By Dele Akinsade, Platforms Evangelism Lead, West, East, and Central Africa, and Indian Ocean Islands
A fun-loving, piano-playing, visionary geek. Abiola Olaniran dreamed about the dramatic rise of the mobile space in Africa, and of his own tech empire to go with it. Five years later he is Nigeria’s highest paid Windows Game developer and CEO of his own software development company, Gamsole, with games topping over 4 million downloads. It offers ten games including the popular, TrafficJam, Candy Smasher, Mega Chicken and Ninja Jump, which is downloaded over 20, 000 times per day. Road Blazer, a car racing game where players speed through traffic while earning secret weapons, has attracted over 500,000 downloads alone since its launch in April 2013 to date.
I was fortunate to catch up with him over Skype to chat more about his story and views on the Gaming and software developer industry in Africa.
Why focus on developing games?
When I looked at the mobile space, I noticed that people most love to consume entertainment. About 38% of global phone users have a phone solely for this purpose, second to the use of social networks. People never get tired of gaming. Likewise, creating multimedia games is my passion.
How did you become a software developer?
I was always interested in technology and studied computer science and mathematics at University. This became my passion and I was already coding in Java Script as a student. I also connected with Microsoft mentors at the University who invited me to become a Microsoft Student Partner. This gave me the opportunity to be an evangelist for the company and I was organising student events, helping others learn about Windows, and spreading the word about DreamSpark, Microsoft’s online portal for developer resources and tools.
I chose the mobile Windows platform because it’s new, exciting and beginning to have ‘magic moments’. I also didn’t want to compete against established gaming companies like Senga where there’s about a one in 3000 chance of getting your game downloaded because of the competition.
Windows is easy for young aspiring developers to learn and in Africa it offers the most support. Growing up in Nigeria I was at the Microsoft offices every weekend where there were evangelists to help me. I don’t see that on the other platforms.
Tell us about your experience at the Imagine Cup World Finals in 2010.
I participated in Imagine Cup for two years running. The first year, our team came second in Nigeria, just missing the opportunity to attend the World Finals. The following year, I learned to hone my presentation skills, and focused on highlighting the key aspects of the app – and we won!
Imagine Cup is a great experience. It helped me believe that I had the power to create something amazing, and that young African students can do it too. I remember playing spider man as a kid and thinking, ‘Wow, the people who created this are crazy clever!’ Imagine Cup showed me that these people can be you or I.
What came next for you? How did you find out about startup accelerator 88mph?
With the confidence gained at Imagine Cup, and the experience it gave me in seeing an app idea through from idea stage to being published, I wrote a letter to Yalla Apps, which enables developers from around the world to submit their Windows Phone applications to the Microsoft marketplace without hassle - soon, I had my first app published!
With the company Gamsole in mind, I then contacted 88mph, which I had read about as being one of the most prominent seed funds in Africa. They replied that they were interested because unlike many startups applying for funding, mine was already making a profit through my published apps. The adventure had just begun and a year ago I left my small home town, Ife in western Nigeria, and moved to bustling Nairobi where 88mph is based.
What do you look for when hiring interns at Gamsole?
Nothing can beat a solid set of skills. This can be a challenge in Africa, but a professional portfolio profiling your experience and past projects is very important.
What do you love most about Nigeria?
It’s Dynamic. The youth there have this energy that they are just going to make things happen.
I would like to continue creating games based on African experiences that users from all over the world will love. Most of our 1.5 million downloads already come from other countries: Brazil 20% and China 12%. We are also expanding our advertising offering using in-app advertising and paid apps models.
What message do you have for aspiring developers?
There is no better time to be a developer in Africa. The market isn’t saturated and it’s full of possibilities. It’s like ‘super magic power in your hand’. Investors that are traditionally shy of backing local software developers are also seeing the potential. Remember, a great idea doesn’t make a great company. You need solid business fundamentals to get it off the ground and financial support most certainly helps. I’ve been fortunate to have worked with start-up accelerator 88mph and I’m pleased to hear that Microsoft’s Venture Partner Programme has expanded to Africa, selecting 88mph as its first African accelerator partner.