Monday, April 5, 2010

Nana Kwabena Owusu, Justin Dakorah and Kofi Opuni Asiama leading the way for 233Tech

(Photo - Kobby & Justin at BarCamp Ghana 08) Today was the birthday of a very good friend of mine, Nana Kwabena Owusu. I had been meaning to do a post on him and his work on 233Tech, and this seems like an opportune time to do it. Kobby, as we know him, works on 233Tech with Justin Dakorah, another good friend of mine and we all grew up in the same KNUST campus neighbourhood. 233tech is primed to become the premier Ghanaian technology oriented content website for news, feature articles and blogs. Recently, I was having a discussion with a friend who was battling getting Tech news related and relevant for Ghana, and when I decided to check out the work of Kobby and Justin at 233Tech, I was pleasantly surprised.

The twosome set out to build a technology company. Their main desire was to prove web solutions tech start ups can suceed in Ghana. Suceed here is defined not as barely surviving but flourishing. There are many web startups in Ghana but not many of them have flourished and taken up big market shares. Ghana has become a contract country, these startups survive by doing contracts and jobs for the government or big companies and the criteria for getting most of these jobs is about 'who you know'.

The technology company is Ignite Systems Ltd with Kobby as the only fulltime employee and Justin and Kofi Opuni Asiama, another childhood friend of mine as part-time. Justin and Opuni are actually training to be doctors but have a strong interest in IT. Kofi Opuni Asiama has a similar story to Justin as he's also training to be a doctor and has been programming in different languages since high school.

The interesting thing is that I know a lot of young Ghanaians who are self-taught programmers or learnt it on the side aside their pursuit of regular careers. Kobby himself is a trained civil engineer. He used to queue at the EMS Center in Kumasi when he was like 12 and it was only one of the public cafes in Kumasi. At that time, Netscape was still a competitor to IE and hotmail was the kind of email. His desire was born at a very young age and he's managed to turn every member of his family into a mini tech head.

233Tech is not the first project Kobby and Justin have worked on. They worked on Klustrs.com, which was a direct result of this goal. Klustrs was to be an opt in advertising network (influenced by Blyk Media, an european start up executing this concept well with teens). This is why they chose students as our target audience. Kobby and Justin were on the social media panel for the first BarCamp Ghana in Accra on December 22, talking about social networks in Ghana for Ghanaians and the Klustrs model.

Klustrs involved the ability of getting free group SMS for communicating (social: invite a 100 people to a party or academic: inform the class of a change in a lecture schedule) while providing a sales, marketing and e-commerce (KlustrMart:online shops) avenue for businesses. Businesses and students could further use SMS Alerts to intereact (MTN music awards voting, subscribe to all events happening at the KNUST Pool side or Timeout; Alert me when a laptop I want on KlustrsMart drops in price). Klustrs is currently offline and shelved because of escalating costs of SMS and generally a lack of a really strong, scalable framework for the social networking aspect which wasn't above our initial funding. The team used this as a learning experience and Klustrs had a 1,000 members in two months before going offline.

Demands at work as a training doctor have reduced Justin to mainly help refine Kobby's thoughts and a little research. There are plans for him to start full time contribution as he frees up more time at work. Justin claims all of his interest in PC and technology is owed to Kobby, who showed him QBasic. The next time they got together, Justin was at 'full speed' and has never stopped since. He has worked with Kofi Opuni Asiama and Eyram Tawia (who we featured recently) on the Topssoft, Blacksoft companies which churned out many different kinds of technology tools that are still being used by clients today. He once considered Computer Engineering, but he felt he knew more, dropped the idea and pursued medicine. Justin enjoys programing because of the ability to "control" what the PC does. Being a Doctor and combining 'this' is not as easy as when he was a student, but he has an understanding partner. (Photo - Justin and Opuni)

It's easy to understand the importance of 233Tech. 233 is Ghana's telephone country code. Anytime I see this number, I think of Ghana. The 233Tech team wants to cover topics as serious as broadband policy, as emotional as Mac versus PC or as fun as the best color for a mobile phone.

Curently mainstream news and content portals usually rehash tech stories from BBC, CNN wholesale without any context or angle to Ghana or Africa. Worse still the REAL Ghanaian (and African stories) sometimes never get reported because BBC or CNN did not report on it. Ignite Systems wants 233 Tech to provide a single place for interaction between the tech community (developers, entrepreneurs, bloggers ), technology consumers (aka ‘non-techies’ and tech and gadget crazy people in general) and hopefully policy makers (fingers crossed). They believe opening up avenues for sharing and discussing ideas will strengthen the Ghanaian tech industry.

233Tech plans to initially attract professionals, bloggers, free lance content producers, comic strip artists who would love to showcase their writing skills, talent or be recognized in their industry (for a pittance or for free, ) and then gradually bring on board paid contributors. See www.233tech.com/write-for-us. The next Steps for 233 Tech include making the website more of dialogue oriented format by encouraging more interaction and discussions about our content on Twitter and Facebook and through our own comments system. The team also plans to increase the categories of content we cover by finding additional content contributors and/or syndicating content from third party websites (like Museke, GhanaMusic.com et cetera).
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