Ghanaian Sesinam Dagadu (29) is what some might call an accidental entrepreneur – meaning the business created the entrepreneur, not the other way around. A short discussion with him will tell you he is not your typical hustling tech entrepreneur, armed with a sales pitch, relentlessly striving to sell an idea. No, Dagadu simply “found an interesting problem to solve” – the lack of a formal street address system in Ghana – and then solved it.
The idea was born from his own frustration. Having been raised in Ghana till the age of 10, he completed his schooling in the UK, before pursuing his systems engineering studies at university. But unsure of what he was doing with his life, he put his education on hold to return to his home country, where he took up a position at Ecobank in Accra. It was here that he discovered how Ghana’s lack of formal addresses could hamper business.
“I was with the marketing team and saw how they had to go out and try find people. It was ridiculous the amount of time we spent looking for people,” he recalled. “For the entire day we could maybe only go and see two or three people, which just seemed very inefficient to me.”
The problem caught his attention, and when he returned back to university to complete his degree, he started working on a solution.
Ghana, like many African countries, is undergoing urbanisation. Some African cities are expanding so fast that maps are outdated the moment they are published. And the formal addressing system has just not kept up, with many roads and houses simply being built without names or numbers.
For many Africans the best way to share their location is to try give directions using landmarks. Pass a church. Turn right at the blue wall. Next to the kiosk with the coca-cola sign. Eighth house on the left with the red roof.
But Dagadu has a simple, yet effective, solution: SnooCode. It is a mobile app that uses a computer algorithm to generate a unique code – for any location – which then serves as an address.
And it is very easy to do. Ghanaians simply download the free SnooCode mobile app, stand at the location in question (such as in front of their house or at a restaurant), and select the option to generate the code. Users will then receive a six-digit, unique code for the specific location. This never changes and is in effect tied to the land. Anyone who wants to let others know where they are, can just send their location’s code – as if it was any formal address. The app also provides navigation options to these locations.
“The code replaces the street name, the house number, the area and everything – which makes it even more accessible to people who have lower levels of education,” explained Dagadu.
“Because one thing that a lot of people don’t think about is if you have a European style addressing system, somebody has to be able to read the area and street name. But with SnooCode all you need to know are your alphabets and your numbers, which is just about a first grade education.”
A game changer for emergency services
In 2011, Dagadu launched TinyDavid, the parent company of SnooCode. The name is a reference to the story of David and Goliath, and the idea that small solutions can combat big challenges.
This month, TinyDavid, in partnership with the Vodafone Ghana Foundation, enabled the Ghana National Ambulance Service to accurately locate victims in emergency situations using SnooCode’s technology. Responders had typically struggled to find victims, and those in need of emergency attention would often waste valuable time trying to direct ambulances to their location. But SnooCode aims to considerable reduce response time.
“So basically you can just call the emergency service or send them a message – whatever way you have to communicate – and just tell them your code. They then can easily find you… That is all you need to do.”
A smartphone and internet connection is needed to download the app. But once downloaded, you do not need an internet connection or even cellular coverage to generate the code. Dagadu explained he used the app to generate a code at his grandmother’s house, and then pasted it on her fridge. “So if she ever needs help she can just use her landline or her normal feature phone and the ambulance can then find her precisely.”
Revenue through commercial use
The company is still developing its revenue model, but Dagadu said there are many commercial opportunities. The app allows businesses (such as restaurants) to be easily located by consumers, and could be a game-changer for e-commerce companies, delivery services and the postal system.
“In Ghana you don’t get mail delivered to your house. But for the very first time you could reliably get mail delivered to your house using this app.”
While there is potential for TinyDavid to charge companies a fee for using the service commercially, Dagadu wants the service to remain free for personal use. And his focus is on expanding to other African countries too.
“We are looking hard at expanding across Africa. The vision is, by the end of next year, someone should be able to navigate from one front door in South Africa to another in Accra, on one system and without the internet.”