Ever Thought Of Building An Online Community? [Interview]

For the readers that don’t know, our interviewee today, Francis, is the founder of The Young Professionals Google Group, a java guru, and a successful internet entrepreneur. He sells e-books as well as advertisements on his Google group. Bwana Francis is also the chairman of the League of Young Professionals – a club in which I am a member.

Q. You’re quite an achiever, tell us about you
I am a software developer by profession and a social entrepreneur by choice. My passion is to see how we can tap the incredible power of web 2.0 technologies (specifically on communication and collaboration) to create great communities and then harness their power and influence to create capacity to solve problems, produce ideas and valued products. There are various tools and applications that individuals, groups, organizations and businesses use/ can use among them message boards, blogs, websites and web portals, mailing lists, news sites, SMS solutions, social sites like twitter and facebook etc

YP Google group is just one of such tool we are using to create a community of passionate young professionals who have a shared purpose of developing themselves and building a better Kenya.

To illustrate the enormous power of such technologies and the online communities around them, one needs to look at the role they played in the election of President Barrack Obama. Voters were reminded via SMS to go vote, could follow the updates of their candidate on Twitter & Facebook, huge amount of campaign money raised online as well as having vibrant discussion of issues on blogs, message boards and mailing lists. We do also have fortune 500 companies who have companies’ weblogs for their staff to blog about the personal life and their companies’ products. The ascendance of free and open source software can also be attributed to this.

Q. How did it start?
It started when I was doing my BSC in computer science. I become passionate about programming by seeing it is possible to create applications which can be used to solve a real problem. Once I got into web technologies, through curiosity and experimentation I looked at the available tools that could be used to achieve the goal, and a Google group and facebook group were the entry points. With time, I and the team I work with, shall be churning out a more integrated platform of all the technology to build great web portal

Q. What challenges did you face and how did you overcome them?
Most of the challenges were intrinsic (within), and I mean the prejudices and bias that the environment taught me as I grew up. Mostly everyone believes after campus you should be employed and not to experiment with ideas and risk. To overcome such I had to unlearn what I have been taught so that I could absorb new ideas and perceptions.

Secondly, IT is a field that requires specialized technical expertise some of which is rarely taught in schools. For example, to build my programming skills I had to proactively learn the java programming language for over four years through self study.

Q. What are the challenges of being an entrepreneur in Kenya?
There are two sets of challenges, one uniquely specific to internet industry and secondly the challenges of any business startup or initiative.

With regard to 1st, the % of Kenyans who have access and use internet regularly is around 8.6% of the total population as compared to countries like USA who have above 46% usage. So a large percentage of the population doesn’t access any product, service or platform that is internet based.

With regard to the 2nd, among the top challenges I can pinpoint that cuts across all industries in Kenyan context are firstly getting funds to finance your venture, secondly fierce competition from established and large global companies and thirdly building a successful business requires a large investment of your time and needs patience and commitment

Q. What was critical to your success?
It’s hard to single out one or a few since I believe it’s a whole set of skills which I could call the winning combination, but they generally fall in 3 domains.

  1. My ability and the passion to learn. Generally I buy & read at least 2 books (mostly on business & management) a month.
  2. Technical expertise. My programming skills are very good and I never cease to try to become even more qualified. I am always sharpening my saw, learning new skills and craft I need to get something done, being more competent either in programming or any other roles
  3. Emotional Intelligence. Mastered myself, can manage myself and my relationship with others. Can easily understand my emotions and the behavior of others.

All the three orchestrated together, I can say they are what is critical to my success.

Q. What about the competition and marketing, do you need to advertise, print flyers participate to conferences or is it mostly word of mouth?
Mostly through word of mouth and email marketing.

Q. Do you think that in order to “make it big” online you have to live in a Western country? Or does Kenya offer more or less the same opportunities?
Definitely that is a myth. Making money online is possible since I am making quite a lumpsome. You just need to have the right product, well priced and packaged and target the right audience.

Q. Where do you see yourself and your business (es) in the next 5 years?
I believe we shall have built the required competences and products to provide communication & collaboration solutions, be it to political parties, large organizations, community groups, NGOs, Small and Medium Enterprises and well as having flagship enterprise applications for mass usage.

Q. If you had to do it all over again, what would you do differently?
Not really, same direction but different routes. With experience I have come to know which works and which doesn’t work. Definitely I would avoid the latter, while only keeping the former.

Q. What advice do you have for internet business entrepreneurs in Kenya?
I will quote Charlotte Bunch who once said “We do not need, and indeed never will have all the answers before we act…… It is often through taking action that we can discover some of them.” Lets not be afraid to try and fail, it’s through trying, failing, having false head starts that we can only make great reaps ahead.

That’s all for today readers. If you’d like to hear more of Francis, please join the YP Google group and The League of Young Professionals. You can also reach him at the following:

Email – francis.mwangi.chege[at]yahoo.com
Alt – francis.mwangi.chege[at]gmail.com
Phone +254 721 663 208
On Twitter – https://twitter.com/francismwangi
On Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/profile.php#/profile.php?id=1579110764&ref=profile

PS Francis has a very good deal on a package of 800+ ebooks.

Additional Resources


  1. Great work namesake………am sure with time you shall rip the benefits of your work….all the best

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