Collins Iheagwara is the co-founder of Empirica R&D, a digital product design and development studio. The company, which was founded two years ago, helps its clients build efficient and innovative mobile applications.
What inspired you to start Empirica R&D, were there any gaps in the ICT sector you set out to address?
Empirica R&D started as a result of our desire to bring two ideas to life. The first is we wanted to see better designs come out of Africa. The idea might be a bit cliché, but the truth is a lot of people use and create products with flawed designs quite often. Design is fundamentally how things work and not a new fresh coat of paint. In my opinion, the process of designing here in Nigeria is below international standards. It’s too client-feature dependent. We want to change that.
To add a little more context, while leading a product development startup here in Lagos. I noticed that our approach to designing mostly looked like this; Client comes with certain requirements because they think that is what is best for their business. Half way in, we realise that what they really want is an edge, something that can set them apart from the competition. The trick is to deliver an effective product that meets the client’s standards and needs as quickly and efficiently as possible.
The second reason is to gain more control. I wanted more control in changing the narrative and bringing really creative ideas to life. For example, we are working on an idea that should help clients buy US stocks with whatever amount they have, with almost no fees at all.
What products are available to prospective clients?
Based on the idea that we strive to build products that cater to the need of our clients, most of our products- websites, applications and interfaces, are customised to appeal to clients with different requirements. Empirica R&D provides clients with services such as Product Design (User-Interface, User-Experience), System Development (we have been focused on helping clients with already established backend/business processes implement amazing frontends- both web and mobile); and also, Research & Product Strategic Thinking, especially in areas like G.T.M (Go to market strategy).
What milestones have been recorded since your organization’s inception?
We worked on a mobile app for a Nigerian bank. The bank was particularly looking to create a unified banking experience across all the channels its customers were interacting with. The guiding question at the back of our minds was, what would it feel like if customers didn’t have to visit a physical bank building to transact with the bank? The goal then was to accommodate and streamline every possible financial transaction a customer might want to ever take. Making it possible to achieve with an app using technology like identity verification and management, VOIP and GPS. We eventually designed an app the bank’s customers found easy to navigate and use. The customers could ask for loans, book flights & movie tickets, buy insurance, get credit & debit cards, and fix banking issues without ever visiting a bank branch.
Empirica R&D also did some amazing work in the education space. We were trying to reinvent the process of creating, managing, and sharing education content. Essentially, the product was designed to make it easier for a product manager in a big organization to create training materials for new hires. Basically, any kind of content can be created on the platform- quizzes, videos courses, assessment type content, and coding courses. The system was designed to handle anything, the creator’s imagination is the only limiting factor.
The education software includes a course-authoring tool (Windows Desktop App), an online store for selling and distributing created content and a delivery app (Desktop, iOS, Android) for easy consumption of content. Our mission was to create a world-class, inexpensive local substitute that is easy to use. We believe that you should create and distribute content without stress.
The company also did some of its best work redesigning and redeveloping a much simpler fleet tracking and management software for clients. The previous design of the product was foreign and very difficult to use. In fact, the enterprises using this software had to hire contract staffs to manage it for them because they just could not understand it. The redesigned software is currently being used by multinational oil companies, tracking thousands of assets (vehicles, tools, machines, and so on), and generating reports.
What challenges do young software developers face in Nigeria and how can they be addressed?
People looking to get into software design face a lot of challenges in Nigeria. First, it is easy for experts to become confident in their coding abilities, but the challenges they face in their bid to find opportunities means they have to survive doing other jobs not related to software development. It is a situation that can be quite frustrating. Other serious challenges include a knowledge acquisition problem as well as infrastructure problems.
One way to address the problems, will be to improve the public education system, which is a bit inefficient right now. People are not really taught life skills like problem solving and critical thinking, which is the foundation to learning anything or subject. So right now, we have people who don’t even know how to learn or think. The schools (universities in particular) don’t help. They teach you how to cram and give back the teacher’s exact same notes. Taking this into consideration, it’s easy to see why developers have to be self-taught or seek knowledge from credible private institutions to develop, improve or perfect their craft.
It is imperative to train and reward teachers differently. If schools are funded and teachers are rewarded well enough, it creates a situation where teachers are selected primarily on their skills and their ability to impart knowledge.
Look at Finland for example, everyone in the country has to go through public school, teachers are rewarded really well and the children or learners are allowed to explore.
Are there plans to expand the scope of your services?
We hope to continue to challenge ourselves by building more innovative and efficient software designs for our clients. If we focus on pushing our boundaries, it will open doors to expand our footprint outside the country and even the continent.