How Erotic Hausa Stories Broke Open Our @OkadaBooks App #TheCubicleEntrepreneur

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disco-droidMy background is in Engineering, but more precisely, my early background right out of college (2004) was in research and development aka Office engineering as I call it.

This meant that majority of my early days as an Engineer was spent in the office designing subsea/surface oil equipment on my computer that was to be used in the oil-field several thousand feet under the sea. As an office engineer, I had very limited exposure to the field.

So I had no idea how my designs were being used. But this was not really an issue because we BELIEVED that we tested our designs to replicate real life supposed usage in the worst case.

So we literally tested the life out of our designs, we heated it up to as high as 200 degrees Fahrenheit and then decreased the temperature down to freezing point, we even increased the pressure to 15,000 psi and cycled it over 1000 times, took it apart, put it back together again and repeated all of the above until our design failed! We then microscopically analyzed our design and determined why it failed and then designed new controls to prevent or mitigate such failures from happening again in the future.

It was excessive and we believed this was more than enough to validate our designs. But we were wrong …

We were wrong because we would always get feedback about one problem or another with our design in the field. And it was simply because it is impossible to predict how the user in all iterations will utilize your product.

I experienced this first hand when I visited the field for the first time, there I saw a technician grab a large sledge hammer and slam it on a valve wheel to open it! We had originally designed the wheel to be opened with humans hands but here it was being slammed open with a hammer … we did not factor the large amount of resistance a valve being opened after several months closed will have. And to be fair to us it was almost impossible to test for that exact scenario.

But whatever the case, I understood there and then that what we tested in our clean labs did not perform the same way in the dirty real world of Oil and Gas.

Fast forward to

When we initially designed our app, we believed we were designing an app where people would write, share and sell fictional stories written in mainly English and maybe French. But boy where we wrong.

We noticed our wrongness[sic] when we started receiving email queries about our app in Hausa language this was accompanied by a huge spike in our google analytics . So I started investigating, and amidst a rash of Hausa phrases I stumbled upon a reoccurring name, it was a writer called Musa Ajayi.

I went to his website and although I could not read Hausa I was able to decipher that Musa was not writing crime fiction or holy fiction but rather was writing some serious Erotic Romantic fiction in Hausa!

In all our early design iterations … nothing told us that we would be catering our app towards a crowd of Hausa writers and fanatic fans (and they are fanatic). We did not anticipate it at all.

And as I always like to do, I want to talk directly with our users.

screenshot_2016-10-27-12-44-02So I sent Musa an email and was able to get his contact number. We spoke for a while alternating between voice and whatsapp chat. It turns out that he came to our platform only because Amazon Kindle rejected all his books because it was written in the Hausa language, not only that it turns out that he sells fruits/vegetables in Borno state!

In all our wisdom we never saw any of this happening.

But like me in my early days of Engineering, we adapted to the change not only did we adapt we embraced it.

Now I find myself using google translate to help me answer questions written in Hausa and even have an unofficial translator who helps me when the wording gets too complex. We have added even more Hausa authors and readers to the okadabooks platform and are seeing a large demand for writings in that language. We now have a tab dedicated for books written in Hausa language.

And that’s not where it stopped.

screenshot_2016-10-27-12-44-35I kept discussing with Musa and learned a lot about trends in the North and his feedback has been very instrumental in transforming our app from one that caters to an urban Lagos demographic to one that caters to a more realistic Nigerian demographic.

Out of all this I have learned that you can never know how the user is going to engage with your app, its impossible, but what is important is that when those unique engagements happen (and they will happen) that you embrace it rather than fight it. Because when you embrace the user you might discover something deep and amazing about your app that you never knew existed.



Words by Okechukwu Ofili of
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Read his crazy titled books on okadabooks 




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