INTERVIEW: Ernesto Spruyt, CEO of Tunga – Cultivating the power of collaborative consumption in Africa.

Eight months ago Chiderah and I held an evening on emerging consumer trends in Africa, and how to embrace the entrepreneurial spirit that flows through the stream of African culture.

Eight months on, with Chiderah in Lagos and me still in London, I’ve been captivated by businesses like TaskRabbit, NearJobs, and Fiverr that are riding the global (and social) wave of modern collaborative consumption. However, much of my fascination with this also comes from the realisation that this kind of collaborative behaviour has been on-going in Africa since forever. It’s just been rather undefined and unstructured.

‘Collaborative behaviour has been on-going in Africa since forever’

For example, I think about my grandfather who rents out his holiday home in South West Uganda for several months in the year to travellers moving through the region (think AirBnB). Then there’s my uncle who makes a fair amount of money from sending his associates to complete odd jobs for other businesses in the busy city of Kampala (cue TaskRabbit).

Whilst Africans are instinctively attuned to identifying business opportunities from idle capacity, technological advancement seems to be the master key that Africa needs in order to unlock the potential of collaborative consumption. Particularly as Africa is the youngest continent in the world, and Sub-Sahara specifically, holds around 1,000 million people itching to capitalise on their entrepreneurial aptitude. Although not perfect, Africa is ripening for culturally intelligent initiatives to leverage on its workforce, and if done well, it could create a seismic wave of collaborative consumption that could make the likes of TaskRabbit, AirBnB and NearJobs look like a drop in the ocean.

Say hello to TUNGA

Tunga Africa Collaborative Consumption Africa Coders 12One company rising to the challenge is Tunga, an online social network for young African programmers and tech companies looking for help with software.

Tunga’s platform allows companies to list their requirements, inviting the African coders who match their needs to follow them and begin working together. Payment to the coders would follow on the completion of projects commissioned.

I caught up with Ernesto Spruyt (Founder) and Rosa Mouws (Online Marketing Intern) at Tunga, to find out more on Tunga, and what’s so special about Africa.

Tunga Africa Collaborative Consumption Africa Coders

 

Ernesto, why and how did Tunga begin?

SE: As a tech startup entrepreneur I experienced firsthand how annoying it is if you can’t move forward because you don’t have the right software coder available. At Mobbr, we figured out a way to have coders from anywhere work in our Github workflow and distribute money among them in line with their contribution. But each time we actually needed them it was still a major hassle to find and engage them. That’s why I decided end of 2014 that we needed to create our own on-demand workforce. A sort of marketplace meets social network: a market network. But where could I find a motivated workforce that can deliver solid quality at affordable fees?

Being a social entrepreneur who always looks for Shared Value opportunities, I found the answer in Africa. It turned out that a design studio called Butterfly Works — that was also working from the Netherlands — had been involved in setting up digital design schools under the Bits Academy umbrella throughout Africa already since 2000. Here was a robust community of 6000+ alumni that had the skills and the willingness to work on international software projects, and to top it off, was built for the social good!

How is business today?

SE: Fast forward to today: we gathered funding from a host of donors to test whether this concept can actually work. We vetted a launching group of around 60 coders from Uganda and Kenya. We ran a successful pilot with 14 paying customers in the fall of 2015, many of whom kept on working with the coders. And since a few weeks, we have the first prototype live online that gradually is being used to build flexible teams of coders that can be mobilised on-demand.

Rosa, as an intern at Tunga, what makes Africa, in your opinion, the hot-bed of innovation?

Tunga Africa Collaborative Consumption Africa Coders 11RM: The story of Africa is often the story of development aid, poverty, and conflicts. It contributes to the perception that Africans are victims and need the help of us Westerners. To be honest, I detest this image, because this is not how I came to know Africa since working at Tunga. To me, the story of Africa is above all about that of a richly diverse continent with proud people working to improve their livelihoods while maintaining their own identities.

This is exemplified by the rich innovation culture that is now arising throughout the continent. Training programs, workshops, and funding competitions are just a few of the means through which the innovation landscape in Africa continues to grow. This is, for example, the case in Kigali,Rwanda. Inspired by Silicon Valley, the first tech incubators have risen in this city.

How do you translate these ambitions into tangible jobs?

RM: Translating these ambitions into tangible jobs in Africa can be tricky. Luckily, it seems like the western world is starting to realise that there’re many talented people to be found in Africa. Tunga, for example, connects talented African coders to Western companies. In this way, African coders help solve the scarcity problem of coders in the Western world, while simultaneously generating social impact by creating meaningful and well-paid work where it counts. Moreover, as the innovation movement and entrepreneurial mindset keep growing; more investors also start to invest in African start-ups.

Through our insights, we came to another conclusion that this type of ‘gig economy’ working arrangement very well fits the local culture. Whereas Westerners generally prefer fixed working hours and salary, it seemed to be in the nature of the Tunga coders to work as it fits their schedule and to commit to a result instead of an effort. This cultural fit certainly contributed to the success of the pilot.

What opportunities can Tunga cultivate for women in tech? 

SE: Within the framework of web development, the women we’ve worked with choose more creative directions such as design as opposed to coding. Either way is fine with me, providing that there is freedom of choice. I personally believe in diversity on all levels, and I would certainly like to see more women in coding. We have great examples of brilliant female coders in our community.

Tunga Africa Collaborative Consumption Africa Coders women

How would you describe Tunga’s office culture?

SE: We have five employees on our payroll, and though small, we are a truly modern organisation, that operates in a distributed fashion. Our offices are located at the Butterfly Works premises in Amsterdam where we meet regularly, but in practice, we all work from different locations other than Amsterdam: Kampala, Naïrobi, Rotterdam, and Athens.

What milestones is Tunga hoping to achieve in 2016/17? 

SE: Well, we are aiming to release the beta version of Tunga this summer, get enough customer traction to get secure our next round of funding, and ultimately, get achieve least 1.000 FTE of work for African developers.

Lastly, what does Tunga stand for?

SE: Tunga stands for almost everything that makes my heart tick faster: self-empowerment, human connections, innovation and social impact. We are still at the beginning of our journey, but so far, it seems like we’re off to a good start!

Gone are the days when having a ‘social strategy’ meant simply integrating with social networks. Now, more widespread connectivity – and the embedding of the internet into the lives of millions – means African consumers will demand more.

Tunga Africa Collaborative Consumption Africa Coders 1Connectivity is accelerating the growth of new kinds of business models, and collaborative consumption is just the beginning. Hopefully, I’ll get round to sharing some thoughts I had regarding crowdsourcing and crowdfunding platforms too.

Until then, you can find out about Tunga here: https://tunga.io/, and as always, I love to hear your thought so let m know what your thoughts are on collaborative consumption for Africa in the comment box below.

What do you think?