• Iterate

    Live long and prosper, said Sojuku as he stepped out of the meeting room.

    Peace and long life, I replied. Sojuku is a big fan of Star Trek. I could care less about Star Trek, but anything to make the man smile and continue feeling good about the work he puts in to enable our customers to share data about their lives and commerce.

    “Another shot of whiskey before you hit the streets?”

    “Yeah, why not!”

    I like the view from here. Our office overlooks the ocean, and we were fortunate to get a beautiful view of it right at the corner of the building. When we found out that we were going to be getting this space, we decided that we will make all the outer walls of our offices and meeting rooms transparent, with one wall in every room painted with ideapaint™. We planned for these brainstorming sessions, and it was a great idea. The next wow moment can happen in any space.

    Sojuku is not a fan of the long road trips that we make to the hinterlands to engage with the people who are starting to share their data on our platform. Getting people who never used computers to start sharing data about how they transact business is challenging, and Kutoka insists that we create interfaces that are natural to them with rugged solar-powered hardware, while we see the ones among them who naturally transition to ubiquitous interfaces like mobile phones, then encourage them with funding and mainstream consumer devices.

    “The only way that we can design interfaces that they will actually want to use is to spend time with them while they transact business; building trust, while we understand the kind of hardware and interfaces that will work for them through observation.” says Kutoka. He is very altruistic. Meluna thinks that we will never get some of these people to use electronic devices. “They don’t trust the banks enough to put their money in there. How can we get them to trust us enough to tell us how they are spending it?” she says.

    Kutoka thinks all of them eventually will, and if we don’t figure out how to make them, someone else will.

    I’m in the middle. I think for the foreseeable future, there will be early adopters who are the proxies for the ones who refuse to adjust. In open markets, they might work for multiple shop owners, helping them to maintain their inventory and record sales for a nominal fee. These are the people who will need to build trust, encouraged by the referral fees that they earn. It will be messy in the beginning, but once the benefits of predictable sales and new financial services that they have access to by sharing data about their commerce starts to become obvious, they will learn how to do it themselves.

    Mobile phones are promising as a portal into the world of more structured data sharing. For now, most people in the markets that we have explored just know how to call and text. Sojuku is working on machine learning models through text messaging as an interface for inventory and bookkeeping. For now, it’s too messy for production and for the demographic that we’re looking at. People need a guided interface that’s friendly, natural, and also provides strict constructs for collecting data. When the constructs start to become natural to them, then text messaging and chatbots can be a usable interface.

    This makes Jakubu happy, because the cost of our hardware, in his words, might get us out of business before we collect enough data to build a network that connects our customers to each other and our own retail financial services. Getting people to use their mobile phones is the solution, but they need to have constructs for recording business transactional data in mind first before we can make this leap.

    We are going to provide shared hardware with biometrics for shop owners where they record their business transactions, verifiable through bank statements. Like ATMs, but collecting data and selling retail financial services from our partners. Our end game is to build our own financial services infrastructure. Danak has a 5-year plan in place.

    We are collecting bank statements automatically using QR codes that the shop owner scans on the hardware. Other transactions are entered manually, and Kutoka is negotiating this integration with the bank’s collective clearinghouse.

    Today’s brainstorming session was very productive. We saw a demo of the new version of the interface that we’re building for the Banetis, soon to become exporters of cattle hide after doing it locally for over 40 years. Word on the streets is that they were found through Instagram when a local fashion designer took a video of them curing the hide after drying. They just imported a machine to automate this process. We helped them source their packagers and transporters from our own directory of customers. More on this topic at our next session.

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