Notes from the 5th Tech Sisters’ networking event

21 February 2013


Maarja Mõtus is currently working at Trinidad Consulting as an interaction designer. In autumn 2012 she did an internship in Rwanda. During one month, she lived with a rwandan family and got to know the locals to find out what kind of habits have they developed when it comes to using all kinds of modern technological gadgets. The fancy word for this activity would be ethnographical research on design, which relies on participant-observation.

In western world, a major part of our lives and memories is hidden inside our laptops. This is where we keep our photos, videos and memories in general. As it turned out, rwandans do the same with their cell phones or smartphones. When meeting someone, expect to be showed photos of their family members on their phones. Most people don’t have computers at home, but cell phones are very common (irrespective of the person’s income, as it seemed). Since internet connection is expensive, people share their music, memes, photos etc directly from one phone to another. Once in a while, someone goes to the local internet cafe to get new stuff to their mobile. So, the next time you go through tens and tens of funny cat pictures, imagine what it’d be like, if you’d only have 15 different memes to look at for another two weeks.

Another phenomenon characteristic to Rwanda is mobile money. The mobile companies offer this service which enables you to transfer money from one account to another with your phone. You can also withdraw cash. In an environment where online banking isn’t widely spread, mobile money seems the best way to go.

So, what to do with all those facts about rwandans everyday gadget-using habits? All this has a huge cultural meaning in their society and it’s part of their social mechanisms in general. This is obviously something that you have to take into account when designing or developing a product for rwandans (and actually just as well for anyone else). For example, Maarja told us, that shops have to keep the receipts and put them in a visible place for everyone to see. This proves that the shop is paying the taxes and customers see that they’re dealing with an honest businessman. If the paper receipts were got rid of and replaced with virtual ones, what impact would that have? Will there be an impact at all? What could replace the old ritual? Lots of questions for you to ponder about now :-)

Janika Liiv has studied software development at IT College and bionics and electronics at TTU. She’s currently a programmer at Toggl, which used to be a start-up, but is now a proper company. Toggl is a time tracking software, that was born out of necessity. Toggl’s predecessor Apprise needed a time tracking software for in-house use and since every available software sucked, they had to develop one themselves. At that time, Apprise had its clients to work for and no projects of its own. At some point, Apprise got fed up by its clients and decided to concentrate solely on Toggl. It proved to be a great idea, since things have only gone uphill from then on. By the end of last year Toggl had about 300 000 clients. Not all of them are paying customers (main functions are free for everyone), but no worries, because during 2012 Toggl tripled its profits.

A few facts about the software itself. As mentioned before, it’s a time tracking software, which, well, tracks time. This can prove useful when you’re working on several projects and you have to know how much time you spend on each of those. Perhaps you’re preparing for an exam and you want to know how much time do you waste on doing stuff that could be spent on studying. One person even reported using Toggl for keeping track of their back pain. Instead of different projects, they had different pain levels, so they can get a clear view at what time has the pain been the worst, at which times there hasn’t been any pain, how long does the pain last etc. The possibilities are endless! The only possible downside of Toggl is that it doesn’t check whether you’re actually doing what you say you’re doing. That means that Toggl won’t solve any trust issues. If your boss doesn’t believe you’ve been working for 12 hours a day, that’s something you have to deal with on your own.

Toggl is available for all kinds of platforms and for all sorts of gadgets. You can also use it offline. Janika told us about Toggl’s technical side as well, but I’m only able to say that in the beginning they used mostly Ruby on Rails, but as the number of clients increased, things got slower and they decided to start using Go language instead. Now they’re in the final phase of abandoning RoR. If you want to know more about their transition, you have to ask Janika herself. Sorry!

When Janika poured us over with ICT abbreviations that only the chosen ones could understand, then our last speaker, Kristi Rosenberg admitted that she’s only been learning the start-up-speak for the last couple of weeks during which she’s been taking part of the WiseGuys accelerator. Kristi comes from the marketing world and right now she’s the marketing force in a start-up called SportID. SportID is an online environment that enables companies to manage costs of employees’ gym memberships or all other kinds of sport activities. Until now, when employers finance their employees’ sporting activities, people have usually had to collect receipts and give them to the accountant. This is fussy and time-consuming, whereas SportID makes keeping track of it a lot easier.

Kristi promised that SportID will get a lot more exciting in the future, right now they’ve only been in the WiseGuys accelerator for a few weeks. For the twelve weeks they have in the accelerator, they must abandon all other life they have besides their start-up. There’s just so much to do and so much to take in from this experience, that you just won’t have any time for anything else. The most valuable part of the accelerator experience is meeting with the mentors. One 20-minute meeting includes 1 minute for introducing your idea (not the simplest task when you love to talk) and 19 minutes of learning from the mentor.

What I personally found most inspirational about Kristi was her enthusiasm, willpower and the ability to cope with obstacles that might seem impossible to deal with. She probably owes it to 17 years of track and fields trainings. One does not become Estonian champion (13 times!) by giving up easily! This is a great example of how you can use your skills and experiences in a totally new way in a totally different environment.

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