mobile-app

Our Kuhustle experience: – The case of sleazy Kenyan developers & poor project management

This is the story of how Kuhustle.com screwed the launch of the Sematime mobile app. Footnotes  to sleazy Kenyan developers and lazy project managers.

At Sematime, we are on a mission to help any school anywhere communicate with parents through the mobile phone. We started this journey way back in 2011 (remember Tusqee Systems Ltd)  and it has been a continuous process of refinement all along.

Recently,  we upgraded our product offering to make it more interactive and parents-oriented. We started with SMS, now we’ve introduced USSD, online parent portals and a mobile app that parents could use get student information without physically visiting or calling a school.

Outsourcing

By mid August 2016, we had finished developing most of the upgrade and now we needed to start working on our Android application. I am not an Android developer and neither do we have one in our stable so we decided to go the out-sourcing way. I quickly did my UI mockups on paper then used proto.io to develop the prototype. The result: an incredibly looking fully interactive almost real prototype.

app-animate-bg

Working with Paul

Having finished with the design, I contacted Paul Kagiri on 23rd of August. I had known him since 2013 when he interned with us for a while. Going through his profile, he looked like the perfect fit for our project.

Hi Paul,
I’ve got an Android mobile app I’d like developed. The design is done & prototype ready. It’s a mobile front-end to Sematime.com backed by a RESTful API back-end. Has got 10-20 screens and shouldn’t take you more than two weeks.

This app is strictly for parents; to help them keep up with what’s happening in school. Parents need to be registered first through our web application. A parent is registered when the school signs up for Sematime. I hope it’s now clear.

Here’s the prototype design – https://pr.to/VR8R2F/. This was created in a few hours by someone with little design experience. It should give you a rough idea of what we expect but it gotta shine more and look exquisite.

The API docs are located here – http://developers.sematime.com

Look into them and send me a quote. A meeting later on would suffice.

Two weeks later, Paul had not communicated and so I dejectedly retracted my proposal only for him to give the typical Kenyan developer response:

Sorry for the lateness, I had a number or personal issues/engagements this week.

Kuhustle to the rescue

Not one to despair easily, I contacted Beverly Niem of Kuhustle on 05th September 2016. I had known Kuhustle through Nailab where Sematime had been incubated in 2011 among the first batch of startups. I made a call then sent out the requirements and also made the following clarification:

1. I wish to have this project commence as soon as possible. It was scheduled to begin last week but my developer failed me. His name is Paul Kagiri – if he is in your records, I don’t wish to work with him at all.
2. I wish to keep my budget at most Ksh 50,000 not unless someone has a very good reason for me not to.
3. I wish to also review some of the work the developer appointed to do the project has done. I am only willing to work with guys who have demonstrable exemplary skills.

How soon can I expect to hear from you?

On 07th September at 1625hrs, Beverly wrote back

Hi Boniface,
Thank you for considering to work with kuhustle.
We have reviewed the requirements and the minimum price we can offer is 69600 Incl VAT.
It will take 2 1/2 weeks to complete the work.

I am looking forward to hearing from you.

Their quote was Ksh 16,900 high than what we were prepared to pay and it would take them three more days to deliver. Also, I was not very excited about the portfolio of the developer I was assigned to work with but she assured me that they only work with vetted experts. I was a little apprehensive though,

Thanks. If the work is not completed as per my expectations or within the timeframe specified, what measures have you put in place to safeguard me?

To which Beverly replied,

We don’t payout to our experts before you approve the work.
We will get someone else to deliver the work to your expectations.

We paid a downpayment of Ksh 34,800 and work commenced on Monday, 19th September. As per Kuhustle’s workplan, the development would end on Wednesday, 5th October. I was also to review the progress regularly on Friday of the subsequent weeks. Going by the workplan, the UI should have been done by end of week one but that was not the case. Mark Makuno, the developer assigned to me had only done 75% of the UI albeit lacking the polish and finesse required of  a world-class app. I was not amused,

The developer has not met the timelines as agree on. About 3/4 of the UI is done but not well polished up. I went to great lengths to design a great looking prototype, what I saw today was far from it. It looked haphazardly done. The developer agreed to have this sorted out by the time we meet next week.

He requested I furnish him with icon PSD & additional docs on basic authentication. I’ll be forwarding these by Monday.

I got an assurance from both Beverly and Mark that the work would be completed on time despite the slight hiccups in delivery. Being a developer, I understood that sometimes we tend to underestimate the workload required to execute hit a certain milestone.

On Thursday, 29th September 1938hrs, I texted Beverly to confirm if we were still meeting on the next day. She replied back the following day saying she would confirm our meeting by 1000hrs. She got back to me at 1350hrs and requested we push the meeting to next week Tuesday, 4th October 2016. I was not excited at the pace this project was evolving at,

That’s not so good, your developer contacted me yesterday to ask about the API endpoint, It’s clear he hasn’t done integration until now. I’m starting to regret working with you guys. As per your timelines, the app should gave been ready by Wednesday next week.

At 1403hrs, Beverly texted back,

It will be ready next week, we will do an update today evening. Send through an APK for your review.

By 1935hrs, I had not received any updates neither had she sent the APK(the Android app) as promised. I emailed her again on Monday 03 August at 1423hrs,

Bev,
The .apk you were to send me on Friday didn’t come through. Kindly have it sent by close of business today for review of progress.
Thanks.

I never heard again from Beverly.

 

The killer punch

Two days later, on Wednesday 05th October 2016, the day I was expecting to have the app completed, Mark Makuno – the Android developer, broke the last strand of hope I had,

Hi Boniface,
So sorry for the delayed response, and the delayed app completion. I faced some personal challenges that are now dealt with. This is my progress up to Friday the 30th of September. Also, I got an API KEY (9162516db0b64654a779310e9a51e7e2) please let me know how I am to proceed as I used the AuthToken you sent and I’m assuming that was to be used as an example, it gives me an error “invalid token”.

~Mark.

I was devastated. All along the previous week, we had been teasing our users on the website and Facebook page about the impending launch. A good number had even signed up for the exclusive early-bird access.

facebook

 

I was not about to lose it without giving them a piece of my mind,

App was to complete today, you had phone, email, sms & Skype to communicate about your personal issues. You unprofessionally and ignorantly chose not to.

Additional time? What difference will it make, huh?

They requested to push the completion date upto Friday but having developed the web app and the RESTful API, I knew this was not attenable. I wrote Sam Gichuru, the CEO of Kuhustle, to express my frustration but never heard back from him too.

Beverly expressed remorse for their ineptitude by it was too late. I had enough shenanigans. I called bulls***.

Good evening,
Boniface had cancelled the contract.
Mark please do no go on with any development.

Boniface, we will advise tomorrow on the refund.

 

We still friends

Today, I called Sam Gichuru to let him know that I would be making public my experience on Kuhustle. Sam and I are friends and I am forever grateful to him, the godfather of Kenyan startups, for the six months we got while incubated at Nailab.

He was regretful although admitting that even military and government projects get delayed. When you run a business that affects so many people in diverse ways, every second counts. Remember Mark Zuckerberg’s rocket explosion tirade with Elon Musk? It’s reciprocal.

 

The moral of the story

Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.

– Steve Jobs

UPDATE: The Sematime mobile app is now available on the Google Play Store. Download it here – https://goo.gl/98niG6

Boniface Githinji,
CEO & Founder.

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