Work day and night for several months on a massive coding project for a blue-chip company, produce fantastically engineered code, only to find it never seeing the light of day because it actually was never really needed? – Jeremy George.
Sadly, all too familiar, and bad for developer morale, bad for business and bad for the whole coding ecosystem. This scenario lead David Campey, the co-founder and CEO of Cape Town based Information Logistics (IL), to radically rethink the way they were working.
An unreasonably lean-agile approach to product development
He sees the work of a software house, not just to produce code, but to work closely with the customer at every stage of the development process, starting with the initial validation of the idea.
He calls this his anti-sales process. Before starting to build, the process starts by understanding the jobs the product does for your customers. Then design & conduct low-cost experiments to validate how (if) the product does those jobs better and in the process killing off assumptions, thus generating a range of incredibly useful validated learnings.
IL started off life 11 years ago as a traditional software house. In order to minimise wasting the talent of their developers they implemented an agile methodology which stream-lined code production. But as the lean approach started infiltrating coding, and especially startups, David found what he needed to further enhance the process of minimising waste and IL then wholeheartedly adopted a radically ‘lean’ approach. This evolved into building a culture at IL that David describes as, “an unreasonably lean-agile approach to product development.” He sees this as the fundamental characteristic that sets them apart from other code houses.
3-6 months exploring and testing before coding starts
IL uses tools which they have built within this lean-agile framework and typically work with their customers for 3-6 months to test the various hypotheses before any coding (possibly apart from a few hacks) even begins. They specifically target startups who already have funding but who need software developed. In summary, “the work of a software house is not to just code, but to zoom out to the whole value stream”. By using their lean-agile framework to do this, and spending a good portion of time identifying and validating what is actually needed IL feel that they are delivering startups and their investors the maximum ‘bang for their buck’.
Ideation to Scale
David sees 4 stages in creating a startup, the first is generating ideas or ‘ideation’, next is exploration in which the customer jobs that deliver the value of the idea need to be explored and validated. Early validation is achieved through experiments using a series of hacks, often low-tech or no-tech prototypes to test the jobs. Once you’ve validated the product in the market, the actual software engineering begins and a robust, expandable, scalable solution is built. “It is critical that all stakeholders know whether we are hacking or engineering.”
Each stage requires different levels of funding. As a crude rule of thumb, and in a South Africa context, the four funding stages will need ZAR10,000 -> 100,000 -> 1,000,000. Once a startup has raised or generated more than ZAR1M in funding, if met with continuing success, the product moves into the scale phase and probably needs to start recruiting an in-house development team.
Building the kind of Africa we want to live in
IL has worked for UK, US, German and Singaporean startups but David’s passion is to build African tech in Africa. “One role of technology in Africa is to develop human capital to export as services, and Africa is also a great incubator for disruptive business models which can then be exported; but most exciting is solving Africa’s problems through tech and creating the world we want to live in”.
The most inspiring African project IL has worked on was probably Giva because of the social impact generated. Giva facilitates quick, easy donations to meet the needs of individuals identified by accredited non-profits. “The potential a platform like Giva has for changing people lives is inspiring”. However, the most successful to date undoubtedly has been Nomanini who supply ruggedized POS terminals to sell digital products (mainly airtime), now in the scale stage and continuing to raise, they have grown to a team of 16 and are processing over a million transactions a month supporting thousands of merchants across Africa.