"Never settle for less than your dreams.
Somewhere, sometime, someday, somehow, you'll find them

- Danielle Steel, Bittersweet.

Get more Insight, Inspiration and Self Discovery at The Walkabout.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Equitel Lowers Data Charges

In line with Equity Bank's "Your Listening Partner" mantra, Equitel has now lowered data charges.
It is good to listen to your customers, we recently wrote about it in a recent CCM Weekend Connection.

Internet Rates
Following are the new data bundles:

This now places Equitel's data pricing at par with Orange Kenya's 3G prepaid rates in some respects.
When we published our first impressions on Saturday, this was Equitel's data tariff:

(Click on image to enlarge)
SMS Rates
We also reported that each SMS is priced at Ksh 1 to all local networks. Which is true.
Equitel has now made it quite interesting, with a BOGOF pricing model.

The first SMS you send will cost you Ksh 1. The second will cost you nothing. The third will cost Ksh 1 and so on..
I find this quite interesting.

What are your thoughts on these new data rates and the BOGOF SMS pricing?

Monday, September 29, 2014

Gadget of the Week - Nokia XL

In the past editions of CCM Gadget of the Week, we have taken a look at a smartphone-tablet hybrid and a tablet-notebook combo device. Today, examine a smartphone that grants you access to apps from two operating systems.

Our weekly gizmo this week is the Nokia XL Dual SIM, with which you can use both Android and Windows apps.

Where it Stands Out

The ability to run both Android and Windows apps sets the Nokia X series smartphones apart from other Nokia devices running the Windows Phone OS. This includes the popular BBM messaging app which has since been availed on the Android (Google Play) store. To do this, it uses the Nokia X software platform 1.0.

Nokia XL is a dual core, 5 inch IPS display smartphone that can run Android apps. It is the bigger cousin of the 4 inch Nokia X smartphone, but has more interesting features.
It has a Li-Ion 2000 mAH battery, a 5MP rear camera and 2MP front camera. It has both WiFI and 3G connectivity (DL 7.2Mbps, UL 5.76Mbps) and 4GB Internal memory. The MicroSD slot can take up to 32GB storage. See all specifications.

Power management is a vexing issue with most smartphones, but the Nokia BN-02 battery promises a maximum standby time of 37 days (30 days with dual SIM). Maximum talk time on 2G is 16 hr and 13 hr on 3G.

The Nokia XL comes in a wide range of colors as shown below:

Expert Reviews

About the Nokia XL design and screen resolution of 189ppi, PhoneArena says the following:
The Nokia XL deserves its name - it’s big and unwieldy, larger than most other 5-inch phones.The Nokia XL deserves its name - it’s big and unwieldy, larger than most other 5-inch phones.

The 5-inch screen is not sharp, but it more than makes up for this with its great and vivid colors. Outdoors, though, it’s hard to read the screen.
CNET calls it Nokia's best Android phone, but not good enough.
Despite having a solid build quality, two SIM cards and a powerful battery that lasts all day on a single charge, the processor is deemed slow. In addition, the low screen resolution and unattractive Nokia X UI hinders the user experience. Even worse, Google Play in not accessible and the Nokia app selectionis quite limited.

All in all:
Despite having the best specs of Nokia's Android phones, the XL's poor performance and confusing OS denies users Android's full potential and a true Windows Phone experience.

User Reviews

As expected, Nokia XL elicits mixed reactions, here are just a few from across the web:
I really find the user interface revolting. Windows Phone is so much more beautiful. They should have just stick with it and not come up with a half hearted solution. Disappointed!
- Duketytz

every thing is good about this phone but the basics are missing........ the user interface is not as good as others like samsung motorola or sony have ........... google play another big thing is missing..... RAM is too small...... screen size is big, 5mp with flash, dual sim
- Soumyajit Sinha

Not able to find Whatsapp.. every time i search on store or simply at google.. my XL is not read install it.. Is the problem with my device only..?? or with everyone using it.???
- Nitu

Pricing and Availability

In Kenya, Nokia XL is priced as follows in major stores:
  • Ksh 15,399 at Jumia
  • Ksh 15,499 at MIDCOM
  • Ksh 18,990 at BJ's Store
On Amazon, Nokia XL costs USD 187.47 and on eBay, USD 169.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Equitel - First Impressions

By Pete R Njenga

UPDATE: Equitel has since lowered data charges and now has a most interesting SMS tariff. Read it all here.

NOTE: This is a relatively long post. You can jump to the conclusion already if reading epic stuff is not your thing. To enlarge any of the screen-shots, simply click on the image.

Shortly after 1pm yesterday, I walked into Equity Bank Limuru to get my Equitel SIM. Which I did.
I now proceed to share with you my considered opinion regarding Equitel services viz: voice, sms, data, money transfer and mobile banking.

Of great interest is the public anticipation that was piqued initially at the unveiling of the Equity MVNO strategy and roll-out plan. Also, the legal, regulatory and legislative back and forth which has so far delayed Equitel's launch which was scheduled for July 2014.
All in all, is Equitel good enough to make you ditch Safaricom, Airtel or Orange?

In this post post, I'll endeavor to stay objective and give due credit to all the competing service providers viz Safaricom, Airtel Kenya and Orange Kenya.
That said, let's get right into it.


Service Menus

The Equitel Customer Care number is 100. This number is also used by Safaricom, Airtel and Orange Kenya customers.
Via USSD, *100# presents the Safaricom Self Service menu and the Airtel Kenya Menu which grants access to almost all services offered by these providers. Equitel's menu is quite limited as shown below.

Balance Query

The balance query on Equitel is quite an issue. We have previously written on putting the user first in UI and UX design so that services and menus are accessible to any customer at the least possible effort (or clicks if you like). Equitel needs to come up with a USSD code to query data balance, not the complicated two-step *100# shown below:

Dialing *131# on Airtel, Orange and yuMobile instantly displays your balance. Safaricom users dial *144#. Orange wins on this one because the balance displayed includes main balance, data balance and other bonus balances, including their expiry dates.

Sending a blank SMS to 144 on Safaricom returns the most comprehensive balance statement comprising main airtime balance, its validity, data balance, sms balance and Bonga Points balance.

Voice Services
The Equitel voice tariff is as follows:
  • Ksh 4 per minute from Equitel to Equitel
  • Ksh 4 per minute from Equitel to other networks
  • Ksh 2 per minute to all networks for Equity employees and Equity agents
I feel that this is contrary to public expectation. I personally hoped for a Ksh 3 per minute across networks and Ksh 2 within the Equitel network call rate.

In comparison, Orange charges Ksh 2 per minute within its network (GSM, Telkom landline & CDMA) and charges Ksh 3 per minute across networks.
Safaricom charges Ksh 4 both on-net and off-net. Between 10pm to 8am, however, Safaricom charges Ksh 2 within its network.
Airtel charges Ksh 4.02 both on-net and off-net. On Airtel Tosha, you get the most competitive daily, weekly and monthly voice+sms+data bundles by dialing *767#.

Sending SMS across all networks will cost 1/- on Equitel.

Safaricom charges 1/- for SMS across all networks. It however has super friendly daily SMS rates on *188#. 20 SMS for Ksh 5, 200 SMS for Ksh 10 etc. These SMS bundles are on-net only.
Airtel has cross network daily SMS bundles on *767#. 5 SMS for Ksh 5, 10 SMS for Ksh 9, 20 SMS for Ksh 15 etc.
Orange SMS bundles are in my opinion the most friendly. By dialing #123#, you get 100 off-net + 150 on-net daily for Ksh 10.

I live near an Airtel tower which accords me excellent 3G coverage. Since Equitel rides on the Airtel network, the Equitel signal is exactly the same as that of the Airtel network. Mine is this good:

Data bundles are a different thing altogether. Following are the data bundles currently available. They all have a 30 days validity.

The Equitel data bundles are simply not competitive.
For instance, 1GB costs 1000/- on Equitel. Orange sells 1GB at 750/-
500MB goes for 500/- at Safaricom, 500/- at Orange and 600/- at both Airtel and Equitel.

At Safaricom, 1000/- will get you 1.5GB + 750MB (night shift) data for use between 10pm and 10am for 2 weeks.

Airtel Kenya gives best value for money. Ksh 20 gets you 100MB + 20SMS valid for 24 hours. Airtel also offers 500MB for 20/- (Night Surf) data valid between 12am and 6am.
Orange too, is a worthy competitor, selling every MB at or below Ksh 1 depending on bundle size purchased. It is worth noting that only Airtel and Orange offer unlimited Internet in Kenya.

Something I strongly feel most of these telcos never get right is that when buying data, a customer rarely thinks as s/he does while considering voice and sms costs. It is true I ask myself what a particular network charges for a 1-minute voice call. Also, what a single sms costs. With data, it's the other way around.

For data, I do not really care what 1MB, 100MB or 1GB costs. What matters is how many MBs I can get for Ksh 20, 50, 100, 200, 500, 1000 etc - even if I'll buy using MPESA, Airtel Money or Orange Money.
In other words, the telco that offers MBs based on the existing money denominations in Kenya wins the data fight. Not on cost, but on convenience and true perceived value. In my opinion, only Safaricom has this covered. And the data users numbers for each network do not lie.

Mobile Banking
This is where the rubber finally meets the road.
Equitel mobile money charges are as follows:
  • Check Balance - Ksh 0
  • Deposit - Ksh 0
  • Send Money to your own account - Ksh 0
  • Send money to other Equity accounts - 1% of the transaction value with a maximum of Ksh 25
  • Send money to non-registered phone number (cash by code) - 1% of the transaction value with a maximum of Ksh 25
  • Pay bill - 1% of the transaction value with a maximum of Ksh 25
  • Send money to other banks - 1% of the transaction value with a maximum of Ksh 25, plus Ksh 10 termination fee
  • Send money to other mobile money account (MPESA, Airtel Money etc) - 1% of the transaction value with a maximum of Ksh 25, plus Ksh 10 termination fee
  • Eazzy Loan - 2% per month interest rate of the amount advanced
  • Withdraw money from agent, ATM, branch -  as per existing fee, depending on transaction and channel used.

We recently witnessed Safaricom increasing MPESA charges for amounts larger than Ksh 1500. MShwari loans attract a 7.5% monthly rate (inasmuch as Safaricom calls this 7.5 % a "facilitation" fee, MShwari loans are payable within 30 days) compared to Equitel's 2% interest rate.

What is the loan duration?
The loan is payable within 30 days. However, you can repay the loan before the due date and borrow again. If you pay the loan in less than 30 days your loan limit qualification will increase.

Do you get charged interest on your MShwari loan?
The MShwari loan DOES NOT attract any interest. The 7.5% charged is a loan facilitation fee payable only once for each loan taken.

Sending money across all networks still is FREE with Airtel Money.
Orange Money too has rates lower than MPESA but then again, Orange has very few subscribers and even fewer Orange Money agents.

I strongly feel that this will be a game-changer. Equity Bank CEO Dr James Mwangi has previously stated that Equitel is first and foremost interested in mobile banking and attendant money transfer services. I feel that is why Equitel is not actively competing in the voice, sms and data services as shown above.

All other mobile money service providers have fees which are way above the Ksh 25 cap that Equitel is charging for amounts larger than Ksh 2500. This, I humbly submit, is what Safaricom is most afraid of.

If you get an Equitel line hoping to replace any of your existing mobile phone providers, you will be disappointed. Equitel voice, SMS and data services, based on pricing are to say the least underwhelming. Personally in my dual SIM handset, I'll stick to Airtel for 3G Internet and voice, and Safaricom for SMS and to receive calls. Neither will I get Thin-SIM, for reasons that are beyond the scope of this post.

As you can see from the screenshots above, I intend to be using my Equitel line via my modem since it cannot replace my Airtel and Safaricom SIMs.
It is interesting to note that only Airtel Money has USSD functionality (through *222#). I urge Equitel to establish USSD functionality for the Equity Mobile Money services. Meanwhile, I'll continue sending money to all other networks using Airtel Money. Should the bad stuff hit the fan someday, I'll get an Eazzy loan ;-) (charges 2% interest compared to Safaricom's 7.5% per month).

Finally, I highly recommend Equitel for mobile banking and mobile money transfer. I take this opportunity to cut Equitel some slack given that the service has just been launched, but whoever reads this and is able to suggest things to the Equity higher-ups or can influence decision making at Equity/Equitel should consider the following as priority items:
  • First impressions are most lasting. It would be great to offer introductory pricing for your voice and data services. Only mobile banking is so far attractive.
  • Think of those not interested in Thin-SIM. Introduce USSD functionality so that those without STK can still access the Equitel service menu. Airtel Money's *222# should offer some inspiration
  • Make it easier to access the most important service - the balance query. I personally suggest the standard *131# which Airtel, Orange and yuMobile uses.
  • Avail all the relevant information on the Equitel website (not yet operational as I write this). I also note that the Equitel Facebook and Twitter accounts are still not operational. Not everyone has the time to meticulously search for information about Equitel on social media and across the web, it's time Equitel did the necessary to market this amazing mobile banking product.
So there you have it guys. Equitel only has the best mobile banking and money transfer product/service, which cwould be perfect if accessible via USSD as well.
For voice, sms and data, just stick to your current mobile phone service provider.

How Alcohol Damages Your Brain

By Philomena Njenga

Anyone who has ever observed a drunken person has most likely noted changes in expected normal behaviour. These include uncoordinated movement resulting in staggering, slurred speech and/ or speech that generally doesn’t make sense. Blackouts and memory losses are another effect whereby the person may not remember events which occurred when s/he was under alcohol’s influence. Others lose control of their bowel and bladder movements.  In extreme cases, death may occur.

Another school of thought maintains that ‘a little wine is good for the stomach; and that moderate drinking improves the cognitive (thinking and reasoning) skills.

Paul is a social drinker. He drinks moderately and mostly when in the company of others. Normally, Paul is not given to much conversation. However, whenever he drinks, he becomes quite talkative sometimes to the point of being ‘loud’.  Paul admits that after a few drinks, he starts experiencing slurred speech, difficulty walking, slower reaction speeds and blurred vision. On a few occasions, he has drunk heavily and suffered from short-term memory impairments and blackout whereby he could not clearly remember what happened nor account for his actions.

However, Paul notes that these effects were not long-lasting and that they eventually wore off after some time once he stopped drinking.
Ethanol is the type of alcohol found in alcoholic beverages. It acts as a central nervous system depressant and can impair memory. Effects of alcohol on other brain areas include an inhibitory effect on cerebral cortex thus altering thought processes, decreasing inhibition and increasing threshold to pain. Sexual performance is decreased through depressing nerve centres in the hypothalamus. Inhibition of secretion of Antidiuretic hormone (ADH) of the pituitary gland affects urine excretion. Breathing and heart rate is depressed due to inhibition of the neural functioning of the medulla. Alcohol also alters the functioning in the cerebellum, which coordinates movement and some forms of learning.

According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, several factors influence how alcohol affects a person’s brain. These include:  how much and often they drink; the age at which they started drinking and how long they have been at it; their age, gender, genetic background;  family history and relationship with alcoholism; prenatal alcohol exposure and their general health.
As in Paul’s case, alcohol-related blackouts occur mostly with social drinkers. This is especially true if the alcohol is taken fast and on an empty stomach.

Whereas alcohol use doesn’t kill brain cells, it can damage the end of neurons, which are called dendrites. Though in itself the cell isn’t damaged, the way it communicates with others is changed, resulting in problems conveying messages between the neurons.  According to researchers, this damage is mostly reversible on sobriety.

As a college student, Esther was introduced to alcohol by her peers. At first she dismissed it as just a phase, until she eventually became pregnant and came face to face with her alcohol dependence. She was cautioned to abstain from alcohol as this could be dangerous to her unborn baby. She tried to, but every now and then, she’d give in to the desire. As much as she didn’t binge, the foetus was affected by the exposure to alcohol.
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) is associated with high alcohol consumption while pregnant and is characterized by mental and physical defects to the child. The main effect of FAS is permanent damage to the central nervous system, especially the brain. Whereas binge drinking and regular heavy drinking poses the highest risk, even lesser amounts of alcohol can cause damage, including drinking at the earliest stages of pregnancy, before the woman even realises she is pregnant.

Alcohol crosses the placental barrier from the mother’s bloodstream into her developing baby’s blood. This can interfere with the development of the baby’s critical organs, the brain included. This causes a range of developmental, cognitive and behavioural problems, which mostly lasts a lifetime.

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) is a condition which describes a range of permanent birth defects which occur in a child due to maternal consumption of alcohol during pregnancy. This includes:  Characteristic facial features i.e. small eye opening, smooth philtrum(groove between nose and upper lip), thin upper lip, low nasal bridge, skin folds at the corner of the eye, small midface and small head circumference. Stunted fetal growth and weight prenatally and after birth as well as central nervous system abnormalities are also part of FASD diagnosis.
According to the American college of Obstetrics and Gynecology, pregnant women should not take any form of alcohol. In the United States, prenatal exposure to alcohol is the most common yet 100% preventable cause of birth defects.

Beyond infancy, prenatal alcohol exposure can make kids have learning and reading disabilities, low frustration tolerance and inadequate social boundaries. Teenagers may suffer from continuous learning difficulties, anxiety, depression and inappropriate social behavior.

Ted is a habitual and heavy drinker. He started drinking at a very young age, taking sips from his father’s drinks. Once in his teen-hood, he experimented with different types of alcohol from beer, wine and distilled spirits. Unfortunately, he couldn’t control his drinking and eventually he became a heavy drinker. He takes large quantities of alcohol and drinks quite often. His friends are also heavy drinkers and to him, binge drinking is more of a usual rather than a rare occurrence.
Ted runs the risk of suffering from serious and persistent damage to his brain, either directly or indirectly due to his heavy and long-term exposure to alcohol.

The liver breaks down alcohol into harmless by-products and clears it from the body. Prolonged liver dysfunction from acute alcohol consumption, i.e. liver cirrhosis can harm the brain, causing a potentially fatal brain condition known as hepatic encephalopathy.

Hepatic encephalopathy causes changes in a person’s sleep patterns, personality and mood. The person develops psychiatric conditions like depression and anxiety. Acute cognitive e.g. short attention span and coordination problems also occur. In severe cases, a person may slip into a coma. Alcohol-damaged liver cells allow toxic substances like ammonia and manganese to pass into the brain and harm brain cells. These substances are involved in the development of hepatic encephalopathy.

According to US National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, up to 80% of alcoholics suffer from Thiamine deficiency. Thiamine, also known as vitamin B1, is an essential nutrient necessary to all body tissues including the brain. Severe alcohol consumption can interfere with the body’s ability to absorb Thiamine. Thiamine deficiency may lead to a condition known as Wernicke-korsakoff syndrome (WKS).
WKS consists of two different syndromes: Wernicke’s encephalopathy and Korsakoff’s psychosis. Wernicke’s encephalopathy is short-lived but serious. Its symptoms include mental confusion, difficulty in muscle coordination and oculomotor disturbances (paralysis of the nerves that move the eyes). Though patients suffering from this condition may not exhibit all the symptoms at the same time, the disorder may be present even with one or two of the symptoms. A majority of people suffering from Wernicke’s encephalopathy also develop Korsakoff’s psychosis.

Korsakoff’s psychosis is long-lasting and debilitating. Its symptoms include persistent learning and memory problems, low frustration tolerance and difficulty in walking and coordination. Ironically, a Korsakoff’s psychosis alcoholic may discuss a past event in their life in great detail, yet a short while later forget ever having the discussion.

The cerebellum is the part of the brain that suffers most damage in connection to heavy alcohol consumption. This is because it is quite sensitive to the effects of thiamine deficiency. The cerebellum is responsible for motor function and coordination.

However, alcohol-dependent individuals need not give up.  According to the Lancet Psychiatry, a study conducted showed that alcohol dependence exerts a toll on the brain white matter microstructure, which also has the potential of repair with prolonged sobriety.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Podcast of the Week - Saturday Edition on BBC Radio 5 live

CCM, under the auspices of Complit Communications, is all about sharing valuable information and adding value to information. In recent weeks, we have shared with you Dr Karl on Triple J, KQED Forum and DW's Living Planet - our favorite picks for podcast of the week.

Today, our weekly podcast is Saturday Edition on BBC Radio 5 live.

Hosted by Chris Warburton, the 'Let's Talk about Tech' podcast is essentially a mix of the Saturday night programme. It features the latest news in technology, music, travel, bestselling books, gaming, apps and science.

In each episode, Chris is joined by regular guests, including but not limited to Helen Zaltzman and Rory Reid, Maddie Moat, Tom Cheesewright, Helen Brown, Adrian Phillips and 6 Music's Chris Hawkins.
Lucy Grey at times sits in for Chris.

The hour-long podcast is so interesting, it often feels like a half-hour long programme. It is a top favorite for us, thanks to the light touch in handling every issue. The fact that Saturday Edition focuses on current events is an added bonus, so you never feel like they're regurgitating old news.

The Let's Talk about Tech podcast is uploaded every week, with episodes available for download for 30 days. On the podcast download page, you can download, as well as play/stream some of the latest episodes.
There are also options to subscribe to the podcast feed via RSS, and other options such as iTunes, My Yahoo and Zune.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Mind Games: Mathematical Puzzles and Lateral Thinking Exercises

In this first installment of our mind games, we challenge you with really simple puzzles:

The Dovetail Block

The above block consists of two solid blocks of wood securely dovetailed together. On the other two vertical sides that are not visible the appearance is precisely the same as on those shown. How were the pieces put together?

The Market Situation

Three countrymen met at a cattle market. "Look here," said Hodgen to James, "I'll give you six of my pigs for one of your horses, and then you'll have twice as many animals here as I've got."
"If that's your way of doing business," said David to Hodgen, "I'll give you fourteen of my sheep for a horse, and then you'll have three times as many animals as I."
"Well, I'll go better than that," said James to David; "I'll give you four cows for a horse, and then you'll have six times as many animals as I've got here."

The End of the World

If the end of the world should come on the first day of a new century, can you say what are the chances that it will happen on a Sunday?

We shall publish the solutions to all the above puzzles in next week's CCM Midweek Digest.
Meanwhile, send your answers to connect@complit.co.ke. The first person to get all three answers right wins Ksh 500.

Cents and Sense: Managing Money after Salary Raise or Increased Revenue

More Money, More Problems?
In a past CCM Weekend Edition, we explored how more productivity can be achieved in the workplace, so that a job meets other needs in addition to being a source of income. Management and employers can do this by meeting the emotional needs of employees. In effect, things that make employees loyal and increase productivity such as promotions, bonuses and salary raises – even a new job, all bring in more income.
Consequently, what value judgements should one make when there is a significant increase in income? Unsound personal finance management can easily negate any gains that more money promises.
First off, money doesn't make life better. More money only presents more choices. In 2010, Penelope Trunk of CBS Moneywatch published an article with a bold claim that a job that brings in more money should not be used as a means to achieving happiness. In the workplace, it is autonomy, control and fellowship that make people happy.

Lifestyle Changes
Human beings are always trying to live a better life. Many however, squander opportunity and unduly indulge when faced with higher incomes. How can this be forestalled? Anthony Mugo, a Nairobi based property developer and consultant says the following about how much of a lifestyle change one should make following a salary raise or more revenue:
“A better car or a new shirt - that is the reality of such a situation. Ideally however, such money should be invested.” 
Anthony goes ahead to illustrate using a Biblical story. “Someone with a long-term finance plan will invariably see gaps that could be filled using this extra income. Just like the seven years of plenty offered to Joseph and Egypt, any period of plenty is seasonal. A good rule of thumb is to be guided by long term objectives.”

Joe Barasa, a freelance digital artist, echoes that sentiment, albeit with emphasis on lifestyle. “I am content with my life, so not much change. With a dream of owning my own place, an increase in income would go towards settling on a small farm.  Needless lifestyle changes, such as hanging out with those who spend more is a big NO. So is developing an appetite for expensive habits, such as club membership.”

On paper, this is very good advice. The question that begs asking is: How can one live better without a corresponding increase in spending?
“Nobody is satisfied with the way things currently are, a higher level is ever alluring.” says Anthony. “Without very clear goals, one can get distracted. Care should be taken to help cushion against unpredictable future downturns.” Appreciating what one already has, and staying focused on what is important, not just urgent is essential.

“Comparing oneself to peers, former classmates or submitting to other people's expectations are things I avoid,” says Joe. “Being content obviates wasteful spending.”

The Role of Management
With human frailty in mind, should those in positions of influence be concerned about how people spend their money? “Management should not care.” Anthony asserts. He then goes on. “But I do. My way of doing it is that before hiring anyone, I evaluate if his or her personal goals are congruent with my organization's. In my experience, overlooking this results in high employee turnover. Employees become viable upon understanding their contribution to the employer's business plan, and how they'll get compensated for that.”

Anthony proceeds to explain how just paying adequate salary with no regard to an employee's spending habits is ultimately costly and harmful to employers.
“Employees with poor spending habits are bad for business. They normally have low morale and seldom focus on their roles.  They also spend an inordinate amount of their personal time moonlighting on locums and side hustles instead of concentrating their energies in the organization.”

Joe avers that management and employers should indeed care. “This contributes to the general welfare of the employee. Ultimately, it is good for the company. The onus however, is on employees to use their salaries as they please.”

How then, can this be done? On one side, employers and management can be accused of gross negligence and having no concern for the welfare of employees. As outlined above, an employee's spending habits have an effect on the company. Thus said, management should be interested.
Otherwise, employers and management risk being accused of overstepping a mandate that is assumed to end once an employee is compensated for hours and skills rendered to the company. Being involved in how an employee uses his or her hard-earned money is exercising undue influence. This is both unethical and illegal.
“It is a tight rope.”  says Anthony. “One can only recommend. It is akin to advising that employees tithe or donate to organizations such as the Rotary.”

Joe suggests one way management can navigate these murky waters. “Employers should limit themselves to educating and advising.”  This ensures the employee is left with the choice to make an independent decision, albeit an informed one.
“Management should foster an enabling environment. This is most easily done by creating opportunities that may be hard to come any other way, such as company-backed SACCOs, savings and investment programs.”

Doing the Needful
All said and done, what would be the best things to do following a new job that pays better, a salary raise, or more revenue in business?
“I'd say save and invest more.”  Joe then goes ahead with personal decisions that should carry more weight regardless of income. “Try not to develop an expensive lifestyle. Learn to be content. Do not let your purchasing decisions be influenced by marketing, fads and advertising.” Essentially, it boils down to having a personal stand, and the ability to wisely separate needs from wants.

“Items that enhance productivity in the workplace should be prioritized.” says Anthony. The business should be enhanced first, not the owners or directors jumping sans looking by taking vacations to exclusive islands or buying luxury personal items. “It is more prudent to pamper the business, not the person.” If anything, additional spending should benefit both employer and employee. “Bonuses keep employees motivated” Anthony adds.

In sum, cents and sense need not be mutually exclusive, especially when big money comes in. And this holds true both for small and large amounts of money, which is in line with the English saying that 'if one takes care of the pennies, the pounds will take care of themselves.'
In the book How to Win in the Coming Jua Kali Boom, the shilling cycle in business involves buying, processing, transporting and selling. Between selling and restarting the cycle through buying, there is an important checkpoint called 'manage money.'
Checkpoint 'moto' is a critical step where money mostly hemorrhages from the cycle. It is at this point that needless spending happens, profits are squandered, business proceeds are spent in bars and casinos .

Many businesses are wrecked at this point. So are the personal finances of many salaried individuals. The temptation to succumb to expensive habits is most alluring following a salary raise or higher income in business. Care should therefore be taken to make prudent decisions that have far reaching effects for both employees and employers.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Gadget of the Week - Samsung ATIV Smart PC

Last week, we embarked on a new exciting weekly tech series on CCM.
This was our first gadget of the week.

This week, our weekly gizmo is the Samsung ATIV Smart PC.
It is an 11.6 inch Windows 8 computer with 64GB flash storage.Other specs are a 1.8 GHz Clover Trail Intel Atom processor and 2GB RAM. See full specifications on the Samsung site.

Where is Stands Out
The Samsung ATIV Smart PC 500T differs from many other tablets in two main ways:
  • it is a full-fledged Windows 8 device
  • it is a hybrid tablet-laptop hybrid with a keyboard dock.
  • has a full-sized USB 2.0 slot on the tablet itself.
  • the keyboard dock has an additional two USB 2.0 port
In addition, it features an 11.6 inch screen, whereas other hybrid devices such as the ASUS Transformer Book T100 and Acer Iconia W510 have a 10.1 inch screen.

Expert Reviews 
According to PC World, this device elicits mixed feelings:
The touch experience is excellent, but the overall size seems to be just a bit too large for comfortable use as a tablet. The ATIV performs well as a tablet, however, and the touchscreen is responsive and gorgeous. But the overall awkwardness because of the size makes it less than optimal.

 As a laptop, it’s well-suited for light duty use: checking email, browsing the web, doing a little word processing. However, you’d never mistake it for a full performance laptop. The 2GB of memory is limiting, and the system can get sluggish if you fire up several large desktop applications.

Over at Gizmodo, the verdict is almost damning:
..the Ativ 500T is a compromise. A bunch of compromises, crammed into a sorta-dorky looking tablet. For a lot of you, that's going to mean it's in a No Man's Land of mediocrity—despite a genuinely impressive trick of running desktop apps on this slender little tablet, just not worth it. But the new Atom SoC is a promising, mostly acceptable processor, if you know what you're getting into. For some of you, Intel has delivered exactly what you've been waiting for in a PC/tablet convertible.

Good Gear Guide does cut the Samsung Ativ 500T Smart PC some slack.
It may not be a terrier when it comes to speed, but the Samsung Ativ Smart PC 500T (XE500T1C-A01AU) is well built and can be used to good effect for Web browsing, media consumption and some limited gaming (with Windows Store games). We like its screen, the long battery life, the Wacom stylus and its keyboard. However, its dock could use a slightly better hinge and we think the tablet's storage capacity should be greater, especially considering the $999 cost of this unit. But overall, we think it's a good unit and it continues Samsung's good run in the mobile device space.

User Reviews
Those who have used this device have obviously had a thing or two to say.
Amazon User reviews can be both favorable and highly critical. Consider the following:
Sound is now 100% reliable with no clicking from the speakers, wifi connects reliably every time, and there seem to be no more random freeze ups. The keyboard dock has gradually become more reliable to the point where it has not disconnected in days (I think the connector just needs to "break in" a bit.) I have been pleased enough with this tablet over the last week that I ordered two additional units, one for the lab I work in, and another as a gift. - Mitchell Underwood

As mentioned by the other reviewers, this tablet will surprise you. It runs great without any major glitches! Of course, it's not going to break any speed records, but it's not sluggish at all. It does creak when you pick it up from one side, but so do many other Samsung devices. The hardware is adequate for what this tablet is designed for. The more expensive sibling, the Ativ SmartPC Pro, is faster with more RAM and storage at the expense of weight, battery life and heat generation.

Once you start using it and realize that this is a full-blown computer in your hands running full Office, Adobe suite, proper web browser with full flash and more, you won't go back to any other tablets such as iPad or Androids. Furthermore, if you are into inking and taking notes, S-Note or OneNote are perfect with the included stylus. - Ozan "..."

Good Gear Guide comments too is inundated with user comments and reviews:

Bought one recently and returned it the next day due to persistent crashing of the OS. Faulty memory was the cause. Received a replacement which I have had for approx 10 days now and am having lots of display problems with the screen constantly dimming and flickering making it very frustrating and difficult to use. If not for that issue I would be quite happy with it. I will probably return this one as well as I cannot continue with it like this. - Bryan.

I bought mine a month ago for my birthday but only started using it 2 weeks ago.
For what I pay and use for I'm 100% happy.
These are the functions that I use without problems (I can't comment on the other functions that I don't use).
Front and rear cameras, stream music & movies via XBox, Kindle Book, Mico SD card slot, Blue tooth, wireless connection to my home network (tandem to my Iphone away from free wirleless acesss) But the best feature of all is the USB port on the tablet allow me to watch downloaded movies)
I recommend this product to anyone that doesn't want to do more than I'm using it for. - Peter Pak.

PROS: Screen appearance, portability
CONS: digitizer pen not accurate, screen brightness flicker, screen reflection, lack of extra battery in keyboard, no SIM slot

Had basic success with this. Initial unit failed within days of purchase. Replacement unit back twice for repair
Convenient for travel and good for movies etc.
Digitizer pen does not work too well for precise pointing, the contact point is not near the pen point.
Wouldn't buy another one.- David.

Price and Availability 
Samsung ATIV 500T is available on Amazon at $599.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Working for Love or for the Money?

Something to wake up to
Do you wake up every morning and go to work for the money or because you love your job?
“Your work is gonna fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.” 
Steve Jobs said the above in a 2005 commencement address at Stanford University.

It is interesting why people work. Employers are keen to know if employees work just for the money. This makes it easier to know what would result in a more productive workforce other than higher salaries. CCM recently sought the views of entrepreneurs and employees to find out what in addition to remuneration, attracts people to the workplace.

Phoebe Cherotich, a banker, reckons that the paycheck is primarily what her job is for. “Whereas this is a sad but true reality, the ever rising inflation, bills and a family to raise does justify this,” she adds. “If I had the option to choose what to do, the  major determinant would be 'for how much?'”

For Esther Kamau, who works with an N.G.O. in Nairobi, work gives her a sense of self-fulfillment. “I like what I do and the company I work for. I also work for money, I support people through my income.”

Andrew Kiriti, Director of Bonjour Institute in Nairobi considers himself fortunate to have been on both sides of the divide, however you look at it.  “It's clear to me that most people work for money. At some point in my life I have found myself working for money too.” Asked if the need for more than money is the reason he left formal employment, he says: “It takes a conscious effort to get back to doing what one loves, even though it may not pay immediately.” Thus, many employees are largely motivated by money as a matter of circumstance, not preference.

Passion Over Profit
In July 2013, Forbes published an online article about doing what one loves in business. Aptly titled 'Passion Before Profit', following one's passion is identified as an essential entrepreneurial trait. Here, passion is defined as the intense compelling emotion, desire, and enthusiasm for something.

Such thinking, albeit ideal, is what informed these timeless words by Whit Hobbs:
"Success is waking up in the morning, whoever you are, wherever you are, however old or young, and bounding out of bed because there's something out there you love to do, that you believe in, that you're good at —something that's bigger than you are, and you can hardly wait to get at it again today."

Between being motivated purely by money and doing something one is passionate about and good at, what is more rewarding?
“What is more fulfilling is to do something you enjoy that is so rewarding you can even forget to ask for pay.  It is rewarding emotionally and the emotion is what keeps you going.” Phoebe says.
Esther on the other hand, has a slightly different take. “I just want to do something that makes a difference. I need not be passionate about it, just being useful is rewarding enough for me.”

The money one earns and what one feels earning it are not mutually exclusive. “It is without a doubt more fulfilling in the long run to do what one loves, but the initial stages of doing what one loves can be very disheartening as these times are rarely financially rewarding.” Andrew says. “The inverse is true for those who choose money over passion, as the initial stages are quite rewarding (financially), but the level of emotional fulfillment diminishes over time as one seeks a purpose to their existence.”

Emotional Needs and Self-fulfillment
Writing about Emotional Needs in the book 'How to Win in the Coming Jua Kali Boom', Samuel Wamae offers interesting insights. Even if the financial gain from a job is taken as a material need, it coexists with emotional needs present in every individual.

These needs are difficult to deal with. To illustrate, an employee may walk into a manager's office and ask for a salary increase. The employee may need respect from the same manager but however much he may feel the need for respect, he will not walk into the manager's office and say “I want respect.”
It is for this reason that few people, if any, will accept to be digging holes all day and later filling them up, in the name of a job just because there is pay.

When people find themselves at the junction of work and life, it would be priceless for every manager or company to realize that man does not live on bread alone, that every employee needs to feel that his existence is not in vain.
A key aspect of emotional needs is that they need to be continually met. Someone who feels respected today still needs the respect tomorrow and the day after.

Getting the most out of workers
Many entrepreneurs are naturals at loving what they do. For employees however, management needs to consider both the material (financial) and the often overlooked emotional needs of workers. A high salary in itself does not translate to a highly motivated employee. A job should be challenging as well as fulfilling. The workplace should maintain an ethical and transparent culture.

How best can employees be motivated to love their jobs?
Phoebe says that employees are motivated by both good remuneration and incentives, which usually keep them loyal.  She is however quick to add that career progression is another motivator. Even with a regular salary increment, it becomes disheartening if an employee retains the same position in a company for ages.

“Definitely! Higher packages are a motivation.” says Esther, with a smile. “If employees can have a sense of the value they add to the organization, this could also be a motivating factor.”  That is why employees may be offered shares to give them a sense of ownership of the company.

Andrew  gives more depth to Esther's assertion of value addition both to the company and to the employee's personal life. He says, “Over my years in entrepreneurship, I have come to learn that much as money is an important motivator, employees react much better to having a keen understanding as to WHY they do what they do, why their work is important and knowing that they are a key ingredient to the overall success of the company.”
Man's search for meaning cannot be gainsaid even in the workplace. It thus goes without saying that an employee would also want to know what is in it for him or her, as previously highlighted by Phoebe. “Employees are also keen on personal development and management should create avenues to help staff improve themselves.” Andrew adds.

In sum, people do have other needs in addition to making money at the workplace. These needs are emotional in nature and need to be continuously met. Respect,  encouragement, justice, kindness, courtesy, self-worth, purpose and meaning are just but a few of those needs.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Podcast of the Week - Living Planet

In the past two weeks, we have shared with you what we consider the CCM podcast of the week. First, it was Dr Karl on Triple J and last week, KQED's Forum.
This week, our weekly podcast is from yet a different continent. It is Living Planet from the English service of Deutsche Welle Radio in Germany, Europe.

Living Planet is a weekly radio show that focuses on environmental matters. With man's impact on the planet a key premise of the program, Living Planet reports on how our planet is. As stated on the program's homepage:
As humans' impact on the planet becomes more evident, there is a need for independent reporting. Living Planet looks at new technologies, visits innovative projects and keeps you up-to-date on the state of the earth.
At Complit Communications, we are very conscious of the human impact on the environment. Through the Greening Kenya initiative, we have for years lobbied and fostered topical discourse advocating for ethical and sustainable management of our natural resources.
We highly recommend that you listen to Living Planet.

The most recent edition of Living Planet dwells on what is generally considered ugly and repulsive in the world.

You can listen to Living Planet every Thursday on the DW site. Alternatively, you can subscribe to the program's RSS or iTunes feed.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Gadget of the Week - ASUS Padfone

Every Monday, CCM will bring you our gadget of the week. In this new feature, we examine one gizmo - be it a new release or otherwise - that brings something unique and of great use in the technological space.

This week, our weekly gizmo is the ASUS Padfone.

ASUS Padfone is a revolutionary device that comprises a 5 inch smartphone that docks in a 10.1 inch Padfone Station. Both smartphone and tablet dock run on the Android operating system.

This device presents a great value proposition to the customer through a 2-in-1 device combination.

The latest Padfone is the New ASUS Padfone Infinity which has impressive specifications, which include:
  • 2.2 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 CPU
  • 42Mbps DC-HSPA on 3G
  • 4G LTE connectivity
  • 5 inch phone with 1920x1080 full HD IPS display
  • 10.1 pad with 1920x1200 full HD IPS display
  • 2MP front, 13MP rear camera on phone
  • 1MP front camera on pad
  • MicroSD card (upto 64GB)
Here are more ASUS Padfone specifications.

Where it Stands Out
The phone fits into the dock, christened Padfone Station as follows:

This is an intuitive product that transforms a 5 inch full HD smartphone into a 10.1 full HD tablet once the phone is docked in the Pad Station. It should be noted that the dock is not a stand-alone tablet. It's core function is to extend the screen size of the phone.

Expert Reviews

User Reviews

Pricing and Availability
The New ASUS Padfone Infinity A86 costs USD 698 on Amazon and USD 714 on eBay.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Enhancing Mobile Subscriber Choice Through Dual SIM, Dual Number SIM and Thin SIM

Back in the day, many handsets were locked to a particular network. I remember my sister bought a Motorola T100 that was locked to the Safaricom network. In 2003, my college friend Crispus had a Sagem phone which was configured to only use a Kencell SIM.

Basically, there was no choice. All phones were feature phones, and phones not tied to a particular network (either Safaricom or Kencell) were prohibitively expensive. The only way to enjoy the benefits of access to either network was having two phones.

With time, some people started unlocking these phones. Dubbed "flashing," this was akin to the jail-breaking that many an iPhone underwent shortly after launch in 2007 when it was exclusive to the AT&T network in USA.

Despite unlocking these phones, the ideal, albeit elusive solution was accessing two networks simultaneously on one handset.

Dual SIM adapters

A dual SIM adapter makes it possible to have two micro-SIM size lines in a mini-SIM slot of a phone. Both SIMs are now usable on a single phone, even though only one SIM will be live at any given time.
What a dual-SIM adapter obviates is the inconvenience of removing and reinserting a particular SIM to use its associated network.

It should be noted that almost almost feature phones use a mini-SIM. The makers of a dual-SIM adapter provided a mini-SIM size holder that held two micro-SIMs from two providers. Using a circuit, the two were linked for use in one phone.

Modern SIM adapters such as SIMORE use advanced technologies to achieve a dual SIM module (see photo above).

Dual SIM Phones

Dual SIM handsets are a great enhancement to subscriber choice. Be it a feature phone or smartphone, a dual SIM phone enables simultaneous access to two mobile networks at any given time. Some of them even have a smart feature that allows receiving calls on line 2 while line 1 is on use.

Each of the two lines has voice, texting and data access ability, which means that if you prefer better voice rates on one network which may not have fast mobile broadband, you can then use SIM 1 for voice and SIM 2 for fast 3G or 4G, all on the same phone.

Nokia (above) and Samsung (below) are some of the many phone makers who have a wide range of dual SIM handsets worldwide.

Thin SIM

This is the SIM technology that Equity bank's Finserve Africa (a wholly owned subsidiary of Kenya's Equity Bank) plans to use upon rollout of the Equitel mobile network.

The Thin-SIM, also known as Slim-SIM or Skin-SIM is a very thin SIM that has a printed circuit with contacts on both sides. It is then stuck onto an existing SIM, be it mini or micro SIM.
Upon inserting the new compound SIM into a phone, you get dual SIM functionality.

Some of the makers of this SIM are Taisys and Bibitel.

Locally, this SIM technology has elicited intense opposition from Safaricom, which alleges that the Thin-SIM presents security vulnerabilities that would negatively affect the primary SIM. This matter has attracted regulatory attention from both Communications Authority of Kenya and the Central Bank of Kenya. n addition, a parliamentary committee on communications has so far received presentations from all the aforementioned parties regarding the same.

An announcement is yet to be made if Equitel can go ahead and launch mobile banking and telecommunications services using Thin-SIM.

Dual Number SIM

Dual nuamber SIM is yet another solution that presents two phone numbers in a single SIM. In most cases, this would be from the same provider. The 1 SIM, 2 numbers solution is ideal in situations where a customer has two numbers - one for business and one for social communication - and wouldn't want to carry two phones with him or her all the time.

In Pakistan, Warid Telecom and Telenor do offer the dual number SIMs.

* * *

The above choice enhancements are solutions that mobile phone operators in competitive markets should explore in a bid to gain subscribers.

In Kenya for example, Thin-SIM is a very interesting approach that other operators viz: Airtel Kenya and Orange Kenya should put to use should Equitel get the go-ahead to roll out using Thin-SIM.
Dual SIM handsets and dual SIM adapters too, should be used in cases where there is an already established operator. A market entrant using any of these technologies then gives subscribers a chance to test-drive both networks at the same time, without abandoning the first-mover network.

Listen to Your Customers: Lessons from iPad Mini & iPhone 6

7 inch is too small

iPad Air and iPad Mini

Once upon a time, Steve Jobs said the following:
There are clear limits of how close you can physically place elements on a touchscreen before users can reliably tap, flick, or pinch them.
This is one of the key reasons we think the 10-inch screen size is the minimum size required to create great tablet apps.

At the time, he famously called 7 inch tablets "dead on arrival," adding that a 7-inch screen would be
"too small to express the software."

This was in 2010 and two years later, Apple Inc released iPad Mini, a 7.85 inch tablet. Apple was wrong.

The iPhone screen is just right

iPhone vs Samsung Galaxy thumb reach.

Upon releasing the very first iPhone, the Apple CEO said that Apple had designed the perfectly propositioned gadget - something wonderful for one's hand.
Justifying the still slender 4 inch screen in iPhone 5, Apple insisted that anything wider than the iPhone screen size required two hands, saying:
a user can drag a thumb from one corner diagonally across to the farthest corner. Anything larger would require two thumbs.

Consumers want what we don't have

Market forces, however, can shape and change even the most hardline stands. With time, Apple came to discover that customers actually 'Think Different.'

Thanks to the ongoing Apple vs Samsung litigation, some documents from an internal meeting at Apple in April 2013 indicated that Apple realized that it had nothing to compete with in the cheaper, larger display smartphones that Android OEMs have been offering.
More of these documents are available here.

Traditionally, Apple has released products that greatly revolutionize what already exists in the market. It is only in select products where the tech giant has taken an entirely blue ocean approach. Before iPod, there were other music players. So were tablets before iPad.

All said and done, the release of a smaller iPad and bigger iPhones is a case study in listening to what customers are telling you, then accordingly adjusting to market forces and coming up with products and services that are in demand.

Whatever your convictions as a business, it is the customer who should in most cases inform your product and services offering.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Podcast of the Week - KQED Forum

Last week, we debuted the CCM podcast of the week. Our pick then was the Science on Mornings with Dr Karl podcast, hosted by Zan Rowe on ABC's Triple J.

Today, our focus is not on Science and Knowledge, but ideas and issues of interest.
Our pick this week is Forum, that is broadcast weekly on KQED Radio and hosted by Michael Krasny.

KQED Radio is a NPR-member station in San Fransisco, California. It is owned by Northern California Public Broadcasting.

According to the KQED web site, KQED Forum is
"a live call-in program presents wide-ranging discussions of local, state, national and international issues, as well as in-depth interviews.
[Forum] airs on KQED Public Radio weekdays at 9am & 10am."

Having been listening to KQED Forum for over a year now, it is a most interesting radio show.
Following are just a few top favorite and highly recommended episodes:

The Science of Willpower

The Magic of Innovating in Pairs 

How We Make Moral Decisions

How Less Sleep Increases Your Risk of Disease

Unlocking Secrets of the Human Brain

To listen to KQED Forum, visit the Forum web site or subscribe to the Forum podcast RSS feed.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Understanding Niche Markets

What is a niche and what makes a niche market?
Upon realizing this particular market, what should an entrepreneur do?

Well, a niche is defined as a specialized part of a market for products or services. It creates a situation where a business's products or services can succeed by being sold to a particular kind or group of people.

A niche market, according to Wikipedia, is the subset of the market on which a specific product is focused. The market niche defines the product features aimed at satisfying specific market needs, as well as the price range, production quality and the demographics that is intended to impact. It is also a small market segment.

Which makes one ask, why focus on a small part of the market when logic dictates that you widen your market as much as possible?
The simple answer is that customer needs are unique and thanks to competition, it is impossible to offer the best possible products and services to everyone at all times. In other words, it's impossible to be all things to all people.

Niches in essence exist to address the classic problem of jack-of-all-trades who are a master of none.
Focusing a particular product or service on a well-defined target market. Working within a niche also enables you to become really good at something, and this partly informs the Google philosophy:
It's best to do one thing really, really well.

How does one identify the target market?

As outlined above, a key component of operating in a niche market is being exceedingly good at one thing. From experience, many will agree that becoming known for one thing is not hard… It is saying NO to all of the other distractions that is the hard part.

For this reason, a niche should be very well defined right from the start.

The Customer
It all starts with defining your ideal customer. This involves the interests, issues, aspirations and needs of this customer. In addition, the gender, age, geographical location, hobbies, position in society, revenue and other market relevant information.

The Product (Good or Service)
Next, what is it that you purpose to sell? This forms the industry you'd like to serve.
This should be something you love, are quite good at and have an influence in.

The Brand
It is at this stage that you set yourself apart from the competition (oh yes, there's always someone else addressing the same needs, or soon will). Differentiating your brand through offering an experience that puts the customer first can ideally make you the go-to person in your chosen niche.

Fill a Gap
In some cases, your business idea will enable you meet an ignored need by addressing a forgotten audience. The good thing about this is that it offers a first mover advantage that accompanies blue ocean marker strategies. In such an uncontested market space, competition can ideally be made irrelevant if and when they get into the market.
To best do this, understand your market's unique needs and meet them appropriately.

Your Best Shot
In Jim Collins's Good to Great, the Hedgehog Concept encompasses a deep understanding of:
  • what you are deeply passionate about
  • what you can be the best in the world at
  • what drives your economic engine
Knowing what you are really good at will reveal your priorities and business focus. This knowledge can also be realized from past failures and patterns.

Be in the Know
It is one thing to be good in business offering great products and services but another to remain consistently great. To avoid being overtaken by events, it helps to understand industry trends

Your Niche Statement
This statement coalesces what your niche is, their problem, your solution and your promise.
Having done all the above, it is now possible to integrate your ideas. At this stage, you are able to start to shape your product, your passions, and your customers’ needs to create something new and different.

The Way Ahead

In sum, a deep understanding of your niche market enables maximizing of your marketing effort on a carefully selected market segment. It is also cost-effective and easy to monitor and scale.

Niche markets present a low-risk way to grow a business. Success greatly depends on meeting the unique needs of your target market, saying the right thing to them and always testing the markets. 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Climate Change: Drip Irrigation and Mulching

With every passing day, global warming and the ensuing climate change are resulting in erratic weather patterns. Less rainfall, drought, flooding, and other unprecedented changes have all taken a toll on those actively involved in agriculture.
Needless to say, food is a universal need that demands perpetual supply. In the wake of the aforementioned unfortunate happenings, food security would be seriously threatened unless appropriate remedial measures are put in place.

This is where trickle irrigation and mulching comes in.

Drip/Trickle Irrigation

Drip irrigation is a most efficient method of watering crops. This is done through narrow tubes that deliver water directly to the base of the plant.
Compared with sprinkler/overhead irrigation whose efficiency is about 75%, drip irrigation has an efficiency exceeding 90%. This simply means that less water is wasted.
It is also referred to as micro or localized irrigation.

A key reason is that water is applied where it's needed most - at or very near to the plant's roots. It is also both easy and cheap to design and install.
Drip irrigation's high efficiency is due to two main factors:
  1. water soaks into the soil before it can evaporate or run off.
  2. the water is applied only where it's needed, as mentioned above.
In addition, using drip irrigation reduces chances of diseases that are associated with very high levels of moisture in some plants, which occur especially with overhead irrigation.


A mulch is a layer of material that is applied to the surface of an area of soil, for several reasons. Key among these is to conserve moisture, improve soil fertility, reduce the growth of weeds or simply enhance the an area's aesthetics.

Most mulching is done using organic material. With time, and thanks to organic activity, the mulch material gets incorporated into the soil. Ultimately, this enriches and protects the soil, resulting in a better growing environment.

Mulching presents many benefits, some of which are:
  • protecting the soil from erosion
  • maintaining an even soil temperature
  • conserving moisture
  • preventing weed growth
  • reducing compaction following heavy rains

Mulches should be applied at varying times for different crops.
Drip irrigation used in concert with mulching ensures maximum watering efficiency with minimum water loss due to evaporation or surface run-off.

When the Deal is Too Good.. Quailmania

It has been a great year. Josephine is the talk of the village, even the hope of the village for those who are looking out for the next big deal. Agribusiness is at its best here. The lovely lass is all for making big money, with as little effort as possible. It has so far worked well, and inspired by past performance as is always the case, Josephine gets caught up in the quagmire and intricacies of quick money and supply driven business. 

The phone rang a second time, but Josephine simply ignored it. She had just lost serious money, but her deadbeat boyfriend who was at best a penniless poet apparently wanted to still 'hang out'. Previously, she had no problem spending hours with him at his place. Things had however changed. Her life had changed.

* * *

In December 2013, Josephine heard people were making money rearing quails. Those in the know said that a young quail, was going for at least Ksh 250. Even better, a single egg cost over Ksh 100.
Josephine promptly decided she also wanted a piece of this pie.

In 2012, Josephine had made some Ksh 50,000 selling tomatoes and cauliflowers. She withdrew all this money and bought two hundred birds. She went ahead and took a short term loan of a similar amount, part of which she used to construct sheds, buy feed, brooding lights, vitamin concentrates, medication and vaccinations for her quails. In less than six months, she would be making big money.

In business, as in life, there is often a very big difference between plan and reality. In fact, one English proverb says “There is many a slip twixt the cup and the lip.” Josephine knew there would be challenges along the way, and she was well prepared. She had set aside a contingency fund to deal with such unforeseen eventualities as disease outbreaks and sharp increases in the cost of animal feed.
Thankfully, it was relatively smooth-sailing as her quails grew. No diseases. No unexpected costs. No stress. At this time, Josephine bought an additional 100 birds.

* * *

In early 2014, the media in Kenya ran some investigative journalism pieces on major TV stations, that questioned among other things, the health benefits of quail eggs. These features elicited public debate as expected, and both radio and television stations were soon inundated with so-called experts who went further and cast aspersions on the viability of the quail market.

With increased scrutiny, it became clear that quail eggs are overrated, both in terms of the price and the health benefits. Also, the birds are not reared in an organic environment. As such, they are fed regular layers mash. Always locked up in cages, they are not free-range birds that are often healthier.
This naturally had an effect on the masses, and the seemingly insatiable appetite for quail eggs and meat started waning.

Josephine was ill-prepared for this new reality. The price of quail eggs was fast falling from a high of Ksh 200  to less than a hundred. And it kept falling with lower demand.
By the time Josephine's quails started laying eggs, an egg was going for Ksh 50 in select markets, and this price was not even guaranteed. The market was also flooded, since every enterprising person who aspired for quick money had set up a quail farm. There were stories of guys who had taken loans and were now losing land, cars and other property.

When the best price one quail egg could fetch became just under Ksh 10, Josephine realized that the bubble had inevitably burst. She was yet to break even. In fact, the cost of chasing after elusive markets was bearing heavily on her, both financially and emotionally. She now found it hard to even feed the birds.
Every time she walked into the shed, her heart broke. As expected, the birds were laying eggs but with no sales, she started gradually reducing the rations.

* * *

Barely a month after effecting various cost-cutting measures, Josephine walked in one morning to find several birds dead. Many others were unwell. Before sunset, over a dozen more were dead. Next morning, she collected over twenty dead birds.
This was now too much to bear. To avoid further losses, Josephine finally did the one thing she considered the most humane send-off for her quails. She opened the doors and set all the birds free. Some died of hunger, others were devoured by cats and dogs. Birds of prey ate the rest.

Josephine learned her biggest and most costly lesson in this latest fad - quail farming, having fallen for it hook, line and sinker.

When the deal is too good, think twice.

* * *