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How to outsource software development to Africa: An interview with Tunga founder Ernesto Spruyt

Technology is changing our world at breathtaking speed and making things possible that only a few decades ago would have been impossible.

Case in point?

Outsourcing software development to Africa.

Even today for many the idea of outsourcing software development to Africa seems strange, if not risky.

Luckily, there are visionary entrepreneurs who have set their sights on changing this perception so that Africa will transform itself into a continent where good code is being written while creating many much needed jobs for the millions of youths across the continent.

And it's not about creating jobs to only reduce unemployment. It's about creating jobs where people can work independently, intelligently and earn a decent salary. It is part of what has become known in the last few years as Impact Sourcing.

According to the Monitor Group and the Rockefeller Foundation Impact Sourcing employees’ incomes increase between 40% and 200%. In addition, employees benefit from stable employment, access to health care and education. As such, Impact Sourcing represents significant advantages over traditional Fair-Trade jobs where traditionally only a fraction of the value remains in the origin country. 

An entrepreneur making software outsourcing to Africa appealing is Ernesto Spruyt who founded Tunga. The vision of Tunga is to create 21st century jobs for the African youth. This means jobs where one can determine one's own destiny through access to well-paid and intelligent jobs.

Tunga founder Ernesto Spruyt with Tunga software developer

In a blog post entitled "Tech for good: Will Impact Sourcing be the new Fair Trade" Ernesto elaborates on how Impact Sourcing can enhance the livelihoods of marginalized communities far beyond what has been possible through Fair-Trade jobs.

We wanted to find out more about Tunga, how they are making remote software development possible and appealing to companies outside of Africa and to get some tips on the best ways to develop tech products with a remote team as a non-technical person.

1) Tell us about the founding of Tunga?

I can repeat it but it’s all on our blog 😉

2) What have been your biggest milestones so far?

  • Fall 2015: first ‘dry’ pilots in which we had (mostly Ugandan and Kenyan) developers work on small tasks for (mostly Dutch) clients
  • End of 2015: secured grants from several philantropic funds to build first version of the platform (Dioraphte, DOEN Foundation, Edukans, Triodos Bank)
  • 2016: continuously ran pilots while iteratively building the platform and incorporating the learnings from the pilots
  • Fall 2016: cooperation with Oxfam under its Work in Progress program, to expand our developer community into among others Nigeria and Egypt
  • End of 2016: methodology and therefore our platform ready for market (!)
  • 2017: flying start with several launching customers who stayed after the pilots
  • 2017: developing and implementing online marketing infrastructure

3) What have been your greatest learnings so far in building Tunga?

I think by far the greatest learning was that just linking African developers to clients - like a traditional freelancer marketplace - is not enough. We gained in-depth experience in what it takes to make an African developer - who has limited experience in the international arena - succeed working for international clients. And then we built the platform around these insights, going way beyond just the match-making, and helping both the client and the developer with effective communication and with the tracking of progress and quality.

Other important learnings were that we cannot realise the quality that is necessary in the market if we make it an open platform; which was the original idea. As a result now, we have a thorough vetting procedure.

And at first we were more task-focused, until we realised many clients want to outsource complete projects or even want to (semi-)permanently integrate our developers in their team as remote workers. So we expanded our platform to be able to facilitate that demand.

Tunga.io software development

4) Tunga’s explainer video on the homepage mentions that even if one is totally unfamiliar with software development projects Tunga makes it easy to connect with the right software developer to do a project. How can non-techies use Tunga to build a product?

With most new clients we have one of our project engineers do a personal intake. This person helps them find the right developer(s) and to define the assignment in a way that allows the developer to be effective. Depending on the size of the project, the client can also hire a dedicated project manager who coordinates the entire execution of the project.

All our project documentation and processes have been standardized in a way that is conform to generally accepted best practices for software development. The client can follow the progress and find these documents in the project timeline on the platform. The client also receives daily and weekly updates on the quality and progress.

Wrike Africa

When something is not going according to plan, the client is alerted and so is the project engineer who will proactively follow up with the developer. The result is that the process is sort of managed for you, so that you don’t need a lot of knowledge of software development to get the work done.

5) Is there a way Tunga reduces the knowledge gap that exists between a non-techie customer and a software developer? (e.g. when a customer thinks something that looks simple is easy to build, while the software developer knows it's quite complex? How to address this knowledge and trust gap)

As stated above, the project engineer helps the client translate the wishes of the client to technical specifications. This includes a reality check on the client’s plans and a detailed forecast of the expected hours per item. In this way, it will become totally transparent for the client what amount of work is necessary and how it related to the different elements of his or her wishes.

6) How does the remote work part for customers in terms of communication, quality control and trust?

First of all, all our developers are familiar with all the popular tools that are necessary for distributed software development: Github/Bitbucket, Slack, Trello, JIRA, Skype, etc. The developers can be on-boarded in the existing (remote) work environment of the client. Or they can set one up for the client.

As I mentioned before, on top of these existing tools, Tunga has a system in place that helps both the client and the developers stay on top of progress and quality. In our experience, this daily contact (often more times per day) and transparency is what builds trust.

For example, in the beginning we noticed that some developers had a tendency to keep ‘bad news’ from the client until they fixed it. While in our view clients generally can accept mistakes as long as you are open about it, and have a plan to fix it. Our current system nudges the developers to engage in open communication with the client and manage their expectations in a timely and comprehensive way.

Tunga  software developers Africa

7) Can you share some interesting projects that have been completed through Tunga?

One of our launching customers is TMG, one of the largest Dutch media companies. For them we have done and continue to do several projects. One of which is building both an iOS and an Android app for Gaspedaal, which is the leading car search engine in the Netherlands.

While at the time Gaspedaal had problems finding good developers (they had 2 vacancies they couldn’t fill for more than 4 months), our team was compiled and on the job within a week. Within 6 weeks both apps were mostly finished. And at a fraction of the usual costs.

Another cool project is Yoohcan, a live streaming platform for business knowledge. For them we built a prototype using WebRTC technology. It was a nice example of how broad the stack is among our developer community. And here we stepped in to replace another supplier, who was from the US if I remember correctly. This attests to the trust they put it us, and of course we didn’t disappoint them.

Enresto Spruyt Tunga software outsourcing Africa

8) How do you select the developers that work for you and from what countries are they?

The starting points of our developer community when we started in 2015 were the Kampabits and Nairobits schools, both part of the Bits Academy network. When we started in Nigeria at the beginning of this year, again we partnered with the local Bits school. After that we expanded through the philosophy that good developers know other good developers. Right now we have an active network of around 180 developers, which we can easily scale up as we get a lot of applications.

So we have developers in Uganda, Kenya and Nigeria. They have all been vetted by us. Before a developer can become active on the platform they have to do a number of tests, including soft skills, development skills, a best practices training and interviews.

They always have to pass a test for the specific skills needed for a particular assignment. Then during their first assignment they work under the supervision of a senior developer. From time to time we get requests for really specific skills and then we actively recruit new developers to join the network.

Tunga.io developers Africa

9) What are your top 3 tips for customers to get the best experience with Tunga?

1) If you’re new to hiring remotely or to software projects in general, take it slow. Break up your project in chunks and start small. Then as you get accustomed to this way of working, you can scale up.

2) If you’re not sure about what you want or need, don’t hesitate to schedule a call. Our project engineers can give you practical advice.

3) Communicate frequently. This is important for any team collaboration, extra so in a remote or distributed team, and then even more so across different cultures. Of course, we try to make this easy for you.

10) What are your plans for the next 3 - 5 years with Tunga? 

Our mission is to create what we call 21st century jobs for African youths. We see ourselves as a next generation Impact Sourcing platform. We are now in our early stages of growth. our longer term ambition is to put Africa on the map as a place where good code is being written.

​Our ambition is 2 put #Africa on the map as a place where good #code is being written says @tunga_io #africatech

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So apart from wanting to become a blockbuster company in the remote software development space, we think it’s very important to create a ‘culture of quality’ in the African developers scene. This is how Africa can distinguish itself from other, ‘traditional’, IT outsourcing areas.

In order to achieve this we need to keep investing in quality management and training, but also in branding and getting the story out there.

11) What are your top 3 favourite tech tools to build your business and why? 

1) Github: is basically the standard for remote collaboration in general, and collaborative software development in particular.

2) Slack: 90% reduction in e-mails. All team communication in one place. It has never been so easy to know what’s happening in the team. A must for every team, but in particular remote or distributed teams.

3) Appear.in: this is Skype (and Hangouts) done right.

LiveChat Africa

12) What is your personal leadership philosophy?

I have agreed with myself that everything I do should conform to three principles, and that also applies to how I lead Tunga (not per se in order of priority):

  • Joy: life is too short to waste time on stress and conflicts. Therefore, I think work should be fun and rewarding. And it should be done in an atmosphere of transparency, harmony and friendliness. We tackle conflicts early on and are assertive but also fair. If you’re not enjoying working at Tunga, then please do yourself a favor and find another place to work. That counts for everyone in the team, including me.
  • Independence: I’m not the type of manager that looks over your shoulder. I work with a lot of young people who get a lot of responsibility. Some can handle it, some can’t. This is a natural selection. The result is I end up with a bunch of young and talented people in my team that are self-conscious, self-starting and very results-oriented. I wouldn’t want it any other way.
  • Meaning: I am a firm believer in creating Shared Value. In everything I do I weigh whether it is meaningful in the sense that it is beneficial to a broader goal then just my own wallet. I don’t care much about money and things, I am more interested in leaving a positive mark during my time on Earth. At the same time, business is my game, and I believe that the more business success I have the more meaningful things I can realize. The fun thing is, that so far my team is full of people who have a similar view, which makes it really inspiring to work together, despite us being scattered over different geographical locations.
Tunga software development Africa

Need to develop some software? Work with Tunga.io

Thank you Ernesto for sharing your insights about Tunga's journey with us and for showing the world that there are many untapped world-class software developers across Africa that live up to the highest standards.

Thanks to bold entrepreneurs like Ernesto Spruyt and others you no longer need to look outside Africa to find high-quality software developers. Now you can find software developers that are as good as they get right on our continent.

If your goal is to build tech, build jobs and build Africa then Tunga is a good choice. Use it.

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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