By Zedilson Almeida
When I first heard about Jamlab Accelerator, I was thrilled about the opportunity and initiated the application process immediately. It felt like a perfect match for Manifexto because it is a programme specific to media startups based in southern Africa. This was too great of an opportunity to miss as previous programmes I have participated in never specifically addressed media startups and I was eager to learn more about the industry.
On top of that, I always wanted to connect with peers from the region as we feel disconnected from them and wanted to be part of the community. In addition to this, we had followed Jamlab Africa for a while and were familiar with its credibility and positioning in the region and within the industry.
In the first week of the programme, we were extremely excited. We were anxious to receive information and knowledge, to get to know the other participants, learn about their startups and general information regarding their home countries, but also to see if there was any chance to create new synergies. This feeling was shattered after the first virtual meeting where we were asked to do some tasks, which we did some years ago. We felt as if it was a waste of time and were not very motivated to do them, but we had no choice.
To our surprise, as soon as we started doing it, we realised how important it was to redo said tasks. As we are always busy developing the business and building the platform, we forgot how important those tools were and how crucial it was to revisit them every now and then. As we move forward with the startup and everything it entails, it is easy to get tunnel vision, when we know the world is changing at a faster rate than ever. Doing it again might feel like a waste of time, but once you realise how many variables have changed and how these might impact your way forward, you will be glad to have revised your work. This was exactly what happened to us. We were so fixated with an initial idea that only after doing the task were we able to have the first ‘aha moment’ of the programme.
After that it was easier to move forward, in a new direction, and we continued revisiting the plan and continuously updating it as new elements and situations arose, and indeed we kept changing it, even towards the end of the programme. We have now implemented this as a monthly task to avoid making the same mistake and to ensure we are always on track. This was one of our key learnings from the entire programme and it has enabled us to completely revamp our roadmap and overall approach to accomplish our ever-changing objectives.
We had a lot of expectations regarding how the programme would allow us to refine our product, and these were fully met. We were amazed by how our mentor was so involved with our cause and project, as well as so knowledgeable of the media industry. We learned a lot from him. Not just in terms of media, but also regarding business, disruption and sometimes even in personal and social matters too. In a way, it contributed to our overall growth, while providing us the necessary ammo to continue with our journey and increased our potential of being successful at it.
We were lucky because we managed to have Phillip Mogodi as a mentor and, since he is a data scientist, he was able to work with us and address some of the complexities and intricacies of our fact-checker solution, as it is based on artificial intelligence. I am not going to lie, at certain points, we got stuck and struggled to figure out the way forward, for example, the monetisation of the service.
He went above and beyond in brainstorming with us, exploring different possibilities, venturing into philosophical conversations about the future, and always keeping us motivated and in check to deliver what we promised. His background helped us a lot (obviously) and I believe we could not find someone with his skills, knowledge, and global experience, in Angola. For this, we would like to, once again, thank him for his never-ending positivism and bright ideas.
All of these played a crucial role in ensuring we had our project successfully deployed by the demo day, thus accomplishing our mission. We are proud of ourselves as we had set a high bar: to develop and launch an automated fact-checker, based on artificial intelligence, in only six months! However, we could have failed. This thought led me to think about the importance of knowing how to set objectives, more importantly, how to achieve a balance.
We had two options: 1) promise the world and fail or 2) promise something easily achievable and accomplish it. It is easy to set a low bar and deliver the result, but what happens is that you will not deliver the best possible results, meaning you will not grow from the experience. On the other hand, when you promise the world, often you are promising the impossible and are bound to fail since the promise is so unrealistic unless by chance (or a miracle) you manage to pull it off. This was the case with Theranos, but what usually happens is under-delivering on the promise, releasing something with limited or missing features, or still in alpha/beta phase. Cyberpunk 2077 is a great example of this.
The challenge is to balance your own expectations, while still reaching for the stars. You want to aim high, but you need to be realistic. This way you will have challenges, pressure, and major setbacks, but in the process, you will push your boundaries and grow from the experience, and more importantly you will deliver what was promised.
We have managed to launch our minimum viable product and are working towards the roadmap we have presented at our pitch. It is still far from perfect, with some minor bugs that we are squashing as users give us feedback. Though it seems as if the hardest part has been done, I know the bulk of the work is still to come and now we have some elements that are out of our control: we need capital to accelerate development, and we need strategic partnerships to be made, ensuring the best possible business model fit to make the expected subsequently growth and expansion possible.
We launched Nuxo’s first chatbot on Facebook and you can try it out HERE. Our reasoning to choose this specific platform is because it has a zero-rating in Angola, which means anyone can use it without having to pay for internet. We felt this to be a priority since digital exclusion is one of the biggest problems we face in southern Africa. However, we never anticipated how bad of a reputation Facebook would gain. Though it may seem that free internet is a good thing, a lot of people from outside Angola demonstrated a great deal of concern about the privacy issues that have been plaguing the company in recent years.
Nuxo, is hosted outside of Facebook and all the chatbot does is to function as a bridge between the algorithm and users. All the information sent by users is processed in our own server. However, we have listened to the feedback, and while it already was in our roadmap to introduce more and more channels, this only accelerated the process as it is crucial to us that anyone can use Nuxo and verify their news.
On the other hand, we are researching how to deploy Nuxo on WhatsApp, Telegram, and Signal, which a lot of people use on a daily basis, and simultaneously researching on how to develop and deploy browser extensions — where users will be able to analyse their news straight from the browser they are reading it from. Work has also been underway designing Nuxo’s landing page, which will allow users to reach Nuxo directly, without using any chatbots, and easily verify their news. We will start focusing on developing an app for Nuxo at a later stage.
The fact that Nuxo can interact and analyse news in virtually any language to be extremely exciting and inclusive. The fact that it is always available online is also particularly important as users will understand they can count on Nuxo at any day, at any time. Nuxo will always be there for them.
We are harnessing technology to offer this service, for free, to as many people as possible, thus empowering them and contributing to curb fake news and its impact all around the world, but we understand the fact that not everybody goes the extra mile and researches the news they read. Therefore, apart from the technology available, we need to start educating people about their responsibilities as citizens and the dangers fake news represents to our societies.
The JamLab Accelerator is a six-month hothouse programme for journalism and media innovators. It is based at Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct in the heart of Johannesburg.
Want to stay up to date with the latest journalism and media innovation news from the African continent? Subscribe to our newsletter.