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Young Ghanaians in Tech- The StarHash Story

On our radar this week is brainy Mfantsipim alumnus and KNUST Computer Science major, Emmanuel Kwamena Ligay.

Ligay’s recently released android app, StarHash, is a simple but elegant program that employs one’s phone camera to load credit from scratch cards. The app has other very useful timesaving functions and is available on the Google Play Store.

threesixtyGh had the opportunity to interview this young tech entrepreneur. Below are excerpts of the interview.

What exactly is StarHash?

Emmanuel Ligay: It is simply a dialer abstractor; an application that utilises your phone’s camera to shorten the long codes you dial on your phone for one service or another.

When and how was the idea first conceived?
Emmanuel Ligay: It all began a year ago, actually, but then, this wasn’t the original idea of the app. During the long vacation preceding my third year in the university, I found myself buying the same internet bundles regularly but I was always going through the same short codes and menus. I found it quite tiresome. Then an idea popped up.
Why don’t I make an app to simplify that process for me and reduce the entire process to two or three taps? That’s how it all started.

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So it was an idea to make life easier for yourself and other mobile phone users?

Emmanuel Ligay: Yes, exactly. It went through a few iterations to be where it is today. For now, it only works with loading and checking credit, as you may have noticed.

Did you build StarHash alone? 

Emmanuel Ligay: No, I didn’t but I started the innovation. Early this year, a classmate, Frederick Oddoye, joined me in improving the app. He is a very brilliant chap and brought a lot of help.

So you were solo till Fred came to join you on it?

Emmanuel Ligay: Yeah, I was. The whole project was a learning experience for me, you know, just a project to see how well I could program. Turns out it was something that had potential to help others who also face the monotony of having to repeatedly dial numbers and short codes for simple functions.

Do you think it took too long to come up with the final version that was released?

Emmanuel Ligay: Come to think of it, yes, it did. And it is because I was really taking my time on the development since it was just something I was playing with. It wasn’t until Fred came on board and we decided to make it better that we got serious with it.

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When you started out initially, what was your estimated time of completion?

Emmanuel Ligay: I didn’t have a deadline I was trying to beat.

Is StarHash revenue-generating now?

Emmanuel Ligay: No, for now it is absolutely free of charge but I plan on releasing a few more apps very soon that’ll hopefully bring some coins to my pocket. (Laughs)

Any reason for no proceeds for now?
Emmanuel Ligay: Well, the main reason is we’re not entirely sure of which path to take concerning monetizing StarHash, or if we’d even sell it out. So it’s just out there for now.

Who are the other members of the StarHash crew?                                                                                                  Emmanuel Ligay: Three fellow KNUST students: Frederick Oddoye, Maame Aba Taylor and Lemuel Kofi Annan. These three really made a difference improving the app, and we’re still working hard on version two of StarHash.

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Wow, so all three of you are in the same university?

Emmanuel Ligay: Yes. We’re all proud Technocrats (students of Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, Ghana).

What courses do you three read?
Emmanuel Ligay
: Fred and I read Computer Science, Lemuel reads Computer Engineering and Aba is a Communication Design student.

What were your specific roles in the building of the app?
Emmanuel Ligay: Aba is a graphic designer. She did the logo and user interface. The rest of us are developers.

Can you give us a hint of the apps we should be looking out for from your camp?
Emmanuel Ligay
: As for upcoming apps, there’ll be version two of StarHash itself, with more features and a much better camera recharge.

What kind of features must we expect?
Emmanuel Ligay: Features like internet bundling, fun apps and games, and many more. Let’s just say StarHash is coming back bigger, more beautiful and stronger!

Does your team have a name now?

Emmanuel Ligay: Well, no. We came together to make this work. Each developer had their own thing going on and I see this as…”Man, I’m having trouble with this feature. Can you help?” But we’re a team now.

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What were some of the challenges you faced in building StarHash?
Emmanuel Ligay: Mainly, making camera recharge work on as many phones as possible. That one was quite a headache. In fact, the problem was making it work to begin with. At one point, I thought it was fixed because the app started working on my phone, the main testing device, until I tried it on a few other phones. The app crashed instantly and I had to go back to the drawing board. Other features that’ll be in the next version were also quite problematic before.

Is StarHash the first of its kind in Ghana?
Emmanuel Ligay
: No. There are a few out there that do some of what StarHash does.

Apps built in Ghana?

Emmanuel Ligay: Yeah, here in Ghana, by Ghanaians.

So what makes StarHash unique?
Emmanuel Ligay: It’s simpler and faster. No function takes more than three taps of the screen.  Another very interesting thing about StarHash is that it does not only work in Ghana. It has been adapted for Nigeria and South Africa so if you are in any of those countries, you can still use StarHash.

Have you tried out some of the other similar apps?

Emmanuel Ligay: A few of them, yes. And they use three or more taps of the screen. Some offer many more features, but the presentation is not the best. There was one released a while back. It was just a bunch of circular buttons bunched together and it hadn’t been updated in a while. The images were not fit for biggest screens. So StarHash is a big leap in the direction of giving the consumer comfort, at the same time providing an easy way of handling your dials and codes, especially when loading credit.

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What is your perspective on the mobile app market of Ghana now?

Emmanuel Ligay: That’s one interesting question. Standards here differ from what happens in the bigger countries, but the fundamentals remain the same, that is, certain demographics are interested in certain kinds of apps. About our problems, let us take a look at pricing, for example. You know as well as I do that not every smartphone user here (in Ghana) will be willing to pay for some apps or games. That means advertising on the app as well won’t be so successful because you will not have regular users. Also, unless the app shows some promise, or a developer is being paid for the work, the app rarely would be 100% quality. All this translates into low financial motivation and naturally, no one would want to spend time to build apps that would not bring in cash. On the brighter side, however, the market is a virgin one and I believe that with the right market target and with quality apps, the status quo could be challenged and changed.

So as an upcoming developer in Ghana, what are your top three words of advice to your colleagues here and all over the world?
Emmanuel Ligay
: -We should challenge ourselves to build better apps, improve on past works. -Find the right motivation. Money may be very useful, but it’ll only get you so far. Focus also on the impact you will make, not just how much money you will make.  -Never stop learning; new programming practices, better methods, guidelines. Bit by bit, they all go to help improve us and our works.

What are your last words?
Emmanuel Ligay: The team and I will bring out a much better version of StarHash by December 2015. There will be some fun apps and games as well so just keep an eye out.

We wish you all the best as you continue to carve that niche for yourself as a top-notch developer. More power to the entire StarHash team too!

Emmanuel Ligay: Thank you very much!

Author: Leslie Kossi Akplah (leslie_akplah@yahoo.com), Writer at threesixtyGh

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