Nic Pottier is the CEO and co-founder of Nyaruka, a software startup founded in Rwanda. Nyaruka builds and maintains RapidPro and TextIt.com. RapidPro today runs in over a hundred countries worldwide, supporting national scale messaging programs and reaching tens of millions of people daily.
My conversation with Nic traces his adventures moving from the start-up ecosystem in Seattle, Washington, to the burgeoning tech community in Kigali, Rwanda. Along the way, Nic takes us through the birth and re-birth of different software products, with a particular emphasis on the different financial models needed to sustain those software products. We talk about the ins and outs of running a software development consulting firm; pay-for-license proprietary software; recurring monthly payments for software-as-a-service (SaaS); how these revenue streams change when they collide with open source; the “robin hood” business model; and much more.
This episode is for anyone who is looking to start a sustainable software business – but it’s also for any of you looking to build software that lasts.
- Nyaruka is the company Nic co-founded in Rwanda
- RapidPro is UNICEF’s common platform for developing and sharing mobile services that can be adapted for different contexts and sectors. RapidPro was born in 2014, as a partnership between UNICEF and Nyaruka to open source and expand the functions of TextIt.
- TextIt.com is a commercial hosted service of RapidPro run by Nyaruka
- Danger Hiptop: Nic and Eric’s first startup was focused on building mobile apps for the Danger Hiptop (also known as the Sidekick). This was a popular smartphone that emerged in the years before the Android and Apple app stores were launched.
- Rwanda Vision 2020 was an ambitious call to action to transform Rwanda into a middle income country by 2020. It was launched in 2000 by President Paul Kagame. The effects of this program made it much easier for small companies, such as Nyaruka, to get started and do business in Rwanda.
- UNICEF: Nic references a history of collaboration with UNICEF, in particular people like Sean Blaschke and Evan Wheeler
- Software as a Service (SaaS) is a software business model that relies on recurring payments to the software provider, rather than a one-time fee.
- GNU General Public License (GPL): Nic makes various references to GPL, the open source license under which RapidPro is released. GPL ensures not only that software source code is openly available, but also that any derivative work is distributed under the same or equivalent terms.
- Copyleft is the term given to licenses, such as GPL, which require that derivative work be released under the same or equivalent licenses. This lies in sharp contrast to copyright, which protects the intellectual property of authors.
- No-code is a name given to a set of tools that allow people to build and deploy applications (e.g. on the web, on a mobile device) without any software programming
- Hacker News: Nic credits an article he found through Hacker News with inspiring him to focus on something that he could be “the best in the field at”
- Twist: Nic’s technology recommendation is Twist, an integrated email and messaging service that makes it easier for remote teams to work together online
- Resistbot: Nic’s shoutout goes to Resistbot in the USA. Resistbot is a chatbot that opens the doors for citizens to give feedback to their government representatives over mobile messaging.
- Africa’s Voices is a foundation taking a similar approach to Resistbot but with a focus on various countries in Africa.