Entrepreneur creates mobile app for charity

Reach for a Dream is one of the first charities in Africa to launch a mobile app, allowing it to communicate better with donors, staff and friends, thanks to entrepreneur and AppMe CEO Mervyn Naidoo

Reach for a Dream is a charity that seeks to alleviate the strain that a life-threatening illness places on children and their families by providing them the opportunity to realise their dream. With his family having personally been affected by cancer, entrepreneur Mervyn Naidoo (26) decided to create a mobile application that would allow the public to learn about the organisation; receive updates; interact and donate at the touch of a button. Some of the application's basic features include the home page, about us, dreams, projects, events, newsletter, gallery, Facebook and Twitter tabs.

DESTINY MAN chatted to Naidoo at the launch event of the app, held at the Protea Balalaika Hotel in Sandton, to find out more about the application and the exciting work his company AppMe is doing.

What does AppMe do?
AppMe is a company that deals with and creates mobile applications and software systems. We will soon be opening AppMe innovations, a company that will bring innovative products to South Africa.

When did your dream to become an entrepreneur start?
I've been privileged to grow up in an entrepreneurial family – my father being an entrepreneur and a successful one at that. Last year I was actually out of a job, sitting at home for four months and I had an idea. AppMe was formed on the basis that I was a marketer and the best way of marketing nowadays is on mobile phones. Any mobile device you have on you is your marketing tool of the future. So that's how AppMe came about.

So your background is in marketing?
Yes, I did a BComm Marketing through Unisa. I've worked in a book store, retail clothing and at a panel beaters but I always knew that I would ultimately find myself working in the technology field.

So do you employ developers to create the apps?
I actually develop the apps myself. I learnt. Anyone can learn. There are so many channels for learning these days; you've got YouTube, you've got Skype – you can Skype people who give courses that teach you how to develop systems. So nowadays learning can be done at home, learning can be done on a computer. You don't have to be at an active university to learn anymore.

AppMe also introduced the first rental system in Africa. How does that work?
AppMe was proud to announce the first mobile application rental system in Africa and South Africa. It caters for Android phones, iOS Apple phones and HTML mobi sites. We rent out an application instead of an individual or a company putting a huge capital outlay to purchase the application. So if the application does not work after three to four months you can pull it off, hold it and relaunch it in the future.

But then who pays for the cost of developing the app?
 The client pays the rental cost. The rest of it is covered by AppMe. It's growing very quickly. Instead of people spending from R250 000 to R1.2 million for a mobile app, they're renting it for R2 500 a month. And you get unlimited usage of the app itself and you can change the features, look and feel of the app daily if you want to.

Is this an idea you came across abroad?
I got introduced to the owner of the rental system in San Francisco and we took the rights for Africa. I'm going back to San Francisco at the end of the year. It was actually a huge entrepreneur that got bought out by Google in South Africa that introduced me to a huge entrepreneur in the States (I can't mention names). Everyone knows Facebook, he's one of Mark Zuckerburg's best mates that owns the system.

Reach for a Dream is the first Charity in Africa to launch its own app. Why did you choose to help this particular charity?
Reach for a Dream stood out for me because cancer has had a big affect on our family. I just lost my grandmother to the disease in February after three months of discovering she had cancer. I have a nephew who had cancer and hopefully has beaten it. He's four years old and was born with it. I, like Reach for a Dream, believe that no child should live without hope so I want to market it and teach people about cancer. I want to show them that these people also have lives and should live the best life they can right now.

How will the app benefit Reach for a Dream?
It allows people to communicate with Reach for a Dream easier. You'll get push notifications; you will know what is happening with Reach for a Dream; what you as an individual can do. For example, you can enter the Reach for a Dream cycle challenge as one of the riders through the mobile application instead of filling out forms. The app is not finished – what we call a dead app – it will have new features every month like games or live streaming. So it's not dead, we build on the app every month.

Where can the app be accessed and downloaded?
You'll find the app on Google Play which is now the Android market and you will find it on iTunes by 21 September. For Blackberry users, a link will be posted up on the Reach for a Dream website, www.reachforadream.org.za.

What is the vision for AppMe?
The vision is to grow South Africa and Africa into a technology powerhouse. Truthfully, if I can make this statement, America is a marketing powerhouse; they are not a technology powerhouse. They just market the products like they develop it. India is a technology powerhouse. What we need to do is get the youth, like myself, to dig deep, work hard and have a dream to make SA one of the top places to look for software developers. Right now AppMe is one of the cheapest in the world in the rental space. We just had DJ Avicii sign up to our rental system, so it’s very exciting.

What tips would you give to other young entrepreneurs out there?
 It takes hard work – it's blood, it's sweat and it's tears. You need to have a strong personality. You're going to get people that are going to be negative, who will think you're too young. But if you have the drive in yourself and you know what you are doing is right, you will succeed. And just make sure that when you deal with clients, everything is out in the open. Don't make the sale based on empty promises, rather make it on the truth, because it will come back to bite you. It's a learning curve and every entrepreneur will learn along the way.

What is your dream for AppMe?
AppMe's aim for the future, and something we're doing right now, is to get kids off the street and train them on computers over the weekend. We actually pay them R100 to come for four hours and train them on Windows. I want to grow AppMe into a company that can build itself by training people. It must just be a cycle of growing itself.