A different strategy for providing startups access to senior engineering and design talent

By Kennedy Kirui
iHub Consulting
  Published 20 Nov 2018
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Building an African startup (in Africa or targeting the African market) is no mean feat. As a founder, you will encounter countless challenges. That is the case at almost every step in the journey from idea, finding product/market fit, and scaling. When you speak to founders, they will ultimately talk about challenges raising capital, weak infrastructure, inconsistent government regulations, minimal government assistance, and access to talent to name a few.

Access to talent is a significant challenge and has lead to the growth of recruitment startups targeting the African market such as Fuzu, Brave, DropQue, DumaWorks, and Shortlist to name a few. To a large extent, these startups have plugged the gap. However, recruiting for senior engineering, product, and UX roles remains a big hurdle. For growth stage startups, this can significantly stifle their growth. For early stage startups, it can be the difference between success and failure as they usually have a short window to develop and get a product to market. A prolonged development period is likely to eat away at all the resources available to a startup leading to its death.

A majority of startups still consider doubling down on recruitment as the best way to overcome the challenge of access to highly skilled talent. At iHub Software Consulting (iSC), we think there is another way around the problem. iSC is an independent operational entity within iHub providing design thinking and software consultancy services. We work with startups, corporates, and NGOs to build products for African markets. To achieve this, we have established a culture that allows innovation to thrive and created a diverse team of builders who can take an idea from conception to market and growth.

Tackling the challenge with access to senior talent

Cognizant of the reality that startups at different stages have different needs, we have worked on three distinctive ways startups can engage with us.

  • Project-based — access to a diverse team that can take on a full project. Ideal for projects/products that start from a concept all the way to deployment
  • Dedicated Resource for Hire — access to individual dedicated resources (both design & engineering) embedded in an existing team. Ideal for companies/startups with a current team but looking to have additional capacity on short notice for at least three months
  • Expertise on-demand — access to an individual resource for a specified period to take on a specific task. Ideal for companies/startups looking for highly skilled jobs such as devops and UX research executed within a short period

How does it work? To answer that question, I will share with you work we did with Twiga Foods, Sky. Garden, and Ongair.

Project-Based — Sky.Garden

Sky.Garden is a SaaS-based product distribution platform with advanced m-commerce capabilities that allows informal traders, SMEs and established businesses to sell their products online. By January 2018, Sky. Garden had 3,000 different webshops, and the number was growing at 25% on month-to-month. Sky. Garden currently sells and delivers products all over Kenya and plans are underway to expand across the region.

Sky.Garden approached iSC late in 2016 with an exciting challenge; they were done with the ideation stage of their product and needed it built fast. Initially, we augmented their lead developer and over time took over as the engineering team taking the platform from a prototype to launch. We worked with the Sky Garden team to build and launch the MVP (6 weeks) and continued providing dedicated design and engineering support for eleven months after the launch of the MVP.

To achieve this, iSC provided a team comprising of a SCRUM master, front-end developer, back-end developer, and an Android developer. The iSC team worked with the Sky Garden team to plan, develop, test and deploy new features on the platform.

Building a pioneering e-commerce platform that aims to empower the next generation of African retailers and informal sellers is not about great code, it is about piecing the fragments of a shared vision into a beautiful tapestry. Sky.Garden partnered with iHub Software Consulting shortly after conclusion of our ideation phase. Their team provided tremendous value in development of our initial prototype all through to Proof of Concept roll-out. With the help of iHub Software Consulting, we have grown our merchant base from 50–5700+ in under 18 months. We highly recommend their ability to provide skilled developers who understand local customer needs, render world-class consultancy services and execute fantastic project management skills — Daniel Maison, CEO & Co-Founder, Sky.Garden

iSC’s lead developer on the project, James Mwai, joined Sky.Garden at the end of Sky.Garden’s engagement with iSC as a CTO and Co-Founder. He is now in charge of building the tech team that will take Sky.Garden to the next level. In February 2018, Sky Garden raised their seed round worth $1.2 million to scale their product.

Dedicated Resource for Hire — Twiga Foods

Twiga Foods is a tech-enabled startup bridging gaps in food and market security through an organized platform for an efficient, fair, transparent and formal marketplace.

One of the biggest impediments Twiga has faced as they grow is access to experienced tech talent. It takes a considerable amount of time to shortlist, interview, and onboard new talent hindering the speed at which the tech team can build and ship.

By leveraging our developer for hire service, Twiga has managed to bolster their developer team and increase their output. Two developers from the iSC team, a senior front-end developer and a senior back-end developer, work on a day-to-day basis with the Twiga tech team. They are embedded within the organization and are involved in the planning, development, and shipping of different aspects of the Twiga platform.

We engaged iHub Software Consulting to provide us with consultants to work on various teams in our technology department. As a fast-growing company having a high rate of product development, we wanted to ensure that we worked with experienced engineers that would produce quality work in a timely manner, and they were able to execute this for us. — Caine Wanjau, CTO, Twiga Foods

Developer On-Demand — Ongair Ltd

Kenya’s Ongair is a web-based dashboard that enables businesses to engage with their customers on instant messaging platforms like WhatsApp, Messenger, Telegram, and WeChat. Since its inception in 2015, Ongair has been used by a growing list of over 700 businesses around the world, including media, e-commerce platforms, universities, financial institutions, and nonprofit organizations.

Ongair reached out to us at a time when they were rapidly scaling and needed help on two fronts. First, they wanted to rework how their infrastructure was set up. The existing set up was not scalable and deployment was a pain. Secondly, they were looking to add a Python developer to their team for a month to speed up the delivery of a critical module.

iSC provided Ongair with a DevOps engineer for two weeks and a Python developer for a month.

We approached the iHub Software Consulting team at a time when our customer base was growing faster than we were able to serve them, because we didn’t have an architecture built for scale. With their help we were able to build a truly scalable architecture helping us connect thousands of business to their customers worldwide. They have a great and skilled team that worked will with our developers to achieve this. — Trevor Kimenye, Co-founder and CEO, OngairLtd

Based on the examples above, we believe we have found a way to provide startups with senior engineering and design talent at critical points in their journey. We can’t wait to work with more startups and see them fulfill their potential.

iHub Software Consulting (iSC) is a design thinking and software development consultancy company working with corporates, startups, and NGOs to build products for African markets. We offer user research, design thinking workshop facilitation, and software development services. We are legally registered as Tanasuk Africa and established legally through an agreement between iHub Limited and Tanasuk Africa to co-develop the iSC brand.

Interested in our services? Reach out via [email protected]

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