I first met Julius when we moved our offices to the Innovation Village. One Saturday in September, as I was clacking away on my laptop, he approached me to review EzyBando. We went through it for a few minutes and identified areas needing improvement.
This week, on Friday, he was back. He had an updated version of the app, and he asked me what I thought of it. We later met at the First Founders Lab where he introduced EzyBando to fellow founders in the room. (See also: Why I am launching Uganda’s first Founders Lab).
Julius Mutumba Kato has been working on EzyBando for four years. It is an app that improves your user experience from the boring USSD that requires you to memorize codes.
USSD based services take lead when it comes to successful tech innovations in Africa. This is due to its cost-effectiveness. Take the example of Mobile money services.
Yet, despite this, the complexity of the menu-driven user experience makes it hard to use. This is what EzyBando aims to address.
“It provides a Graphical User Interface for the user when using the services,” Julius says.
When asked about the target, Julius says “everyone who uses USSD services on a daily.” And of course, he adds, “has a smartphone or an Android device to be specific.”
Although MTN and Airtel have similar apps, Julius says he is aware. He points out that Ezy Bando still holds an advantage in several ways. One of which is that you can use the app even when offline.
“EzyBando works offline unlike the two. And, this new release combines the services for the two networks. Hence providing a seamless experience for someone who uses both networks,” Julius said.
Combining services of the leading telecom companies in the country is a plus. But, the ability to work offline might be the edge it has over both. Currently, you can’t use either of the two telecoms’ apps offline.
The new version, unlike the first one in 2014, has an airtime card scanner. This lets you scan airtime card voucher numbers using your smartphone camera. Though he thinks it is something that the telecoms might copy and paste – but will take them some time.
“It is not an impossible feature for the two competitors to add. But it could take some good time until its added, or even never,” Julius added.
The new version has less than 100 downloads so far. But Julius is optimistic it’ll perform better than the initial release. Released in 2014, the first version “got over 200 downloads without any promotion.”
And, like any app developer in a developing market, Julius has his own challenges.
“The biggest right now is that the app is limited by the USSD shortcodes. Yet the USSD API for Android is not fully available for third-party developers. So services like mobile money that don’t have this short-code can’t be included in the app yet,” Julius points out.
The other challenge is finding the right partner(s). He laments that “many see the app as a good idea, but are kept away by the complexity of monetizing it.” This has left him to work alone on the application.
“I’ve actually tried to work with a company I won’t mention here but unfortunately, we did not go very far on it. This kept the app dormant for over two years until a few week ago that I resumed with some updates and published it again.”
Aside from MTN and Airtel, he says that there’s no serious competition. Those that would be contending for the same position have not managed to survive. Yet, the same challenges that befell the would-be his competitors might be the same for him.
“I’ve not seen any other serious competition around yet, there was one who I used to see but it’s no longer traceable,” Julius says. USSD based services continue to grow in Uganda and all over Africa. And Julius believes the need for this type of solution will also increase.
He, of course, agrees that a partnership with a telecom company is inevitable. But he thinks this will be “mostly due to the fact that the app is built on top of their services.” So, any unfavorable change in the structure of their services can render the app useless.
This is a great app, apart from the fact that it is not easy to monetize, can be copied and doesn’t yet support mobile money. But, if he can not figure out a partnership with a telecom, maybe TrueCaller might be interested.
Try out the app here and, Julius requests that you, leave a review