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Feem: How to build a global tech company in Cameroon [interview]

Have you ever had issues with transferring files between devices?

Then you might be happy to learn that there is a world-class file sharing solution that can solve your issue and it was built in Africa. In fact, it was built by Cameroonian entrepreneur Fritz Ekwoge and his team in Buea, Cameroon.

It's called Feem. And it has over 1m downloads from people all over the world.

It was also covered by the renowned CIO magazine that covers tech.

One of the features that makes Feem a great product is that you do not need an internet connection but only a shared network connection. Plus, file transfers won't affect your data usage which is especially great in the African context where data bundles can often be quite expensive.

After interviewing Tunga founder Ernesto Spruyt who assists companies to outsource their software development needs by finding great developers in Africa, we have the pleasure to interview another Techpreneur building a great product and doing great things.

Feem founder Fritz Ekwoge

Feem founder Fritz Ekwoge

1) Why did you decide to build Feem?

I created Feem to solve a personal pain point I had a few years ago.

To celebrate the initial success our company had in a previous pan-African tech venture, my partner, Sebastian, bought me an iPad. Cool device. But I quickly realized I couldn’t transfer the awesome photos and videos I took on the iPad to my PC.

Passing through the cloud would have been extremely slow and expensive here in Cameroon. You cannot use Bluetooth on an iPad to transfer files, and my PC didn’t have Bluetooth. Even if Bluetooth worked, it would have been a very slow option. Transferring a 1GB video over normal Bluetooth usually takes hours.

But most devices have Wi-Fi, and Wi-Fi is like 50X faster than Bluetooth. I searched around, and didn’t find any good offline Wi-Fi file transfer tool that worked between an iPad and a PC. So I created one. And I called it Feem.

2) What have been your biggest challenges in building Feem?

The first major challenge was educating users that Wi-Fi is not the Internet. For some reason, everyone equated Wi-Fi and Internet. They found it hard to believe Feem actually works offline.

The second biggest challenge was making Feem work across all major platforms. We wanted to stand out from our global competitors, so cross-platform support was a major part of our strategy. That strategy seems to be paying off.

We even did a major rewrite of Feem which made it easier for us to make Feem work consistently well across all platforms. The new Feem v4 is now available.

3) What have been your biggest learnings in building Feem?

Build global products locally. In other words: “glocalisation”.

I created Feem to solve a local problem, but ended up creating one of the best offline file transfer tools used worldwide.

I created Feem 2 solve a local problem, but ended up creating 1 of the best offline file transfer tool used worldwide @ekwogefee

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It astonishes me even to this day that most of our users are not even African. 40% from India. 40% from the USA. 19% from Europe, and less than 1% from Africa.

Our paying customers, (mostly from the USA and from Europe) don’t even know Feem is being developed in Cameroon.

4) What are the plans for the next 3-5 years?

Continue our goal of making Feem the most popular offline file transfer tool at home, at school and in offices.

5) What did your marketing strategy look like to achieve 1m+ downloads?

We didn’t have a big enough budget for marketing, so we focused a lot on being technically superior than any of our competitors. This included features like encryption, cross-platform support, folder file transfers, resumable file transfers, Wi-Fi Direct and local chat.

We also launched Feem around the time Edward Snowden revealed the NSA was spying on everyone, including Americans. Concerned consumers started looking for tools that ensured their privacy while transferring files between devices. Feem is one such tool. Most probably the best in its category.

This and many other factors helped us achieve our first 1M+ downloads organically through word of mouth.

LiveChat Africa

6) Compared to other file sharing solutions what makes Feem unique?

Apart from our technical superiority and reliability, we also have a sound business model. The majority of our revenue comes from users paying to upgrade their Feem experience. We depend less on ads.

Meanwhile, our top 3 competitors are all from China, and they all embed spyware and adware in their apps to generate revenue. We’ve covered some of their malpractices on our blog.

That said, I knew we would eventually have powerful enemies entering in our niche. I just didn’t expect Apple to be one of them. One of our biggest competition is Apple’s AirDrop. We aren’t too concerned because while Feem works on all major platforms, AirDrop only works between Apple devices. Actually, AirDrop doesn’t work on older Apple devices; meanwhile Feem works on both old and new Apple devices.

7) Many apps have a notorious retention problem. How does Feem ensure that users stay active and keep using the app?

It is a bit difficult for us to effectively measure retention since most of what happens in Feem happens OFFLINE.

Some app stores show uninstall rates, so we use that as a proxy for retention. It is only a proxy because it doesn’t account for our desktop users. For Feem in particular, we’ve observed that the more we improve the quality of our app, the less uninstalls we get.

8) What is your advice to users to get the best out of Feem?

Feem transfers files very quickly between devices connected to your local Wi-Fi router. But if you want faster file transfers, you should be using Feem in Wi-Fi Direct mode.

9) What have been the biggest milestones in building Feem?

Our first $10 sale. This came from a woman in Australia, who was using Feem to transfer videos from her PC to her iPad for her son who had autism.

The second was winning first place in the 2015 JIC Starcube accelerator program in the Czech Republic.

10) What are your top 3 favourite tech tools to build a tech product and why?

C++. Just love how the same core code can more or less be used on all major platforms.

Angular. Just love how the same frontend code can more or less be used on all major platforms

Microsoft Azure. I’m benefiting a lot from Microsoft’s BizSpark program.

Wrike Africa

11) In a post "From Africa or For Africa" on your blog you argued that African entrepreneurs should build products for the global market instead of the African market. Are you still of the same opinion. Why? Why not?

Yes, I am still of the same opinion that African entrepreneurs should build products for the global market. It is even more relevant now, than back then.

Every point I made in that blog post still applies now. I also gave a recent talk where I used the word “glocalisation”, to sum up why we Africans should be building more global products.

It is our duty to show that Africans are not only consumers of technology, but can also create technology so good that it can be exported.

Using ourselves as an anecdote, focusing on the global market has put Feem in a unique position where we are competing against the best in the world in our niche. We were even featured on CIO.com

To paraphrase @africatechie on twitter, our goal is when African tech is just recognized as good tech, not as African tech.

Rebecca Enonchong @africatechie

That kind of sums up our motivation for Feem. In our core, we want to offer the best offline file transfer experience ever on Earth. And also on Mars, when Elon Musk succeeds in colonizing that planet.

12) Looking at the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Cameroon what has been the biggest progress over the last 10 years and where do you see the most room for improvement?

I’m happy with the progress made at Silicon Mountain and ActivSpaces. More and more young people are interested in tech.

We just need to build more global products.​

13) Where can people contact you?

I can be contacted via email at fritz.ekwoge@feeperfect.com , or on Twitter: @ekwogefee

We usually tell Feem users they get priority support from us when they buy Feem PRO. Morale of the story? Buy Feem PRO. I’ll be the one to contact you 🙂



About the Author Rise Africa Rise

Rise Africa Rise is your online guide to social entrepreneurship, technology and social innovation in Africa. Our aim is to provide you with valuable information, content and opportunities to support you in achieving positive social impact with your venture.

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