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Team meetings: Do yours serve their purpose?
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Every week in the office, we have Bounce - a weekly session of sharing and bouncing ideas. This was the topic of the sixth session (held on 25th July 2014) and presented by Rasoah, our New Business Manager. Ras shares some pointers she's picked up on how to have effective team meetings.

Team meetings are a very essential part of a company or organisation. Whether held in-person or by remote conferences (like how we do), team members get to delve into each other's world, share their goals, joys and woes. Ideally, team meetings should help bring out the best in each team member. This is where the team members feel the support of each other and also gauge whether they are working on a collective goal. If well conducted, team meetings can highly boost the team's productivity.

Two key things that I've noted that can really help improve team meetings include:

  • The team meeting should be something the team looks forward to
  • Each team member should be encouraged to participate by being made to feel that their viewpoint is valuable

From my experience, here are some tips that may help in achieving the above goals:

  • Ask: What is the reason for holding the team meeting? It should not just be out of routine.
  • Distribute an agenda before the meeting. Having a meeting without an agenda is like leaving your house in the morning with no idea of where you are going.
  • Some time prior to the meeting, remind the the team about the meeting just incase others are buried deep into their work (happens a lot with creatives and developers) or others have completely forgotten.
  • Consider having stand up meetings when having short agendas. This will ensure that the meeting takes the shortest time possible.
  • Start on time. This saves everyone's time and avoids distraction from the main agenda.
  • Start the meeting by going over the agenda and possibly letting the attendees know how much time has been assigned to each of the agenda points.
  • Give each member the opportunity to say something, but with the option of a pass. Feel free to interupt any team member who talks for long. It helps if you can make it a discussion.
  • At the end of the meeting, surmarise any key points and assign action items.
  • Prepare and distribute minutes promptly after the meeting.

We would love to hear of any tips or pointers we may have left out. What has been your experience with team meetings? Feel free to share by leaving a comment below or dropping us a line here

Posted by Rasoah (Follow her on @RasoahM)

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Online vs Offline
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Every week in the office, we have Bounce - a weekly session of sharing and bouncing ideas. This was the topic of the fifth session (held on 18th July 2014) and presented by Evans, one of our Web & App developers. Evans shares the story behind Grape, one of our latest products.
 
Grape was born from a brainstorm between Andrew (our technical director) and I in which we were trying to figure out how to bring some of the goodness of offline shopping to the online experience. In particular, to how people experience products.
 
The problem
The online shopping experience suffers from lack of the following key advantages that the offline experience possesses:
  • Ability to touch and inspect the products
  • Ability to try out the products
The common approach of using photos and some text to display products is unfortunately inadequate because:
  • Some details are difficult to capture with just photos and text
  • There is often a lack of photos (or poor quality ones) for the products
  • The copywriting is often poor or inaccurate
 
A better way: video
By displaying product videos, you are able to capture more aspects of physical products. Video gives your customers a better feel of the product and it enables them to 'experience' the product (albeit through the eyes/hands of someone else) before they buy it. With video you are more likely to avoid the often heard complaint "That is not how it looked like on the website!"
 
The problem of video however is:
  • Creating good quality videos requires expensive equipment and talent
  • The video shooting and editing process can take long
  • Videos tend to require high bandwidth to be effective
 
Vine: Video made simpler
Vine is a video app and social network developed by the folks at Twitter. It enables users to take quick, 6-second videos via a smartphone and share them with friends or family. Not only is each video viewable on the Vine social network and shareable on other social networks, but it is also embeddable which means you can include it on your website or e-shop. Vine has been described as the 'Twitter for video'. 
 
With vine, the barriers to taking good videos of your products are drastically diminished.

A creative and ingenious use of Vine by Ikea to give a demonstration of one of their shelves

 

 
Enter Grape: Completing the loop
Although Vine enables you to easily take cool videos, there is still the problem of adding them or linking them to your e-shop. Embedding the videos each time you take them can quickly become cumbersome and would require you to always reach out to your web developer. 
 
Grape breaks down this final barrier. It:
  • Automatically links each product in your e-store to its corresponding video on vine so you don't have to keep linking them each time
  • Presents the video in the product page as a pop-up box that seamlessly integrates into the page
  • Is customisable so the embedded video's pop-up matches your stores style and design
  • Enables you to present all your product videos in one place via your own 'store front' on the Grape website.
Grape's video popup on a product page
 
 
A shop store-front on Grape's website
 
If you like what you hear about Grape, why don't you drop us a line to schedule a demo or get a free trial.
 
Posted by Evans (Follow him on @evansmusomi)
 
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Afriapps Asilia shared experiences
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Social media has a way of making you feel as though you are the only one with challenges. As this video we shared sometime back shows, it helps to not believe the hype.

As we do with relationships, we in business are notorious for highlighting our victories and downplaying our losses. It's the PR game we play. No matter the hype, some things are definite in business. One of them is losing clients or customers. Every business experiences it. In this post, we look back at the reasons it has happened to us, how it happened and how we have learnt from it.

Poor service
We’d be lying if we claimed to be perfect. Let alone perfect every time. There have been occasions our standards have fallen below the levels we’ve set and understandably we’ve been punished for it.  

What we’ve learnt: Our experience has taught us that the best way to resolve these scenarios is to come clean, apologise and offer a free solution or offer the client their money back.

High cost
A high percentage of our clients when we were starting out were also young businesses. And as our first clients, they inevitably got discounts or got our services at ‘starting-out’ prices. As we’ve grown, our expenses, quality and therefore prices have inevitably risen. Unfortunately, some of the businesses we started out with have been unable to match our growth and meet our higher prices.

What we’ve learnt: Our growth is compromised if our clients don’t grow as well. The first (and preferred) option is to help them grow as much as we can. It is the reason we blog and share our experiences. In cases where we can and have to lose the client, we try and make it as amicable as possible and be as helpful as we can in their transition to other service providers.

Arrogance
Like teenagers, we started out assuming we knew more than we actually did. However, life has a way of bridging the gap between theory and reality. Looking back, there are some clients we should have been more willing to meet halfway. The ‘our-way-or-the-highway’ approach is one of the least sustainable in business.

What we’ve learnt: Every business has to have standards and principles. However, every business should also be willing to learn, especially from its clients. Adopting the attitude that 'no feedback is bad feedback' (no matter how painful it is to take) is helping us to be more open minded about what feedback we should take on board.

Poor systems and processes
As I highlighted in this post, one of the things I’d do earlier is invest time to set up and document sustainable systems and processes. In particular, capturing and documenting project requirements and specifications. Some clients express frustration at the overhead (cost and time) this adds to the project but when things go wrong you get heavily punished, even by the clients who object to it earlier in the project.

What we’ve learnt: This is one of the standards a good company has to be firm about, even to clients. Explaining to both clients and your team the benefits of proper, sustainable systems helps reduce the pushback. Unfortunately it is one of those things you only appreciate if/when its neglected and the project goes wrong.

Getting sued
It goes without saying that a client that is suing you is a client that you have already lost. OK, I know this is not really a reason you lose a client but it is one of the ways that we have lost a client.

What we’ve learnt: The thought of getting sued sends shivers down the spine of many a new entrepreneur. However, if your business is to grow, it is an (almost) inevitability that at some point you will get into a legal dispute. In our case we believed we were right to stand our ground and thankfully this was confirmed through the courts. The key thing for us was losing our fear of being taken to court. Until then, we’d have been ready to do just about anything (even when we knew we were on the right) to avoid a client resorting to this option. Ironically, losing this fear has allowed us to be more open and firm (when we need to be) with clients, thereby making our solutions for them better.

Payment disputes
Every business (and I mean every business) has cashflow issues at some point. We are no exception and neither are our clients. When both they and us are having poor cashflow at the same time, heated exchanges become inevitable. Even when the dispute is resolved, the resultant scars are hard to heal and some of our client relationships have ended due to this.

What we’ve learnt: Being open with our clients about the fact that we experience cashflow problems when we are paid late helps them work harder to try and pay us on time. We have also found that having fixed payment dates (rather than one’s triggered by project progress), enables us to plan and manage our cashflow. This also helps keep the project on track.

Mismatched visions
Not all relationships have been ended by the client. There are times when we have had to terminate a client contract. At times this has been on ethical or moral grounds. At other times it has been due to us realising that the client’s vision or expectations are simply not aligned to ours.

What we’ve learnt: Honesty is the best policy. Not only do you maintain your integrity but you gain the respect of the client.

 

Has this list been helpful? What has been your experience? We'd love to hear from you.

Posted by Andrew (Follow him on @andrewmugoya)
 

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Asilia Bounce session lead by Cliff
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Every week in the office, we have Bounce - a weekly session of sharing and bouncing ideas. This was the topic of the fourth session (held on 11th July 2014) and presented by Cliff, our Business Analyst. Cliff shares some of the lessons he has learned in his role at Asilia and lets us know how he manages client expectations.

All projects have ups and downs, that’s part and parcel of the project cycle. However, when there are more downs than ups, then it's time to be worried. Often the cause is a poorly managed project and mismanaged client expectations.

Managing client expectations starts right at the beginning of the project. What happens at this stage affects the rest of the project. Starting off with a face-to-face meeting or a phone call is preferred to exchanging multiple emails. This avoids miscommunication and a lot of mistaken assumptions. Other tips and tricks I've picked up on include:

  1. Understand the problem. It may help to break the problem down into manageable chunks rather than looking at it as one big overwhelming problem.
  2. Never assume. Ask for clarifications if something is not clear. Draw mockups or pull up examples of how you envision the idea to turn out. You'd be surprised how divergent you and your client's envisioned solutions could be.
  3. Set clear goals and agree on realistic deliverables.
  4. Document everything in detail. 
  5. Plan, plan, plan. Plan everything in detail.
  6. Be honest. Tell the client honestly what you can do and can’t do for them and let them know of any hitches in good time.
  7. Control the conversation. Remember that you are the expert (that's why your client came to you). Offer effective solutions and don't simply regurgitate everything they say.
  8. Be decisive. Clients are reassured by decisiveness. Remember you are the expert. 
  9. Keep everyone updated, regularly. It's never a good sign if you have to be chased for updates.
  10. "Let me get back to you on that". Sometimes it helps to take time to say "No", especially if it may lead to an ugly confrontation or argument. Bad news is often more palatbale if appears to be considered and well thought out.
  11. Learn to push back. Scope creep is inevitable. However, not managing them can kill your project dead!
  12. Keep the project in context. Don’t assume yours is the only project the client is dealing with. Your project may be top priority to you but bottom priority to them or just one of many priority projects.
  13. Be professional. Always. In both good and bad times. Don't get carried away and do or say something regretable.
  14. Be human. You are not dealing with robots so it's important to sometimes be able to be informal, empathetic or friendly with your client.  
  15. Leave them better than you found them
  16. Always ask for feedback. There is always room for improvement and most clients will see this as a positve gesture.
  17. Finally, it's not how you fail but how you recover. We all make mistakes. The key is to avoid excuses and finger-pointing but instead concentrate on how to make things right. (http://consultingacademy.com)

These are just some of the tips I've picked up but I'm sure there are many more. Let us know if you have any other tips to share. We'd love to hear from you.

Posted by Cliff (Follow him on @cliffanami)

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Happy Birthday Card - A techie version.
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The lightbulb moment is an exciting time. As a developer, it's always fulfilling to see novel ideas come to life and graduate to the web. Recently, about a week to my girlfriend's birthday, I was inspired to surprise her with a birthday card. A techie, Google-like version of it.

Check out the result at www.agneswangui.com/happybirthday/.

Click the doodle image on the landing page or any of the links or buttons in the header or footer to see what happens. Enjoy.

Posted by Evans (Follow him on @evansmusomi)

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Bounce at Asilia
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Every week in the office, we have Bounce - a weekly session of sharing and bouncing ideas. This was the topic of the third session (held on 4 July 2014) and presented by Brian, one of our Web/App Developers.

The word Internet is often used to refer to that place where you browse websites and send your email. Most of us have an instinctive (albeit basic) knowledge of what it is and how it works. Despite this, there is a lot about the Internet that is misunderstood, or unknown. Nowadays, very few businesses can survive without an online presence. Therefore, a better understanding of how the Internet works is bound to be beneficial for any business.

The list below is a collection of random facts that will hopefully help you better understand the online environment your web-based business is operating within. Some may be obvious, some counter-intuitive, some debatable while others irrelevant. Either way, I hope they are all eye-opening. Enjoy.

  • The Internet is a network of networks. It is a collections of millions of networks around the world.
  • The World Wide Web (WWW) is NOT the Internet. Merely a part (or section) of it (or one way in which the Internet is used).
  • Tim Berners Lee invented the WWW (not the Internet) in 1990 as a CERN scientist.
  • Only 20-30% of the Internet is publicly available. The rest is hidden behind private networks.
  • The first prototype of the Internet was called ARPANET and was developed for DARPA (a us government research organization) in the 1970s.
  • The Internet is made of 3 tiers
    • Tier 1 is the backbone of the Internet and is made up of very large companies and research institutes who build out very large capacity networks.
    • Tier 2 is made up of ISPs, smaller telecom companies and governments which provide network access to smaller ISPs or large organisations and businesses.
    • Tier 3 is made up of relatively smaller ISPs and provide network access to home users and smaller businesses.
  • There are millions of ways the internet is used or accessed. The most common ones are:
    • WWW - for information sharing via documents and other information on the internet as websites
    • Email
    • Torrent - a way to upload and download large amounts of information quickly to many people
    • Tor - a way of using the Internet anonymously
    • FTP - For sharing and transferring files
    • Chat - e.g. Skype
  • No one body controls the entire Internet. ICAAN (The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) is responsible for assigning domain names. It does this by assigning authority to regional bodies and governments who are then responsible for the domain names in their respective regions.
  • Cyber-squatting is the process of buying domain names in the names of companies or individuals, hoping that these companies or individuals will one day try and buy them from you at a high price.
  • There are many types of businesses based on the Internet. These range from infrastructure companies, ISPs, hardware companies, software companies, security firms, domain registrars, web hosts, website designers/developers, app designers/developers to network administrators. As the Internet is vast and varied, most companies will specialise in one or two areas of expertise.
  • Owning a domain (e.g. www.mydomain.com) is not the same as having a website. The domain is registered via a domain registerer but the website is often developed separately by a web developer and hosted separately by a web hosting company. Specialisation at play.

Posted by Brian (Follow him on @jgisairo)

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Asilia office Kenya
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Every week in the office, we have Bounce - a weekly session of sharing and bouncing ideas. This was the topic of the second session (held on 27 June 2014) and presented by Angela, our Finance and Operations Manager.

Last week was my turn to lead our new weekly Bounce sessions and I selected the topic ‘Getting and Staying Ahead’.

I chose this topic in light of the many changes Asilia is going through. Specifically, we are aggressively now pursuing a ‘products’ strategy (i.e. software products and standardised services) to complement our bespoke services.  Some of the products we have developed include:
    •        Black White Simple - Create an elegant showcase website in minutes.
    •        Illustrate Me - Hand-drawn custom portraits, the Asilia way.
    •        Somi - An e-learning platform.
    •        Grape - Boost your sales using video.
    •        Pineapple - Sell via web and your own tablet and mobile apps.

What is great about our Bounce sessions is that everyone gets to chip in by contributing and sharing insights from their own experience. So keeping in mind our new strategy and the products we have in place, we got to bounce ideas on how we can get ahead (by effectively seeking out clients and customers) and also how we stay ahead (by continuing to develop the right products). Many ideas, tips and suggestions were put forward but I've summarised them into these three key ones:

1. Know your products
Sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how many a salesperson or marketer don’t truly know the products they are selling or marketing. How do they work? What benefits do they give? How do they compare to the competition?

2. Know your customer
By this I mean profiling who would benefit from the most basic to the most specialised features of your product. Who are they? Where do you find them? What matters to them? What benefits do they care about? What are their pain points?

The decision maker is not always the end-customer. Know what benefits apply to them. This also applies to the gate-keepers to the decision-maker (from the security guard, secretary, receptionist to mid-level managers) - you may have to explain the benefits to them for you to be able to access the decision maker.

Find the places your potential customers hang out and go join them. In a trade show or a trade publication perhaps? Maybe in a relevant newspaper column, or blog? These may be a good places to start.

3. Don’t sell features. Sell benefits.
You’ve probably heard this before but I reckon it’s true - don’t sell the product, instead stress the benefits. Most people don’t really care what a product does. Instead they care what it does for them and more importantly what it does to help them achieve their objectives (grow sales, acquire customers, cut costs, etc.)

We’d love to hear any other ideas or insights you may have to add. Let us know your tips or experiences in trying to get and stay ahead.

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Every week in the office, we have Bounce - a weekly session of sharing and bouncing ideas. This was the topic of the first session (held on 20 June 2014) and presented by Andrew Mugoya, our Technical Director.

This past May marked four years since I quit my (relatively high paying) job to run Asilia full-time. Up until then Asilia had been a small side project I’d started during the financial crisis as a just-in-case-I-get-fired-today strategy. A couple of months after I resigned, my business partner Lulu agreed to join me at Asilia as Creative Director and an equity partner (initially at a 60-40 split and a year later at 50-50).

Its been an exciting journey. Its had its highs. At times extreme highs. And with any business its had its lows. Fortunately no low that has been fatal. Would I do it again? The answer to that may vary depending on the time of the month but on the whole I’d say “definitely yes”. All the same, I’d qualify that “definitely yes” with “but I’d do some things differently”.

Below are two lists. One is of the things I’d do differently (if I was to start Asilia from scratch again) and the other of random things I’ve learnt along the way. In both cases, these are things that I’m trying to do now anyway because in business, every day is a new beginning. Hope you find them helpful.

Things I’d do differently

  1.     Invest time to set up and document (sustainable) systems and processes
  2.     Focus on sales from day one
  3.     Measure and track important metrics
  4.     Focus on products (rather than just services) more aggressively
  5.     Respect the importance of each role and give it its due attention

Things I’ve learnt (in no particular order of importance)

  1. Constantly and consistently sell
  2. Regularly evaluate your systems and processes
  3. Watch every penny, keep costs down
  4. Diversify from day one
  5. Recruit earlier
  6. The best way to learn is to teach
  7. You learn to swim in the pool. Jump in. - The best way to figure out something is to simply try it out.
  8. Measure to manage and improve
  9. It’s not rocket science
  10. Hard work solves most problems in business
  11. Don’t be petty
  12. Measurement without accountability and consequences is pointless
  13. Competition is good
  14. Develop and empower your team. It will allow you to go home early.
  15. If it’s important, measure and track it
  16. Don’t let your second priority get in the way of your first
  17. Don’t let your ego get in the way of your goals
  18. Getting sued is a right of passage
  19. Don’t try to sell Ferraris to Toyota drivers
  20. Strive for constant improvement, however small
  21. "A year from now you will wish you started today"
  22. Get started as soon as you can
  23. Management is not (cannot be) a side hustle
  24. Keep everyone in the loop, it softens hard blows that may come later
  25. Keep your eyes on the prize, always
  26. Pick your battles wisely
  27. Let others fight their own battles
  28. Preach less, share more
  29. Be less judgemental of other business people, you don’t walk in their shoes
  30. Don’t pay more (or equal) attention to others’ businesses (and practises) than you do to your own business
  31. Don’t believe the hype
  32. Business is like mathematics - there is only one right answer (profits) but endless ways to get there. Your way is valid too.
  33. Prioritise
  34. It’s impossible to please everyone - trying to means it’s often you that is left displeased
  35. Its all trial and error, so don’t fear to try or err
  36. Be explicit (and as accurate as possible) about what you want
  37. Everything. Blessing.
  38. The Lord (or your God) will not abandon me (or you)

Posted by Andrew (Follow him on @andrewmugoya)

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Illustrate Me
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Incorporate your personality onto a custom portrait of you with Illustrate Me. All you need to do is upload a photograph and enter a little information about yourself via the website and you get two formats of your illustration done; A square version, ready for your social media profile and a high-resolution version that you can print out. Payment is handled securely online via Stripe or via M-Pesa, if you’re in Kenya. Read more about it here or visit the website here.

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Simply loving it. The trailer speaks for itself! Check out the Afrikana digital (the makers) website here.

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