Three years ago, Alex Bram had an idea. The idea was quite simple. He believed there should be an app that connected users to their favorite brands. This connection was quite different and novel, in the sense that users would have the power to purchase digital services from these brands; and review them as well for the kind of service they received. Also, it had a mix of loyalty where users were rewarded every time a digital service was purchased. This was meant to create a positive feedback loop that would keep customers coming back for more. Someway somehow it worked and we all enjoy it to this day.
For this idea to come alive a team of engineers was assembled (sort of like the Avengers. These guys did not have superpowers).
At that point in time, Hubtel’s focus was on businesses and the core of our product was business-facing, so most of the engineering effort and time were put in that direction. This team that was formed was as agile as you can imagine.
These were the members and their roles as at then:
Alex Bram (Part-time Project Manager)
Selassie Afenya (Team Lead)
Liman Labaran (Backend Developer)
Paul Gamedzi (Front End Developer > Backend Engineer)
Bill Inkoom (Android Developer)
Emmanuel Rockson (Visual Designer)
Since we were free to do what we wanted, we chose a different stack as opposed to what Hubtel was using – Microsoft Framework. We went Laravel.
On the business platform, Hubtel had users and businesses but because we were building a side-app, we created our own users. We also created our own brands and basically created everything that our little platform needed.
The app was launched to the public on Hubtel’s birthday, 12th May (2017). We had started work on it around July of 2016. It was initially named Hubtel Exchange then we did not like that name so we changed it to Hubtel Connect. Then we didn’t like that name either so we changed it to Hubtel Gratis. But Apple said no to that name so we chose Hubtel.me and we got fed up and just removed the .me so now it’s just Hubtel.
The app released to the public was really simple: you could buy airtime and pay some bills and get great rewards for doing that. We started with a few users: less than a hundred. Our daily transaction volumes were in hundred’s of cedis a day. We had no ads or no big promotion plans in mind. We wanted the dream of virality, to build a system so good that it would sell itself. As time went on our user’s increased in number and the volumes came with it. We steadily climbed to GHS 100,000 a month and crossed the 1000 user mark, then we hit a million Ghana cedis in transactions (“a milli, a milli” in Lil Wayne’s voice). That was great.
The fire sort of died down a little bit because we had become another credit selling and bill paying app ( a sect of apps that are just waiting to be slaughtered by the Industry Giants (Banks and MTN)).
Then Patrick Asare-Frimpong joined Hubtel and for the very first time, we had a full- time Project Manager. He brought fresh energy and new ideas.
The next few months were exciting: we worked on Gift-cards; we worked on fraud prevention and we built our beloved Sophie. She is truly a darling. Sophie is certainly one of a kind, she is a fully automated bot that can process natural language and give level headed replies. At first, she was just cracking jokes and giving people Hubtel’s phone number. Well, Patrick disagreed and insisted we equip Sophie to become Hubtel’s first Automated Support (RoboSupport). It worked! Sophie can now reverse transactions when issues are reported to her. Her database of possible questions has grown making her a great support-personnel to talk to all the time.
Then came a powerful alliance with marketing to create the potential future of Hubtel – the Mobile Mall and Car4ce. Around this time most of the earlier comrades had left and new comrades had entered the scene.
With a new team and more motivation, work on the mall and CareForce was completed.
A New Dawn
That was the past, and now Hubtel looks to the future. The fragmentation of Hubtel Consumers and Hubtel Businesses will be no more. We all look ahead to forge one story where consumers can go through a Hubtel journey that’s clear as distilled water. A future where Hubtel app owns no users, owns no streams, owns no transactions and owns no data and owns no algorithms. A future where everything belongs to the Hubtel platform, allowing us to build many meaningful apps for our lovely customers.
Article by: Bill Nkoom – Software Engineer at Hubtel