Nomad: Connected without connection in Togo

By Bertil van Vugt on December 7, 2011


Many new ideas are coming in every week via the VC4Africa website. On a regular basis the VC4Africa team places a new venture in the spotlights. Let’s meet Togolese entrepreneur Tiyab Konlambigue, founder of Nomad.

Please describe your app Nomad?

“Our goal with Nomad is to offer people the opportunity to have a digital life without the need for constant access to the internet. This function can save time and money because the connections to the internet are short and are only used for fast information or data synchronization. Nomad is a mobile application that allows users to have a digital and social life asynchronously through the Oasis server. It only runs on Android for now.

Oasis beta is a web server that offers a lot of web services. Its primary role is to provide information to clients (Nomad for example) so that they can allow users to make offline activities as if they were connected. The goal is to make clients operational and useful online or offline and to simulate a connection without being connected.”

When did you get the idea for making this app work offline and online mode?

“In Africa we are the nomads of this digital century. Our main points of connection to the internet are in internet cafes, free hotspots and at work. Mobile internet is upcoming but still too expensive for the general public. So we spend most of our time disconnected. Though the cost of the internet tends to decrease in Africa, it is still expensive for African people and they can’t afford having internet at home.

We think that an application that can’t run without internet is destined to fail in Africa; just like an application that can’t connect at all is destined to become obsolete. That is why an application allowing people to work online and offline is viable and will succeed in Africa.

Many Africans don’t have a digital life for the reasons mentioned above. With Oasis and Nomad they can create digital content, share them and “be connected without being constantly connected”. We called this new model “social and digital nomadism”.

 

 

Can you tell us a bit more about the mobile internet situation in Togo?

“Is it fast? No. Is it affordable? For some people who are earning a lot of money, but still too expensive for most people. Fortunately, according to the news, the costs are about to be decreased and the bandwidths will increase in the whole country. How is the coverage? We can be proud to say that almost the whole country is covered. The main carriers are TOGOCEL and MOOV Togo. In the beginning, people were skeptical about mobile internet, but they got interested when they realized they could use it during urgent situations to quickly check mails or making a quick search.”

Please tell us about your background?

“I am a web and software designer/developer based in Lomé, Togo. I have three years experience working in the areas of software engineering, interaction design, user interface design and usability. I focus my work on innovation with web technologies and solving regional problems through new technologies.

Three years ago I set up a small business with friends and we called it ‘Ingenious Laboratory’ (ILAB). At first our actions were limited to web application and software development, but since our incubation by Mcom Multicartes and the arrival of Android on the market we are interested in developing for mobile devices. Mcom Multicartes is a Togolese management, information systems and outsourcing services, and we are their IT branch.”

What is the (tech) start-up scene like in Lomé and Togo?

“Self-entrepreneurship is almost nonexistent in Togo. This can be explained by the severe lack of financial and material resources faced by young people. With ILAB my goal is to improve the image of young Togolese software developers and initiate a movement that is still struggling to take off.

Events and tech-meeting are starting to take place in Togo, like the first edition of Lomé Barcamp in November 2010. Some small development companies exist like MMS (Multimedia Mobile Strategies) which launched web applications like Toietmoi, a popular social website designed for mobile phones and also accessible to computers.

Now I can see friends following us in the area of software development, encouraged by our international performance as we were finalist of the Android Developer Challenge for Africa 2011 competition.”

Tell us about your place in the finals of this years’ Android Developer Challenge for Sub-Saharan Africa?

“The ADC for Africa contest, organized by Google, prompted African developers in sub-Saharan Africa to create applications for Android. The purpose of the contest was probably to encourage African developers to get interested in the Android platform and to create applications that could help Android succeed in Africa.

We developed and submitted a demo of our applications and we were chosen among the twenty-nine finalists. We were given 45 days to fix bugs and improve our applications on Android devices provided by Google, with the help of mentors. My mentor Bernhard Suter was remarkable. My correspondence with him and his advice helped me improve my application. I learned a lot from him. The winners were announced on September 12th at GKenya. We didn’t succeed in our category, but the contest made us go beyond our potential and strongly influenced our view on development.”

Please explain about other apps you’ve made?

Nomad made us appreciate Android development and ever since we have been working on small Android projects. On August 7 2011, the telephone dialing plan of Togo changed from seven digits to eight digits. An application which could convert telephone directories was highly demanded. Though we were working on Oasis for the Google contest, we launched the ‘Contacts Converter‘ an application on Android which could convert numbers to their new format.

In November we put ‘African Music Box – The Savanna’ on the market, an educational application. It is a demo that shows the African savanna. This application demonstrates our ambition to create purely African content.

We have chosen Android because we believe in it will succeed and will be a good substitution to personal computers in Africa. It is mobile, affordable, easy to configure, has a free SDK, policy facilitation and openness on the African continent by Google and Samsung…. For example we were greatly encouraged when Samsung Africa contacted us after the ADC contest.”

What are you looking for at VC4Africa?

“VC4Africa is a key to the success for African startups. It gives us visibility and an exchange center ‘startup to startup’ and ‘startup to investors’. We are seeking investors, startups, companies or people we could share experiences and opinions with. We want to share our knowledge and work with other people on several development projects.”

How can members reach you?

“Members can contact me via my VC4Africa profile, e-mail tiyab.konlambigue [at] mcommulticartes.com, Twitter and LinkedIn.”

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