Here’s what actually went down at the 2019 Mojaloop Bootcamp.
Our experience building EastPay
In early April, myself from Vessels Tech along with Sid Garg from Teller were selected to take part in the very first Mojaloop Coding Bootamp in Dar es Salaam. The bootcamp was a hybrid of DFS Lab’s normal design sprint, with more of a focus on engineering — specifically on Mojaloop: a promising open source platform for interoperable banking championed by The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Among attendance were some of the most successful fintechs from the African continent and the world, including Paystack and Carbon from Nigeria, Jumo from Kenya, GrameenPhone from Bangladesh to name a few. The bootcamp also boasted an experienced team of mentors guiding the teams through the process from BMGF, ModusBox, Beyonic, Caribou Digital and many more.
Of course, this was all headed up by the experienced team from DFS Lab, who have a good deal of experience running these bootcamps.
You may have read my previous post about our ideas for fintech products on top of mojaloop here, but if you haven’t that’s ok— over the course of the 4 days our idea took on many different forms, culminating in our live demo of EastPay. You can checkout the demo here.
I’m going to walk through each step of our experience at the bootcamp, and run through the process of taking our idea from a half-formed idea to execution. Some of these steps will be familiar if you have ever been through a design sprint before (lots of post-its, and copious amounts of dot stickers), combined with DFS Labs’ experience of running sprints in teams, focused on building new tools and services on top of Mojaloop.
Monday: The idea (or lack thereof)
Monday was by far the toughest day for us. We started by writing up our company’s goal and our goal for what Mojaloop might specifically be able to do (named a Mojaloop Goal). During the bootcamp, each team would take a definitive first step towards their own Mojaloop Goal.
So here they are:
Vessels Tech/Teller Goal: “Drive increased adoption of financial services by improving transparency”
Mojaloop Goal: “Finding the cheapest/easiest way to get your money from A to B”
Our idea was really a hybrid between flights lookup services, such as Skyscanner, and a personal finance advice service, like Nerdwallet.
We came to this idea after diving into the Mojaloop API Specification, and seeing how the comprehensive quotes service worked, a service that informs users about the cost of a transfer before initiating a transfer. While this process took place just before sending a transfer, we had two questions:
- What if we could build upon the quotes to help users pick and choose which Bank or MMO to store their savings or make day to day transactions with?
- What if there was a cheaper way for them to transfer money using a different service they might not yet know about? Could we help inform users and help them switch to a cheaper service?
The trouble with our idea on Monday was that it was far too broad. We had no idea who or what A and B was. As the saying goes, “if you build something for everyone, you build it for no one”. Nevertheless, we pushed on with the sprint process, and by the end of the idea, we had picked our A and B; East African Entrepreneurs/SMEs, and Merchants on Alibaba.
Tuesday: Too late to turn back
At the start of the day, I was worried that our idea wasn’t really going to pan out. Our choice of an A and B for the prototype seemed too niche, and we chose it based on a few hunches.
We needed to validate the market, understand an actual problem to be solved, and figure out how exactly we would be able to use Mojaloop.
Without getting too technical, our initial proposed system wasn’t yet possible using Mojaloop. We wanted to expose a public endpoint (or endpoints) to look at each DFSP’s Quote service, something that we would have to build ourselves.
Luckily; we had an epiphany — instead of querying a common Mojaloop API to get all of the quotes for multiple DFSPs, we could just query each and every DFSP attached to a Mojaloop switch to look up the quotes. This method would take more work on our server’s side, but it meant we didn’t need to reinvent the wheel or convince DFSPs to condone a new extension of Mojaloop.
Wednesday: Build, Build, Relax
Wednesday saw us starting the code for our prototype. We built out a simple API, which talks to a Mojaloop deployment using a demo DFSP called Finteract and hacked together a website that talks to this API. Overall, it was quite straightforward technically. That means that either our idea was too simple, or maybe I’m just getting better as a developer.
We finished off the day by the beach sharing stories about anything from each other’s experiences in the Fintech space, to life in Kenyan boarding schools. Amazing things happen when you get people together from all around the world!
Thursday: Build, Build, Present
With the code for our prototype well underway, we started Thursday with a comfortable amount of time. For the first time ever, we were to finish a hackathon by about lunch time, and had plenty of time to put together a reasonably slick presentation.
Here’s our deck:
And you can see a little video demo here in this tweet from DFS Lab:
We ended the night dining at an Ethiopian restaurant. It’s not a bad way to end a busy week!
Friday and Onwards
On Friday morning, Sid and I planned ahead for EastPay. Both of us are big fans of the idea, and after just a little bit of desk research, we learned that the market for buying goods on Alibaba and shipping them to East Africa is growing, and the logistical challenges are not straightforward at all.
We’re going to continue our market research, and then turn EastPay into a valid project: by integrating 3rd party remittance/currency exchange services, and (for now) removing the Mojaloop integration until there’s a public Mojaloop deployment ready for us to talk to.
We are also going to work on a more formal report that will be helpful for presenting our concept at some upcoming events in the Mojaloop space.
Apart from that, we had some great conversations with people from the Gates Foundation and the DFS Lab team about how we might start contributing to the Mojaloop project, so we’ll start hunting around for a couple issues on Github that we can start with.