developing a nepali market around mobile tech
The overwhelming response to Pivot Nepal showed that we are not short of mobile app developers. But the actual hurdle now is getting those apps into the market. How can the Nepali market warm up to technological advancements? Bibhusan Bista, CEO of Young Innovations and Prawesh Shrestha, Project Manager of Mobile Social Networking Nepal, discuss on how to familiarize the Nepali market with mobile applications.
Prawesh: When talk started about handling Mobile Social Networking Nepal, only then did I come to know what mobile entrepreneurship meant. I didn’t know mobile apps were made in Nepal then. I still remember when the first Hack-a-thon was organized –only 6-7 people showed up. Later, we saw a sharp peak in the number of people who attended our events. That was the time we started going to colleges to talk about mobile technologies, Mobile Nepal and our various activities. At the end of the second year of operations, we organized Pivot Nepal.
Bibhushan: How did Pivot Nepal come to be? Was it a goal that you had already set, to do something related to entrepreneurship?
Prawesh: As a project manager I wasn’t thinking about doing anything like that. My idea was to build a community where we could do something related to mobile technology. Entrepreneurship specifically wasn’t my vision. But we decided to change the concept of Pivot Nepal so we stared organizing competitions and it started emerging in a different form. At this stage, we felt like we had achieved something. With the development that came afterwards, we realized that we had achieved equally in the field of entrepreneurship. It was then that the drive to develop mobile apps and games from Nepal got into the youth. Afterwards, few companies even started with Pivot Nepal, like StoresMunk, BirthdayForest and Yellow.
Bibhushan: Mobile Nepal was a platform for discussions and building networks while Pivot Nepal became a new stream where mobile entrepreneurship was the main idea. Honestly, Mobile Nepal started from a grant called by an international network to build up a mobile community for an amount. Back then we were a small company and we accepted the grant with just the money in mind. We came to know the details only after we had applied! But it was exciting. The grant was all about bringing people together and talking about mobile technology. We took the opportunity to go beyond what the grant expected us to do and started to build a community. With this community, we learnt that there were many app developers in Nepal who we were not aware of. But they were primarily engaged in outsourcing their knowledge to other countries. We got inspired to organize Pivot Nepal by a similar event hosted in Kenya called Pivot 25. It selected the best mobile app idea out of 25 and incubated them. We thought of doing the same at the end of our second year with Mobile Nepal. We hoped to get around 50 mobile apps and to select the best app among them which could be incubated further. We were overwhelmed by total participation of 200 ideas.
Prawesh: We selected 15 at first and then added 3 more to make a total of eighteen applicants, and categorized them into three sectors.
Bibhushan: We gave the 18 applicants trainings and skills on business development for two months. Out of those, only three were successful. But after Pivot Nepal, people started becoming more confident with starting or pitching a business related to mobile applications. Few years ago, no one would even think of starting a mobile application business in Nepal. With Pivot Nepal, people learnt that Nepal could also have a market related to it. Just today, I read in the papers that an education consultancy is starting a mobile application. But do you think our mobile applicators will be able to make profit out of this scenario?
Prawesh: I don’t think they’re directly able to profit from it now. But the market is slowly building up. Everyone is using smart phones. Even those whom you wouldn’t expect to use mobile apps.
Bibhushan: But does the Nepali community have the knowledge that apps can be bought?
Prawesh: I don’t think that concept has caught on here yet. But apps can be built in a way where business models are easy to apply. Like StoreMunk –that’s developed for stores. The offers that the stores keep on that app would require payment but the customers could use it for free. Similarly, nLocate keeps information of different locations. The app user may include some information but if they want to add more details they may have to pay for it. Another model by which a mobile app can earn could be advertising, like Nepal Loadshedding app does.
Bibhushan: Is it that local advertisers haven’t approached this technique yet? Is there anything stopping this growth? The load shedding app has 10,000 users. That’s a pretty solid market. We should see big companies marketing in them.
Prawesh: I guess the concept is slowly catching on. It is yet to be developed. A person from an advertising company I know approached me for connections to app developers. There were talks about bringing the use of mobile applications in the field of agriculture too. Many businesses are getting aware of the potentiality of the new generation and their mobile apps.
Bibhushan: Large companies like Pashupati Paints are approaching app developers to build mobile apps for them. But if you look at the international market, apps like Instagram, it became a product in itself. We should try to get there. For those products, it is not about developing an app for a company as a developer; it is about spending time and money in presenting an app that can be used by anyone.
Prawesh: nLocate started that concept. Yellow, StoreMunk and BirthdayForest are doing the same. They all started from Pivot Nepal and are now working on their apps full time.
Bibhushan: But do you know where they get their funds from?
Prawesh: They used their winning cash prize. It was 5000 US dollars for the winning team and 3000 for the category winners. Birthday Forest won only 100,000 rupees but that became a seed fund for them.
Bibhushan: So for an investor it could be a creative notion at one lakh rupees. The app developers are willing to risk what they have to build an app. But we are still missing that link that would be willing to seed fund such apps, so that developers might focus for at least a year on their products.
Prawesh: I don’t understand why such businesses aren’t willing to risk it on their part. They must have seen how foreign companies work. Why haven’t they learned anything yet?
Bibhushan: The way I see it is that when an advertisement comes on let’s say, Kantipur daily for example, it is naturally assumed that it is going to be read by a hundred and fifty thousand people in a single day. Advertising on Facebook has just caught on, which it is more effective than newspapers because of the number of users. People haven’t understood the potentiality of mobile apps. Mobile apps could be about linking your customers to your business directly. It helps to make two-way communication easier. I mean, the same level of awareness about the possibilities of mobile applications needs to be understood by business companies. They need to understand that we have the skill set and they have the investment; so let’s match it up. In two years of Mobile Monday initiatives, we have 500 community members, 50 active people and 5 emerging companies. Our goal right now should be to increase the number of companies rather than the members. The technical skills should be given to the companies for them to have an absolute business sense. Business models should be able to identify the gaps to be filled in the market which the developers may not be able to find. But it all depends on how serious they are with their enterprise. Such companies that run into their second or third year are more likely to make it.
Prawesh: Well I believe those 5-6 companies who have started with Pivot Nepal will make it because they are less in number while the demand is rising. Any competition will have many competitors but there are only one or two winners. But here the participants, besides the winners, are doing great as well.
Bibhushan: I think we should look at whether entrepreneurship is taken only as a startup or more. People need to understand that being an entrepreneur is more than quitting your job and trying to work for yourself. It is about having an eagle’s eye for problems and working on it. The passion needs to be reflected. When starting up in the technology field, everyone has passion in the beginning. But passion alone is not going to get you further. Working in the tech field means it is also about the team spirit.
Prawesh: So if a person decides he wants to make a mobile app, he might have the knowledge but he wouldn’t know the business model. He might not have the complete picture. He would need someone to help him with it.
Bibhushan: Yeah, like in the movie The Social Network, you have that one guy that’s into technology and another developing the business strategy. If I were an investor, I would observe if the company can last at least for six months.
Prawesh: And why is that?
Bibhushan: Because in the Nepali context, if you cannot make even a single rupee out of your business, the passion and everything else will deteriorate. After all it is the financial thing that drives a business. In two months you can take your product to the market. In four months you should be able to convince at least one buyer. If you can do that then it will all be about scaling. Everyone may think their idea is the best. But an idea can be the best only when you can convince the market that it is.