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· Oct 10, 2017

Evelyn Namara Points Out 5 Things That Helped Her Build an Award Winning Tech Product in Uganda

Recently, !nnovate – a company co-founded by Evelyn Namara – won the overall entrepreneur award in the Agriculture sector at this year’s Women In Africa club Summit in Marrakesh, Morocco.

This joins the ICT for Development award won at this year’s Uganda Communication Commission’s ACIA Awards in May. And, of course, a couple others won by Evelyn in a personal capacity, but basing on her work at !nnovate.

In a conversation, she revealed what has enabled !nnovate to stand out.

  1. Uniqueness

Evelyn points out !nnovate’s uniqueness as the key and lead factor.

“I think what makes us specifically unique is that we’re solving a problem that is actually there,” Evelyn says.

Solving a problem that’s ‘actually’ there is fast becoming a differentiating factor between solutions that become successful and those that last for a while.

The problem !nnovate is solving is demanded, that’s why she added that “when you have a product that is solving a specific problem, you definitely are going to have the buzz”.

“Most startups you find start with the product, then look for the solution or to think ‘who’s my customers?'” Yet, product development demands that you start by identifying the problem, then work backwards – not the other way round.

“For us, we took some time to step out and understand what people want in the payments sector – especially the unbanked in the agricultural sector,” Evelyn pointed out. Adding that “once we knew that we just specifically went for the solution”.

2. Past Experience

Evelyn has been around enough to see the tech and startup scene in Kampala and Africa evolve. She has worked for several companies as well as sought advice and mentorship from many.

This, she believes has been one of the contributing factors to understanding how to build customer-centric solutions that go along way to captivate people’s attention.

“Well, I think it is through my journey as an entrepreneur. Because I have done Computer science and a few other things in social entrepreneurship,” Evelyn Namara on how she is able to build a unique product.

From Outbox, Startup Weekend and so many other events and mentorship programs, Evelyn believes she has done it all. Which experience has eventually helped her understand and appreciate the process of building a product that solves a real need.

3. Focusing on the need, not coolness

While as many people are solely focused on developing solutions for the smartphone, Evelyn suggests that that’s not the right way to approach the process of developing tech products.

“We also want to do solutions of smartphones and look cool and we’re like ‘wow, my app is here and it works like this’,” Evelyn says.

But at the end of the day, as Evelyn pointed out, “if you’re solving a real problem and you know the needs of the people, then you have to give them the solutions that work for them.”

“I mean if you’re going to work with smallholder farmers and we are saying that we need them to help them,” Evelyn noted, “then we need to take the most feasible option.”

She advises that one needs to come up with a solution that’ll meet the users at the technology level of understanding they are at first.

4. Previous work experience

Evelyn pointed out that her previous work experience has been very key in learning the line of business she is in.

“It is very key to learn whatever business you’re going to do or whatever product you’re trying to work on,” Evelyn says.

“You definitely need to know the ins and outs. Who the stakeholders are, who you’re going to work with,” she added. She gave herself as an example having a background in tech and previous work experience in Social Entrepreneurship.

She has worked with companies like Beyonic – which does bulk payments. An experience she attributes her knowledge of doing bulk payments with MTN and Airtel to.

“I developed a lot of partnerships and knowing how do you deal with partners like Airtel and MTN if you need to get something from them,” Evelyn on the importance of having work experience.

5. Patience 

In most cases, Evelyn says, it comes down to patience, yet some people are usually looking for quick results.

“I know so many entrepreneurs that have totally given up on solutions I thought were really really amazing,” Evelyn on the importance of patience.

Rough times are surely going to knock, more than a couple of times. But, Evelyn advises that the solution is not throwing in the towel.

“We have had to be persistent at some point,” she recalls. However, it is not enough to have patience, you need to be improving during the process. And, as Evelyn advises, “If you’ve had one customer, how do you get from that one customer to the next customer?”

To also ensure she did not throw in the towel, she surrounded herself with a group of people to help her. “Find a network of like-minded people,” she advises.

“Put yourself in a position where you can get information everywhere. There’re so many volunteers out there. But if you do not know how to network and get out there, you’ll never know these people”.

Africa's early stage and technology companies recorded 454 deals last year worth $1.19 Billion. Get the Digest Africa Index to find out more.