It's a Mad App World

Mobile_AppsIn this blog, I am interviewing guest, Chidi Afulezi. Chidi is a product and mobile guy who is currently building aKoma (akomanet.com), a media and content startup focused on Africa. A maker and teacher, he has worked on well-known digital and mobile products from CNN, Time Warner and Sony Music amongst others. Chidi is also a product management teacher at General Assembly.

SR: Name your top 3 go-to apps? Why?

CA: Right now, these three apps get the most love from me on my iPhone: Slack, Flipboard and Waze. Slack has essentially revolutionized my communications with all the teams I work with at aKoma, General Assembly, and even groups of friends that like to share topics and opinions. All about virtual teams and management. Flipboard is my daily magazine. That’s how I keep up to date on everything. I curated it, so it hits me on all the right spots in terms of my interests. Waze is the baddest transportation app out there. Consistently gets me where I need to go without drama.

SR: Hindsight is 20/20 but what killer app would you have loved to birth as your brainchild?

CA: Medium. Medium speaks to my belief that content is best consumed as part of a network of like-minded folks. The content on Medium is perfect, and tailored to me. They just launched new updates to the product. Ev Williams is killing it. aKoma is built in the same spirit as Medium.

SR: Which mobile device is crushing it right now?

CA: Apple TV. You may not consider it a “mobile device”, but it is. I can take my Apple TV with me and watch my programming wherever as long as I have a connection to a TV. However, it is my ability to use Apple Play on the device to extend my iOS or OSX device to the TV that makes it awesome. When I teach or present, I use Apple TV to put Keynote on the screen. That is truly a device that I see doing serious work right now.

SR: What kind of device/platform will be the next big thing? Wearables? Internet of things?

CA: Next big thing. Man, now you’re asking me to ball like Crystal. I do believe that personal dashboards are becoming more and more important. This concept of the quantified self or lifelogging is real, and I don’t think it is only limited to body inputs, states and performance. I see a platform that also integrates your calendar, travel, social networks with your quantified self to create these dashboards that allow you to really have true retrospectives on your life, and give you data to improve it.

SR: Did you have any prior coding experience  in HTML, CSS, or PHP and how important is that to running technical teams?

CA: Well, as an engineering undergrad major, we had to do some coding. However, my coding skills are very minimal. I am a technologist, however, and understand technology fundamentally. It is just what I do. I will say that knowing how to code is not a primary requirement for running tech teams. Understanding and being able to talk the technology is definitely key to running technical teams. You have to know the stacks used by your organization, the stacks used by your competition and clients. Being able to go through the flow of front and back end systems running your product is very important or you lose the respect of your team rapidly. Actual coding experience is not as important. I am also a big proponent of great communications, ownership, grit, and high EQ skills for tech team leaders.

SR: Aside from programming skills what other skills are necessary to deploy a commercial app?

CA: I’m a product guy, so I see a strong combo of tech, design and business skills as necessary to build an app that is of value to an audience. It is easy to just burn a bunch of dollars and build an app, but will it take with the audience? That’s where the user design and business case piece is important. I’m a big proponent of Lean Product Management – make sure you have a market, that you have a legitimate pain point or need that you are fulfilling for the audience before you go all out building a product. Talk to potential customers, get some insights into their needs, put together a basic solution to test if you’re on the right track, and measure and learn from the market response. You keep this loop going, and you have a great recipe for a successful app launch.

SR: Tell me about your current project? How can we find out more?

CA: I am working on aKoma, a storytelling and content publishing platform created to fill a gaping hole in the portrayal of the African continent in words, images, audio and video. It is primarily a user generated content platform, enabling our users to immediately create or consume aKoma content on any connected device of their choice including smartphones. aKoma is currently in private beta, and a focus on written content to start. Go to aKomanet.com and see what we are doing. It is quite exciting.

SR: What recommendations do you have for anyone wanting to launch an app? There is an app for everything. Several thousand get launched daily  on iOs and Android, but less than half get updated, reviewed or downloaded …Should folks give up now and save their disappointment for something else?

CA: I say go for it. Take that leap…the app ecosphere is actually quite democratic. Your app rocks? Money. Doesn’t rock? At least you took a shot at it. If you have a great idea, then put the pieces in place to get it done. However, big however, make sure to do your due diligence. In the startup world, Lean Startup is a well-known methodology for de-risking the process of building an app. Don’t blow all your cash building something no one wants. Do customer development, talk to potential users, find out what’s missing in their lives in the context of your idea. And then build, but not the spaceship, start with the shuttle and see whether that takes. Also study the market, see what the competitors are doing, make something that pops. All in all, I say go for it.

SR: Thanks for your conversation. Good luck with your new project! Sounds exciting.

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