We created Speakk, a chat and voice messenger for South Africa that doesn’t consume internet data. Here’s our interview with Anthony, Speakk CEO. He says why he chose Fora Soft over many other companies, how we overcame difficulties with the app, and how Fora solves issues.
Tell me about Speakk. What is it?
Speakk is an innovative app in South Africa. People chat and send messages and voicemails there. Similar to WhatsApp. However, users don’t pay for any of the mobile data used. Data is very expensive. Millions of South Africans walk around with smartphones but they can’t afford to use them just because of how expensive data is. That’s why we developed Speakk. For them to not pay for data used.
How it works is a simple chat app like WhatsApp. Sign up, send text messages, voice messages. We have ads, so every 8 messages or so you’ll see an ad popping up. So we pay for the data and we make money through advertisements.
How many users?
When we signed up, we got nearly 100k users over a month. Then we had a slight change in business plans. We built another app using that technology. This new app was for the educational market. We had great opportunities with COVID. Fortunate negatives, so to speak. There were many public schools in SAR where kids had no opportunity of communicating with teachers in lockdown. So we used our existing technology for that market as well. Fora Soft helped us do that.
Was Fora Soft your first choice?
No, it wasn’t. We considered many software development companies, both locally in SAR and overseas. What was very interesting for us, we gave a very simple brief to developers. We wanted to see how they understood the brief and base on that, what technologies they’d recommend and how it would cost.
Out of all the companies we’ve contacted, Fora was the only company to really grasp the challenge of what we’re doing and give us an accurate quote.
That’s why you ended up with us, right?
Yeah. Hundred percent. So, it was really because of the technical competence, we landed up being impressed by a number of other aspects working with them, but initially, you were much more technically competent than any of the other developers we’d spoken to. We had a look at your portfolio of existing work, which was not only quite wide and quite varied across different industries, but it did overlap somewhat in what we were doing as well. So, you had the experience in the space that we are in as well, which helped.
Can you please share your “before” and “after” working with us?
We don’t really have it before and after, because we’ve been partnering with Fora Soft from the beginning of this project. So really we worked with Fora Soft for the minimum viable product. We worked with them to create something that would be as light as possible but would still work. And that was the first version of the product that we created with Fora. We then evolved the product and we moved on to new products. The relationship has evolved as the products have evolved, but there wasn’t any before Fora Soft. They were really the beginning of the project for us.
Are there any measurable figures that you could share with us that can be disclosed? Like we’ve talked about a number of users, maybe a number of crashes, revenue numbers?
Because our business has changed slightly, it’s difficult to share a lot of that, but we could say that there have been millions of messages sent in our app since we started. We accumulated that really quickly. We were a trending app on Google Play Store for quite a while. We had, at one stage, many thousands of downloads every single day. I can’t think of any other metrics that we could share. The app grew very quickly at the beginning.
Were there any difficulties while developing the program? If yes, able to overcome those difficulties with Fora Soft?
Yeah. Like any project, we had a number of difficulties. One of the big challenges we had to overcome was that the app uses this reverse billing technology, which has very, very specific technical requirements. It led to a number of issues at the beginning of the project which were unforeseen on our side and on the Fora Soft side. But it’s something that we did work with Fora Soft over a number of months to get through.
We ended up with a much more sustainable, robust product at the end that we are quite proud of. That version works better.
I don’t know if you want me to talk about this, but the other issue we had is that we did have some issues with Fora Soft in terms of the initial specifications of some new projects that we worked on. There were some of the features that were underspecified that led to us underbudgeting the project. It had a number of ramifications for the business. Fora Soft was very apologetic about that. They rectified the billing we were on, on some kind of an agreement to help us through some of the budgetary constraints. Then going forward, we didn’t have that problem again. I think you realized where the error came from and you were very careful about that going forward.
Professionalism, determination, and communication are very important when it comes to any IT project. With us working with you and you working with us, could you rate us on the scale of 10 on those criteria and maybe add some other criteria that you deem necessary?
So in terms of professionalism, Fora Soft was very professional throughout.
We’ve dealt with many different people in the organization and everyone we’ve dealt with has been great, very professional. Obviously, in a long-term working relationship like we’ve had there, there have been one or two issues and those issues had been resolved very, very quickly. I’d say Fora has been incredibly professional in terms of communication as well. We were concerned that our company is based in South Africa. Fora is based in Russia. There would be language constraints and language issues in dealing with Fora. This didn’t prove to be a problem at all. We set up a Slack channel to communicate with our project manager when we’re in the middle of the big dev cycles,. We were speaking to those project managers throughout the day on a daily basis over Slack.
The communication was pretty much flawless.
When we did need to have a face-to-face meeting, we hopped on Skype and we were able to look each other in the eye and to speak a bit more casually. Communication hasn’t been an issue at all. You know, I think the only communication issues that were introduced every now and again was just due to some of the technical requirements that we had on our side that are very unique to the mobile environment that we are working in. I must say, just on that point, I was very impressed that South Africa has a very unique set of mobile users. We have people walking around with the latest and greatest smartphones. And we have people walking around with cell phones that are many, many years old.
Would you turn to Fora Soft with any other project or maybe recommend us to somebody else?
Yeah, yeah, definitely. And we have done other projects with Fora Soft and we have recommended Fora Soft to others as well. So not only would we do it, but we have done it already.