Thursday September 23 2010

Thriving on an innovative and enterprising mind

Mr Kalibwani

Mr Kalibwani makes a presentation during the Mobile Monday Kampala chapter, where he was selected to represent Uganda at the Awards in Finland. 

By Walter Wafula

Meet Revence Kalibwani, a 25 year-old ‘self-made’ software developer. The computer whiz kid is set to represent Uganda at the 2010 Mobile Monday Peer Awards in Helsinki, Finland on September 26.
The prestigious mobile communication awards recognise outstanding mobile software developers from around the world annually. The awards are an initiative of Mobile Monday global, the international association for mobile professionals, and visionaries.

Mr Kalibwani was nominated for the Peer Awards two weeks ago after outshining eight other software developers including; certified information technology expert from Uganda Telecom and information technology (IT) students from Makerere University. Interestingly, he has neither an information technology or computer science degree to his name but practical experience from a Kampala-based IT firm.

Mr Kalibwani emerged winner of the contest after presenting his Adjection software application at the Mobile Monday Kampala Peer Award Review conference last month. Adjection enables people to surf the internet on mobile and computers at lower costs by letting advertiser’s to subsidize the cost of access to the internet.

The application is almost similar to Google’s Adwords, the global giant search engine’s most profitable business segment. Like Adwords, Adjection “injects” adverts on second party website pages, to market company products and services to consumers.

Online advertising is a multi-billion dollar industry. Online search leader Google alone, earned $23 billion (Shs52 trillion) from advertising sales last year, Ms Isis Nyong’o, Google’s business development manager in Nairobi said in Kampala recently.

The software wizard last received a dose of conventional education in his senior four classroom in Ndejje Senior Secondary School, before he pursued his software development career. Although he considers education relevant for other people, he is not about to pursue a university degree in IT. “I feel that formal school will not serve me at this point but the alternative that I am pursuing serves me.

The part where I learn from lectures is not yet here, and I may never pursue it,” he said in an interview with Smart Money last week. He does believe that academic qualifications do not solve problems although they add value to students. “Certificates only have value in so far as they predict our practice correctly. Practice is supreme. It is what certified the certifier,” he argues.

In a world where entrepreneurs like; Bill Gates, the billionaire behind the Microsoft Corporation exist, Kalibwani’s position on formal education should come as no surprise. Mr Gates who has topped the world’s richest people’s list for years made it to where he is with no undergraduate or masters degree in technology. And he is not alone. However, Mr Kalibwani is not Mr Gates as history reveals.

Kalibwani was born in Entebbe –the home to Uganda’s only airport, in 1985. His parents are Mr Revence Kalibwani, a retired economist, and Ms Sanyu Kalibwani, the Entebbe Hospital administrator. He is the second last born of “many” siblings. Entebbe also happens to be the home of his company Scyfy Technologies Limited. “I think Entebbe is a better place for a tech company than Kampala, because it provides the calmer, slower pace of life that is conducive to such work,” he says.

Mr Kalibwani, went to Budo Junior School, where as a child he was made to believe that he was a leader, to his great benefit. In Ndejje, he learnt many things there that have come in handy to date. But, he is quick to note that most of the things he learnt at school were not on the official curriculum. “After that, I changed schools a number of times, never staying long enough in any to retain anything substantial from there.”

Smart Money traced his love-affair with technology to his interest in computers as a teenager. He used to think about making computers do things that he wanted them to do rather than them making him do what they want him to do. “I used to think about programming even before I knew what it was. When I found out what programming was, I got obsessed with it because I had longed for it. At first, I did software for fun. I learnt a lot in those days, and I think it is a good way to start out,” he narrates.

It was while he was doing it for fun that he got himself a job at Digital Solutions in Kamwokya a Kampala city suburb. At the company, he says he learnt “a bit” about the industry and “of course the practice.”
Drawing from his experience, he went on to start his own company, Scyfy Technologies where he is the chief technology officer. Scyfy is re-born from the phrase Sci-Fi –which represents science fiction, a genre of futuristic computing literature he likes to read.

The firm provides software for companies that use lots of specialised systems. Their clients are mainly Internet Service Providers, Telecom companies, with a few content providers and Non Governmental Organisations.

The company focuses on building “server-side applications.” These are used by companies to provide services or new features to users who have no businesses with him. Scyfy has developed several applications including; a system that automatically creates a small circle of friends around a mobile phone number, and reduces the price to call within this circle of friends on the same network.

They named it the auto-adapting Closed User Group (CUG) software. The product improves customer loyalty, by making the cost of communication affordable to them. The product is yet to be released, but a similar service with the same goal offered by Warid Telecom. Scyfy has also developed the Loan Call System, an application that will enable mobile users to get airtime from their mobile operators on credit and pay back. The system analyses customers loyalty, by determining how long the subscriber he has been on a particular network and how much he spends on airtime. It does this to determine the credit worthiness of the subscriber.

In designing his products, the youthful entrepreneur looks up to the creation philosophy of Gunpei Yokoi the former product designer at Nintendo, an electronics game devices manufacturer. Mr Yokoi’s philosophy recommends clever re-use of old, proven technologies, rather than perpetually looking for new technologies. Locally, he is inspired by Mr Paul Bagyenda of Digital Solutions.

Besides software applications, Mr Kalibwani’s ambition is to build consumers hardware systems—in Entebbe. But his challenge is the insolence of the local software market when they are presented with locally developed solutions. From his experience, the domestic customers prefer foreign products even incases where local applications are by far cheaper and more efficient. “For people like me who only reluctantly sell outside of the continent, this represents a serious problem,” he said.

Never the less, he is determined to overcome the challenges and represent his country in the best way possible. He has no idea how many other software developers he will be competing with at the Peer Awards in Finland on September 26. However, he is optimistic he will not disappoint his followers. “While there is already a lot to gain just by making it this far, for the sake of those who this example would inspire, I will be gunning for one,” he told Smart Money.

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