In early November, most of our team packed their bags and flew to Nairobi for our annual team retreat. As a globally-distributed team – with team members based in Rome, Nairobi, Modena, London, New York and Palo Alto – we do all of our work through Skype and Slack, but meeting in person provides a rare opportunity to deepen our bonds, discuss learnings, map out our goals and set the plan for the next year. With a month to go until we ship our first complete version of SEMA, this retreat also gave us a rare opportunity to reflect on the incredible two-year journey that brought us here.

After traveling for 6 hours from Nairobi to the Masai Mara area, we arrived at Oldarpoi Mara Camp. Created by our friends and social entrepreneurs, Maggie and Nelson, Oldarpoi is the first and only campground in the region that’s owned by and directly benefits the local Masai communities. 40% of profits are invested in building infrastructure, initiating and sustaining healthcare and educational programs, and funding Masai-led conservation efforts. For us, it was a little piece of heaven where we could meet surrounded by wildlife and the warmth of the Masai Mara local community.

In this peaceful context, we focused on:

1) Field-testing SEMA with a community of children who had never used technology before
2) Creating the draft of our plan for distributing SEMA
3) Discussing Kukua’s vision for the future

img_7568-1Fun times testing SEMA with our team and children

Though we’ve been testing SEMA for the past year across urban slums and rural areas in Kenya – and using user input to iterate on our product on a weekly basis – we never miss an opportunity to share SEMA with children who’ve never seen it or even used technology. By working closely with the local community, we were able to share SEM
A with close to 50 children of all ages. It’s always pretty incredible to see how easily children who have never used tablets or smartphones before easily navigate through the app. Observing their actions gives us invaluable input to keep simplifying SEMA’s experience. We also see that SEMA consistently attracts people of all ages who are equally curious about the technology and the game – this time a group of Masai Mara teenagers were particularly excited to try it out!

Distribution – here we come!

After two years of work with children, parents and teachers, the XPRIZE version of SEMA is practically ready and we’re excited to bring it to market. While we’ll definitely pursue the more traditional distribution channels for educational products – from working with the government and large non-profit organizations to working directly with schools and after school programs – we believe the largest opportunity is actually to go direct to consumers and leverage the exponential rise in smartphones, even in low income communities. We used our time together to put together the first draft of our distribution strategy. As always, the input of our local team was invaluable. While we’re excited by these initial ideas, we know that success is only possible by working closely with communities to better understand their needs.

At the moment, we imagine a staged deployment with three key phases:

1) Pilot launch. A small scale launch within a single Kibera neighborhood to place the product in market, get closer to our target users, and gather initial learnings. Goal: 2,000 downloads.
2) Local replication. As we better understand what drives target parents to download SEMA, we plan on replicating our local activations within Kibera and Mathare. Goal: 20,000 downloads.
3) Scale. Armed with adoption data and detailed knowledge of our user base, we plan on working closely with wifi and telco providers who are equally committed to empowering low-income communities. Goal: TBD.

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This strategy will be based on three key pillars:

1) Parent ambassadors. We see parents playing a key role in SEMA’s distribution, and hope to build a community of parent ambassadors who can influence their peers and spread the SEMA gospel through word-of-mouth.
2) New media. Our target communities are already very active on Facebook and WhatsApp, and see think these channels will be critical to building effective communities. We imagine running local WhatsApp groups, facilitated by parent ambassadors.
3) “SEMA in a box”. Finally, we imagine running small events in our local communities with free wifi for parents to download a light version of SEMA.

For the past month, our Nairobi-based team has interviewed over 50 target parents in Kibera to better understand of the role smartphones in their lives. With this initial dataset, we’re going to work closely with a small boutique research agency in Nairobi to dive into barriers to download, uncover additional insights and segment the most likely early adopters.

Kukua’s Vision moving forwardsag5a1098

When the Global Learning XPRIZE was announced two years ago, it inspired us to build a piece of software to solve for the illiteracy problem they challenged us with. As we dove into the problem, however, it became clear that we weren’t just going to build an app. Instead, we saw a massive opportunity to change education globally through new media – gaming, social, animations etc. It’s becoming increasingly clear to us that Kukua will be focused on creating and distributing highly engaging educational content for emerging markets.

These four days were incredibly productive. While challenges abound to make this a success, we approach 2017 with renewed confidence in our approach and ability to transform the lives of kids globally through education.