches and there came a moment I will never forget. My current boss was the keynote speaker. He was so inspiring, sharing how far he came. How he struggled to pull through and build a tech business with no tech background. I felt safe in his hands and could do anything.

Preliminary pitch time for the ideas came. We pitched our idea and suddenly the whole room came to life. We had the solution to all their problems. Guess what every outgoing youth’s problem is. “ We were building an events discovery Facebook messenger bot”. From where I come from I can

One of my favorite brands.

buy beer at 4000 Ugx, that’s about a dollar (US). Moving to work in the city, I have to pay 3 dollars for the same beer. As it turns out, there are places that offered the same beer at 1 dollar. I just had to go there at the right time and right day (HappyHour). Now you get why everybody was excited about out idea.

After all the groups pitched, work began. I was missing one of the developers I was supposed to work with, Jamal. He had a fever and I had to pull this idea of in less than 32hrs. I first started by setting up my team’s work flows and giving them a prep talk about whats expected of them. I set up a trello board and slack, then later proceeded to setup a git repository. Then a laravel backend for our bot. I invited all my contributors and called it a night. I couldn’t resist the nearby bar ‘ bubbles O’leary ’ . So we left with my friend George, sent out Whatsapp messages to the guys to meet up there. By that time it was 23.00 hrs. We had fun till 4 am in the morning and I left for home. Drunk as I was, I still had to actually code something for the morning progress checkin to the mentors. I quickly hacked a dummy bot up with chafuel.

Day 2

It was morning again. I showed up at 9.10 am, picked Jamal up (he was feeling a little better) and we Uber’ed to the hackathon.

He started bootstrapping the laravel back-end and in 6 hrs, I was deploying our first alpha (see here). I quickly built an API to connect our server to the bot and bam! the server was responding to requests from the bot. Jamal's fever got worse and he went home. That night I had to talk to Corey to help us out because things weren’t looking pretty to me. Being the only developer left on the team, I felt overwhelmed with all the to-dos that was left and remember. We were less than 8 hrs away from pitching our final prototype to the judges.

Thanks Corey.

Time for the second checkin came and I had to go and pitch our progress. Turns out, they just cared about it working. I could have just hacked a dummy json response from the server. Almost 10 hrs wasted planning, building and deploying the server.

Day 3.

Pitch and demo day was smooth on me. Not a alot of coding, thanks to the mentors suggesting I just hookup a dummy json response. We concentrated on bonding with the other team’s and building our social network. In less than 30 hrs, we managed to raise more than 420+ likes on our bots page, up to 720+ post views, 22+ client signups for the platform. Thank you Mariam for the good marketing of the platform. And hey, it was all organic. I got so nervous as the pitch time came, couldn’t eat or drink. And it was our team’s time to demo.

demo of the kanamo bot protoype to the judges and crowed.

We were so confident that we had won the mobile media category award but the nervousness never stopped, infact it tripled. The evening came to an end when the judges announced the winners for the categories. We didn’t make it as the media category winners but as the 2017 audiences favorite.

winning the audiences favorite meant more to us than the 1000 dollars award because we were building a product for the audiences, not the judges, and if we are going to be in business, we need the audience.

Up to to now, our clients and users base have been growing exponentially organically. I couldn’t be any more prouder of the leadership, management and perseverance skills I demonstrated that day.

  • I learned about product design.
  • I learned about what it takes to build a product, successful or not.
  • I learned to be patient with with my team.
  • Over all I learnt that there are more important things than just winning.

This post is dedicated to Corey and Jamal for being such good teachers, teaching me industry standard software development skills. I would like to thank MTN Uganda and Outbox for organizing the Hackathon. I wish More like this comes.

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