Written by Sarah Bartlett at Esoko
The Esoko story begins six years ago in Accra, Ghana with one ideas man and two rogue developers in a tiny office with a big challenge. How can a recently contacted agricultural project in Uganda use mobile technology to collect and then send out price information? Projects and governments have been collecting price data for years even though they are unable to share it with the farmers who actually need it. And with mobile coverage rates in Africa hovering around 60%, why had agriculture and mobile technology not been addressed together? There seemed to be such a huge opportunity in that gap.
And so was the birth of what was then known as TradeNet, later rebranded as Esoko (soko being Swahii for market, e for electronic). Over the years, and with input from clients, Esoko has changed from a price collection and redistribution tool to a complex web and mobile platform that can be used by anyone to exchange market information–with both push and pull components–via SMS. It’s multi-country, multi-currency, and multi-language.
The platform today revolves around the idea of market networks, in an attempt to reflect the real marketplace. These networks can be associations, businesses, informal groups, or regional projects–once the groups are set up, they cut across the entire application and provide an easy way to work and share information with fellow members. Esoko users can choose from a range of applications to suit their needs, including automatic SMS Alerts (prices and offers delivered to mobile phones), bulk SMS for advisories and procurement, SMS Polling to track field data/activities, stock counts to track inventory/volumes, and websites to advertise services and projects.
Esoko’s web application is built in mainly in PHP and Java. Though the mobile-enabled aspect of the technology works through SMS messages on any phone and network, Esoko is also building Java and Android apps to help users both upload and access Esoko data in an easier way.
Today the technical team is made up of over 35, making it arguably the largest software house in Ghana with UI, API, Product, Systems, Mobile and QA teams working together to continue building and supporting the software. To find the most skilled developers in Accra, Esoko has used a variety of tactics from attending local University job fairs to creating online games and tests for potential developers to pass before making it to the next stage. Being a start-up, the company has also had to search for developers who are more interested in innovation and led by curiosity than those led by structure and normalcy, which has helped to create a quirky and engaged team. The company also invites developers from outside Ghana for 6 month to one-year periods to come and share the newest technologies and best practices with the team.
Working in 15 countries and growing rapidly, Esoko also has a business and support team tasked with making Esoko profitable by having businesses and projects pay to use it. Clients range from Agricultural Ministries to Regional NGO’s to private businesses, and as both Internet access and mobile penetration continue to increase Esoko is hoping to multiply its user base in the coming years. Esoko also hopes to export this technology, 100% coded in Africa, to other continents where the lack of accessible market information is also a huge challenge to agri-businesses and projects.
For more information contact Sarah Bartlett (sarah at esoko dot com)