Funding Doesn’t Make Software Big

Image Courtesy of Kitui Djothefu

Funding doesn’t make software “big” — selling software doesn’t work the same way selling mandazis does, primarily because the question “what will I do with the money to make my software successful?” does not have an educated answer. If it did, I would have exercised that option a long time ago; I am not devoid of options for securing massive funding — when your software starts getting the kind of attention that Chasys Draw IES has been getting in the west of late, your options tend to many and varied.

You see, people don’t buy software because there’s a billboard somewhere advertizing it — people buy/use software because;

  • It’s what they’re used to, or
  • It’s what everyone is using, or
  • It’s what works with what they have, or
  • They already have it. It sound silly but that is how it is, ask yourself why you use products from Microsoft and Adobe and you’ll see.


For this reason, software grows organically; you write a great piece of software, you put it out there, people adopt it because it serves them well and every update improves it, they talk about it and others try it, glossy magazines review it and popularity grows, more peple adopt it coz it keeps getting better and better, growth becomes exponential and after several years of hard work, the software has a market-share to boast about and the developer can finally make some money out of it.

That is how the Windows, Facebooks, Googles and Photoshops of this world came to be. They started out in someone’s bedroom or dorm-room, grew a massive user community, then went commercial. The people who have tried the mandazi strategy, especially so for software that targets an international user-base, have discovered the hard way that software is not mandazi, that you cannot buy more software-flour, software-oil and software-sufurias and “expand”.

I do, however, accept donations (maintaining that high-bandwidth download website is not cheap), so if you’re feeling sufficiently philanthropic…

-Text Courtesy of John Paul Chacha, Founder of Chasys Draw IES

An interesting analysis on why startups succeed – out of 5 factors funding ranks the least.


The Handshake Problem

In the past two years, iHub Research has been running Project Umati — an online dangerous speech monitoring initiative. As part of the Data Lab team, we were tasked with translating Susan Benesch framework for hate speech into a machine learning system. This entailed first collecting data via Twitter Streaming API and storing it in a database. That was the easy part. Then came the analysis.

We first realised there are too many duplicates (RTs) which are likely to skew the dataset. Removing the native RTs are easy in any programming language. But on Twitter there’s a monster known as manual retweeting — additional text before a retweet which makes them have non-uniform byte size. We needed to remove those too in-order to have truly unique entries. So, we came up with an idea. To use levenshtein distance and calculate string similarity then remove tweets that have a high degree of similarity. Voila! Problem solved…but an issue arose. The computational time for executing the code is linear to the amount of data since each tweet is compared with the rest to measure similarity. This gives a Big O notation of n*n, i.e if you have 10,000 tweets, the number of comparisions to be done are 10,000 *10,000 = 100,000,000 (10 million comparisons).

The Combinatoric Explosion

Assume every comparison takes a second, then it will take 115 days (3.8 months) to complete code execution. BOOM!!! and the combinatoric explosion happens. Time of execution scale with data until it an exponential growth in resources required forces a program termination.

Unfortunately we didn’t have three months to compare tweet similarity. Two ways presented themsleves in this conundrum — use GPUs for parallel processing or write a more efficient algorithm. The former required a significant time in learning how to do low-level C code code while the later just needed more reasoning, so we opted for the later.

The Dissection

We began by drawing the matrix created during the manipulation and finding where we could optimize the process. First we recognized each tweet get’s compared by itself, this wasn’t useful since we already knew the outcome. So we sort to avoid self-comparison. In code implementation, this was done by executing when i!=j. For N tweets, the number of comparisons to be done at this point is n*n-n. Progress, but not good enough.

After looking at the indices comparison we came to the conclusion that there’s a complement comparison i.e comparing index 1 and 5 is the same as comparing 5 and 1. Sigh of relief, if we could remove this complementary comparision we can half the time for execution. We knew where to do the optimization but scratched our head on how to implement it on code. So we went back to study the matrix. Adding indices below the diagonal always produced a negative number while indices above produced a positive integer. The light bulb when on and the apple dropped — we had solved it.

The Implementation

We figured out setting i-j>0 we could ignore computation below the diagonal. Fist bumps made rounds in the office, we now had if (i!=j & i-j >0) as oursentinel valueComputationally speaking the lower half of the matrix represented half the values hence n/2 comparisons. Total number of comparisons at this juncture is (n*n-n)-n/2 — an almost 55 percent reduction in computation time. Then we simplified the formula and someone said he had seen the formula before.

It then hit me, it’s the Handshake Problem — which states, if there are N people in a party, the total number of mutual handshakes in the party will be represented by the formula above. I felt jovial and dumb at the same time, looking at it in retrospect each tweet represent a person, and a person can not shake their own hand, also shaking another person’s hand is the same as that person shaking your hand.

The Slicer

We are glad to have figured out the optimisation, and now its part of ourslicer code which we use to returns highly relevant tweets during an event on Twitter.

This code is part of Umati Codebase which is available on GitHub under Apache License 2.0

10 Intriguing Kenyan Patents

Research by Chris Orwa, Write-up by Owaahh
Data sourced from CIPIT
Special thanks to IP Kenya 

The idea behind patenting is to make sure you own the rights to something if it ever becomes a commercial success. If there’s money involved, Kenyans are definitely likely to be on it. But most ideas never make it past the design phases. Some, however bizarre, get patented.

10. The Answer to Wet Toilet Seats

In 2007, Kelechi Obilo ad Chinyere Obilor registered patent KE000363 for a ‘dual layered disinfected hand glove like tissue for wiping cistern handles and toilet seat before use.’ Basically a tissue paper for specifically wiping common toilet seats. A solution, it seems, for people with OCD to whom even the common tissue paper is a health hazard. Officially known as TOLICARE, the design is for double-layered gloves made of a tissue-like material. There are two gloves, one to be exposed after the first wiping and the second after, well, the second wiping. TOLICARE is also disinfected, and most importantly, disposable.

2952470214_c6b59e8229_bPhoto Courtesy of Art Sandhu

Patent Reference

9. A Structure for Housing Mammals and Fish

If you own a hamster, have you thought about how boring its life is? Stuck in a cage, the wheel must become boring really fast. Erick Kariuki thought about that when he was visiting an underwater hotel in Dubai. Eager to change the situation and make sure his small rodent pet was having a blast all the time, he designed ‘a Structure for Housing Mammals and Fish.”

3997237731_16223167f0_bPhoto Courtesy of Sarah Bell

Registered under Patent number GB20110009480 (2012), Eric’s invention is a hamster cage combined with a fish tank to make an underwater housing for pets. The tank and the tunnel are encased in glass to make it easy for everyone to watch the animals as they move and to presumably think about ingenous the combination is. The rodent, Eric envisioned, would live in a permanent holiday hotel. Whether the fish would be having as much fun is a whole different idea.

Eric’s underwater hamster cage may sound bizarre but he turned down millions from someone who thought it would be a commercial success.

Patent Reference

8. Cigarette Tar Remover

In 1996, Ayub Ndii from Kijabe applied for a patent for a Cigarette Tar Remover (CTR). This ingenious product supposedly removes tar and other volatile chemicals before the smoke reaches the smoker. It is a handy device with three chambers designed to work together. The first chamber receives and cools the hot smoke from the cigarrete. It is then moved to the third chamber where the separation of tar is done. The second chamber acts as a heat exchanger to separate the tar from the cigarrete smoke.


Image by  Google Patents

Ayub was awarded the patent KE000068 in 1997. Whether its three chambers actualy work to eliminate tar is another story altogether.

Patent Reference

7. The Vegetable Leaf Cutting Machine

Your vegetable leaf cutting machine is probably your mama mboga. She can cut through a whole cabbage in less than two minutes, all while selling tomatoes to some else and telling someone to stop fondling the avocados. But she probably has cuts on her hands of times when that multi-tasking nearly cost her limbs.

For Charles Muiga Mirera, this situation was untenable. What if, he thought, there was a machine that did the same job? In 2007, Charles applied for a patent for a Vegetable Leaf Cutting Machine. The machine, which looks like a miniature version of the common animal feed cutting machine, is designed to do exactly what its name suggests. Charles owns its under patent number KE000317.


The device has six key parts: a cutting blade, a restricting evice, a cutting board, a leaf hopper, a loader, and a supporting device for the loader and the hopper.  The blade rotates on its central axis and hangs perpendicular to the table and the leaf loader. It is also electric, meaning that you don’t have to anything more than wash the vegetables, place them on the loader, and turn on the switch. Then you can lean back with a glass of wine as your mama mboga loses business.

Patent Reference

6. Disposable Scented Knickers

The ultimate invention in the busy, rather limited, world of designing knickers was edible knickers. Before that though, Stephen Mutisya Mackenzie, had applied for a patent for ‘disposable protective shielded undergament’, or simply scented underwear. All underwear, if you have enough money, is disposable.


Stephen Mutisya is a problem solver. These knickers are designed for women durng menstrual cycle when “…where use is appropriate and the disposition by simply throwing it away is highly desirable.”. It has an absorbent liner and moisture repelling shield. The knickers are designed to prevent menstrual fluids from leaking out to the outer clothing as the absorbent cotton liner is in touch with the napkin.

Granted under Patent KE000126, these disposable scented knickers are adaptive to undergarments such as “such as so-called, “Bikini’, “Brief’, or “Hipster” styles in popular use today” as the patent filing helpfully notes.

Patent Reference

5. Vending Machine for Women Hygenic Products

Another rather ingenious but seemingly misguided invention for women’s hygienic products was Anna Chepkonga’s vending machine. Anna designed a vending machine like the common one, only that it dispensed women’s hygienic products such as sanitary towels and tampons. There was hardly anything different, other than the products inside, from the common vending machine.


Image Courtesy of ApkXda

Anna, envisioning her product as ideal for even rural areas, had designed an optional mechanical releasing system for areas with no electricity. Given the social stigma that comes with women’s hygienic products, one might term Anna’s invention as visionary. She was granted Patent number KE000128 in June 1999.

But Anna has another more successful invention, one that you might actually use in your home. Under Patent KE 000055, Anna owns the design for Insecticidal Bait Composition, what we know in the market as Cockrakill Paste. She patented it in 1996 as a solution to the seemingly immortal roaches.

Patent Reference

4. Mobile Theatre

If you have ever seen one of those cars that have speakers mounted on top that go blaring advertisements or gospel songs, or a clip about Illuminati in Kenya, then you probably have Jude Njomo to thank for it. In 1997, Njomo registered patent KE000125 for a mobile theatre. His patent was for a theatre where a television screen was mounted ontop of a car with the studio inside. His invention was external audiences as the then use of television screens inside cars limited visblity to fare-paying audiences.


Photo Courtesy of

The patent filing is detailed, covering the general concept of the mobile theatre as well as the carriage to hold the television and speakers in place. Given that this was 1997, Njomo must have envisioned the traditional CRT television, alienating vehicles such as Proboxes whose roof would collapse under their weight.

It is unclear whether the patent holder is the current Member of Parliament for Kiambu Town Constituency.

Patent Reference

3. A Pit Latrine Slab

Anyone who grew up or lives in rural areas knows the traditional pit latrine, or long-drop loo. The squat and shat system is simple, with a structure built on a hole where all and sundry can squat and relieve themselves. The structure you squat on, the slab, is patented, at least if it is made of plastic. In 1998, Nakhil Shah of Kentainers Limited designed and patented a polyethylene toilet slab. Patent KE000046 is for a slab with a hole to affix a vent tube to let out gases, two rised foot rests and a molded in central key hole for drainage.


Photo Courtesy of Susan 

The patent filing not only covers its use in the traditional toilet but also in case the toilet is a trench. Imagine that, having your own slab on the common drainage so you can use it whenever you feel like using the toilet. The plastic slab is designed to be easy to make and transport. It is made with two layers of polyethylene, with one being non-foamed polyethylene and the other being foamed polyethylene.

Under KE000045, Nakhil Shah owns another patent for a well wall casing plastic device

Patent Reference

2. The Bee-Straw

Beer frothing is perhaps the only good thing about drinking beer. But Robert Ndegwa hated it. In 1997/8, Ndegwa had a brilliant idea that would solve that problem you have with your frothing beer. He designed a special straw to use while drinking, one complete with a gripping hook so you can look cool while getting wasted.


Photo by Benedicte Desrus

Patent KE000073, granted to Ndegwa on 3rd March 1999, is for a product called Bee-Straw. It is designed to ‘eliminate frothing and foaming of the beer.’ The beer straw has three parts, an adjustable transfer tube, a gripping hook, and a mouthpiece. The three can be manufactured separately or together. It has a non-return valve to prevent liquids from going back into the container. The gripping hook keeps the bee-straw in place on the beer bottle. “Once the bee-straw in securely held on to the container with the gripping hook, the user places his/her lips on the mouthpiece and sucks on the liquid to once enjoyment without leaning forward or backward to reach the drink”

The patent filing claims that the straw will ‘add status to the occasion.’ Trust me, you need this in your life.

Patent Reference


1. All Time Calendar

Replacing calendars every year is a tedious job we could all do without. There are only so many calendars one can have on a wall, and switching them every year is one of those things we could all do without. What if there was an all-time calendar?


Image Courtesy of Tom B

Well, look no further! Onyango Olal and Charles Richard applied for a patent for an All-Time Calendar in 1997. The brilliant yet bizarre invention can be made from wood, metal or plastic. On whichever material, the months and days are indicated on two different plates both fixed to the main frame. You can choose whether you want the days or months to appear as either columns or rows.

The days are indicated on 14 movable plates which can be moved vertically or horizontally. The system accounts for leap years by first having January and February on separate plates from the rest of the months. To make the calendar for the next year, one only needs to know the day of the 1st January of that year. You then move the plate to coincide with that day, aliging the pattern. If it is a leap year, there is an alternative plate with the 29th of February.

If this sounds unnecessarily complex already, then you haven’t seen the inclusion of the Y-2000=N reminder R formula which the inventors suggest for the curious user who wants to time travel. Well, maybe not time travel, but set the dates for any arbitrary year. This might be the solution to holiday tasks for your children.

Patent Reference

Meet the Headitors

Late last year I was fortunate to be invited by Al Jazeera for the Media in Context hackathon in Doha, Qatar. In an effort to predict the future of news, Al Jazeera put together data scientists, developers, journalists, designers, civil activists and mentors from all over the world in one room for three days to solve innovation challenges. I gravitated towards Building Smarter Headlines challenge where I met Sofia (journalist) and Kartik (developer) – and boom!!! The Headitor was born.

headitors(Chris Orwa, Sofia Lotto, Kartik Mandaville)

The headitor is (was intended to be) a dynamic headlines generation platform that suggests different headlines for different demographics and social media platforms using machine learning algorithms. In essence, generating 7 billion headlines for each individual on planet earth. We started by gathering headline from the New York Times and USA Today via their respective APIs .

Second, we filtered for tweeted articles and got the number of retweets on each headline via the Twitter API. At this point we were then be able to suggest replacement words that are likely to attract more readership. Third, we built a functionality that summarised an article written by a journalist, then suggest words/phrases suitable for headlines on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn by a subjectivity-sentiment score. Voila! We had a Minimal Viable Product.

headAnother cool idea as shown in the image above was re-writing of headlines by age, since certain words never existed before their inventions alternative words replace them with older words.

Here’s the presentation:

Although we didn’t win a price a number of news outlets covered the ‘product’.

Sadly Headitors Inc had to close shop after 4 long days in business. To our esteemed customers, you can still find the code on GitHub – Happy Hacking!

What Happened in 1995?

I started a mini project a while ago on collecting Kenyan currency note serial numbers for retrospective study. The exercise was simple, get a note and record the value of the note, serial number and date of printing. First slice at the data brought up an oddity, in 1995 currency printing was done twice in a year, on January 1, 1995 and  July 1, 1995.  This phenomenon led to diving in more on the data and further patterns came up:

  • Production of 10 shilling note halted and replaced with a coin.
  • The 1000 shilling note was introduced.
  • A new series of serial numbers was deployed.


Double production means CBK wants more money in the market.
Introduction of 1000 shilling note and dropping of 10 shilling note indicate inflation.

In order to understand why this happened I chose to follow other similar data points. These are;

  • Forex Bureaux
  • Exchange Rate
  • Interest Rate
  • Inflation
  • GDP

Forex Bureau
In 1995, the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) licensed the first batch of 19 forex bureau. Prior to 1995, only the CBK transacted in the  FX market (anyone traveling out of the country obtained dollars from the CBK and subsequently deposit them on re-entry to the country).  This signified an economic expansion by creation of additional jobs as well as contribution to the Exchequer.  Herein are the Bureau De Change licensed in 1995:



Forex Exchange Rate

“SAP- induced reforms in the first quarter of 1994 instituted a free-floating exchange rate policy in Kenya, with the value of the Kenyan shilling thereafter determined by its supply and demand in international money market. Prior to the reform, the Kenyan government followed a fixed-exchange regime in which the shilling was pegged to the US dollar at a specific rate, subject to alteration only to rectify substantial distortion.”

Interest Rate 

From the graph should below it can be seen that in 1995 negative interest rate which means you get charge and interest when you deposit cash. This is one of the government policies to encourage people to spend money instead of keeping it away for future use. Instead of earning interest on money saved you loose a certain portion of it.




From 1996 the nominal GDP in Kenya experience an exponential growth.




The Kenyan government commenced a series of sectorial reforms to usher the country into a new financial age. It is my observation that if anyone needs to undertake an economic/financial analysis he/she needs to go as far back as 1995 – that’s our modern day economic ground zero.

Discourse on Kenya Rebasing to Middle Income Status

Leonida Mutuku: Research Manager
Patrick Costello: Data Scientist
Christine Mahihu: Research Assistant
Chris Orwa : Executive Producer ;)
14860074544_42e0fb1bfa_zImage Courtesy of Jesse McKee


(iHub Coffee bar, everyone having a cup of their favourite stimulant)

Chris Orwa: Hey guys, check out this article

Christine Mahihu: Kenya will become middle-income state by September.

 Leonida Mutuku: Patrick, any thoughts on this rebasing?

 Patrick Costello: Sounds like a useful exercise although the move to middle income status will definitely mean changes for things like donor funding. Should create benefits such as attractiveness for foreign investment – you could measure this via relative impact on Kenyan government funding rate.Might take a few years to show up. Does change in status affect borrowing rates? Is there a pickup in rate of FDI with change in status? How much donor funding, subsidies etc actually gets lost in the move.

Christine Mahihu: I do know, Kenya lost access to funds when it moved from underdeveloped country to a developing country in terms of climate change project financing. We also lost access to the European carbon market. May not be directly related, but this move stalled major projects countrywide and forced involved organization to raise funds elsewhere, something that could also happen in other sectors if this change in status actually happens.

 I like Patrick’s highlight on the benefits of rebasing. The earlier analysis seems to concentrate more on the negative. I also wonder what path other countries took when they were faced with the same situation. I agree, this is a great opportunity to compare the positive and negative effects. With regards to the carbon market, the idea was to provide funding to developing and underdeveloped countries so that they can take a more ‘green’ approach in their path towards development. Unfortunately, China was the biggest beneficiary (and did not necessarily reduce emissions) causing the EU to rethink funding to developing countries, where both China and Kenya fall. The whole thing is big and complicated but no use getting into that.

 Patrick Costello: Hmmm, it’s interesting to note from that bit the rebasing only just squeezes Kenya over the middle income status at $1,036. I think you could make a pretty good argument to hold-off on cancelling donor aid/preferential treatment if cutting that aid pushed you immediately back to down poor country status, and that aid should only be stopped if removing the aid did not push a country back to poor income status.

 Also remember that the downside of loss of donor funding/world bank loans due to increased economic development should be offset by lower risk premiums on loans, hence cheaper loans from regular sources over the longer term. E.g as Kenya is seen to be more stable and a better investment hopefully Kenyan government credit rating goes up and government funding goes down which will lower Kenyan borrowing rates (as most debt will price at a spread to government debt). Will be interesting to see if this happening in practice, but should be easy to track. In fact it would be interesting to look at credit rating vs development status.

 In relation to carbon market access – I don’t think this is development related, rather an EU decision affecting eligibility of all CDM (Clean Development Mechanism) projects across the board post 2012. Not sure why they made it, there’s a pretty opaque description about wanting to develop some new migration scheme.

How Not to Innovate

You have a novelty idea that would take the world by storm, good! What do you do next? Get a couple of friends and begin to hacking it away. Soon you have a minimum-viable-product and ready to meet the market. Everything at this stage is experimental, the budget low and everyone who has anything to do with the product is a brand ambassador. Then lady luck strikes, product sells, gains market share and the idea transforms to a company. What’s wrong with the aforementioned scenario? Read it once again. Steps taken to create a legal entity, formalize operations, attract investors and have an acceptable product actually inhibit innovation in a company. Chaos theory demands that innovation thrives at the edge of chaos’, an environment that balances the need for order and the pull of change. No one captures the essence of this balance better than Michael Crichton in his book ‘The Lost World’.

We imagine the edge of chaos as a place where there is enough innovation to keep a living system vibrant, and enough stability to keep it from collapsing into anarchy. It is a zone of conflict and upheaval, where the old and new are constantly at war. Finding the balance point must be a delicate matter-if a living system drifts too close, it risks falling over into incoherence and dissolution; but if the system moves too far away from the edge, it becomes rigid, frozen, and totalitarian. Both conditions lead to extinction. By implication, extinction is the inevitable result of too much change or too little.

Some people may refer to it as organized chaos or chaordic (chaos & order) arrangement, but the bottom line is, innovation requires a degree of randomness to flourish. A factor pushed away by introduction of business processes. Think about tech startup companies in beta phase, normally the companies would recruit volunteer beta testers and also solicit for reviews on product amiability as well as performance. Once revenue starts trickling in they no longer need your opinion. Let’s get started with Klout, when Twitter was picking up momentum in 2010 Klout managed to convince everyone that their interactions amounted to a measurable level of influence. They had everyone’s attention, and what did they do with it? Ignore pertinent questions about their algorithms as they were busy working out an acquisition plan. But that’s not what irks me, several years later I would wake up to completely different dashboards quiet regularly, no notification, no invitation for beta testing, no nothing. Our mutual relation had ended; we were no longer partners in this innovation business. This goes for Facebook too, at the formative stage Facebook had a link next to the ads where anyone would sign up to be a beta tester and suggest new features. An ecosystem that crowdsourced ideas but someone thought it was bad for business as it ate up advertisement space. When I get asked which common mistake most startups make, the most obvious one is they focus on product and fail to innovate on their processes.