Friday, 28 February 2014

Back to Liberia

Luca Bai Varaschini was born in Robertsport, Grand Cape Mount County, in 1963.

His father was Medical Director of St. Timothy's Hospital, and his mother taught French at the Governement High School. Luca and his siblings grew up on the shores of Lake Piso until the family returned to Italy, in 1972.

In 2009 he came back for a month, and decided to plan a relocation. 5 years later, this is happening.

Luca met Farzana and Haresh while wandering down Randall Street during one of his first explorations of Monrovia, when he recognized the company's logo on the signboard; he had learnt of them when he was collecting information on the new liberian businesses, and identified them as a reliable company in case of IT problems and, mostly, he had appreciated the feeling of a family that came from the company's blog. Lastly, he was curious to see the baby, and meet the happy parents!

Empathy grew immediately, and professional interest as well.

"Being a graphic designer, I feel my skills could be useful on the scene of Liberia's recovering economy. In Milan, Italy, I've worked for the major publishing companies, as well as freelancing in the domains of branding and commercial communication; Liberian companies and agencies need to consolidate their identity, and transmit a solid image of themselves, while the Nation is doing so on both the internal and international levels. There is no reason to wait, nor to be satisfied with casual, unprofessional logos, house organs, signs and merchandising. Graphic design can provide that sense of pride which, along with the substantial progress made on the markets, can open new oportunities. On the larger scale, I hope to participate in the reshaping of the country's national branding, the love of which has never left me in these years.

The opportunity to work with New Africa Technology Company is an unique one, as the company is so similiar to many of those I've worked with in Italy; a clean and relaxing workplace where i know I'll be assisted, might any tech issue emerge (I do feel to be more an artist of some sort, rather than a computer geek).

As a fact, I basically work with digital tools, starting from the Internet; knowing I can rely on a fast and stable optic connection really changes my perspectives, in a country still adapting to the novelty of worldwide exchanges."

Luca will be based in NATC's Offices, and together they will be offering Graphic Consultancy on the Liberian market. When free from work, he'll quite surely be running to his beloved birthplace, Robertsport, where he dreams to find a house on the lake to fix for his friends and relatives to come and visit from Italy and beyond.

Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy. And Cables!

Contributed by Luca Varaschini 

No matter my complete ignorance as for what concerns networking etc., Haresh invited me to the site where his team was working: the boys were all over the first floor of a newly-built (and unfinished) building at MoLME, stting up two training-halls and a server-room.

These are some of the things I saw and understood :)

Above each of this little plastic boxes will be a desk. Every desk will have a computer. In front of every computer will be a person, learning computer things.

Funny to see how my country follows me everywhere I go: these guys make long plastic things that the boys use to hide/protect the cables running along walls, ceilings and floors.

The network Overlord understands networking, but doesn't seem to find things on his cellphone  

OK, i know what one might think, seeing this picture.. No, it isn't as it seems: NATC does not require its employees to wear colorful horizontal-striped tees as a uniform! Daniel (in front, thinking "hasn't this italian man something better to do than staying in the way?"), Joshua (clipping little plastic terminals at the end of infinite cables) and Johnathan (hiding from the useless italian and his camera) in the Server-room. un-tangling a dish of spaghetti seems easier, at least to me! 

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Personal Annual Reflection

Contributed by Farzana Rasheed

It's the middle of February and, I still haven't written my annual reflection for 2013. 

The last couple of quarters of 2013 were rather slow so I'm tempted to say that 2013 was the most challenging year to date. We also hired and fired at least 4 staff members and also lost an old employee. We faced challenges with our banks. The infrastructure is not getting any better. 

I suppose the initial gloss and enthusiastic excitement of starting a new business is wearing off now that I'm in the nitty gritty of it. 

I took over my ex-boyfriend's IT business in October 2009 after he was killed in a house robbery. I had worked in the UN prior to that for 6 years. New Liberia Technology Company (the predecessor to New Africa Technology Company) was set up by Wesley Daames in 2004. When I took over the company in 2009, it was in a bad shape and, I ended up registering a new business altogether. I also lost NLTC staff in a mini mutiny and, it was a real shame since they had been trained by Wesley and, some of them had been exposed to open source platforms. That set back did not deter me and, I carried on what I believed to be was Wesley's legacy and vision: a premier IT services and products company. 

I was really heady in those days: living and working out of an apartment, working almost 12 hour days,  learning everything there was to learn, excited and scared since I hardly had any money, and feeling very instinctual about it all. I say instinctual because I felt like a lot of things came easily to me: customer service, managing a team, trouble shooting, and thinking about IT. I was always convinced that I had made the right decision to enter the business world. Every time I bagged a new client through my personal charm, I was in seventh heaven. 

About a year into it, my new romantic partner and I decided to join forces and, run the IT company together. Haresh is an experienced businessman, who has deep links to West Africa. He was born in Nigeria, a country where his father lived and worked for 50 years. Haresh has done business in the region and, is no newcomer to Liberia. 

Haresh focused on expanding the supply side of business. He got some lucrative deals with the Government and the UN. We moved out of our small office and, into a swanky loft-style space in early 2012. The year was quite good - we continued to expand our client base and, continued to bring in new supply orders.

Personally, it was also a good year: I left for maternity leave in October for the US and didn't return until February 2013

We started 2013 on a good note in terms of expanding our technical team: we hired two Pakistanis. The first hire turned out to be a disaster: we realised the candidate did not have so much hands-on experience as we thought and, there was a bit of an ego clash. These are the kinds of risks one takes when hiring internationally, across countries. The second hire went on quite smoothly for the better part of several months. The attitude and willingness to accept the challenge that is Liberia was quite positive. But, this candidate too threw up their hands, citing family reasons for wanting to return to Pakistan. It was quite disappointing to say the least. I never managed to replace these persons.

I also recently lost my Admin and Finance officer, Patience Nyepanh. I inherited this young lady from Wesley and, she was one of my favourites. I have had a very soft spot for her. Moreover, she is hardworking, extremely well dressed, and, possesses a lot of potential. Unfortunately, she was not willing to improve the problem areas. Crucially, we wanted to migrate to a proper accounting software and take our bookkeeping to the next level. Patience was not willing to put in the hard work despite me getting trainers for her. I will need to remove her picture from our blog. Good luck to her in her future endeavours. I did manage to replace her with a gentleman who is well versed in the software we want to use. So far, so good.

I also lost our trainee from Sierra Leone. The chap did not show up for work and, we thought he was sick. After he was missing for a few days, we sent one of our staff to go look for him. They were told by the neighbours that he was not around but had gone for work. We eventually found out that he had started working for an insurance company. I was devastated  because he was such a bright young man and, I thought we had given him the right amount of support and incentives. 

In hindsight, it seems I keep losing the promising trainees. I think I will need to hire trainees at a higher salary if I want to retain them. Sure, it stings my ego to to think I am doing something wrong especially when in my head I feel I am not! 

In terms of overall business, the services side floundered a bit because many of our clients are multi nationals in the agriculture or mining sectors. In 2013, most of them slowed down their operations since they had either completed their feasibility phase and/or were facing some other roadblock and, were waiting for the mining license and/or something to clear up. Our service contracts were cut down in scope as well as fees. In supplies of  goods, the government almost froze expenditures. There was hardly any new business going around.

All this time, I understood why they say that most businesses fail in the first five years. 2013 was a crunch year for us. We have grown as a business, invested in our space as well as our staff, taken bank finance, and increased our operating costs either ourselves or inadvertently. These few years are going to determine whether we make it or not.

2014 has started off on a good note with some new clients and, some positive resurgence of activity from our existing clients. Let's hope it continues like this!

From my experience so far, I think slow and steady is only going to win the race. We will have to stick it out in the small but profitable market that is Liberia. And, for us to really create that name for ourselves in the IT industry, we'll need to invest in our team.

I'm going to have to work harder to find additional team members for our technical team, invest and train our existing staff and, continue to provide premier IT services to our clients.

Haresh is going to continue to work hard and, participate in public bids as well as run the operations!

I wish everyone a productive and successful 2014!

For those who no longer work with us, good luck to them. For my staff, thank you for the efforts and dedication.  

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

LPRC Announcement

Contributed by Farzana Rasheed

See an announcement from LPRC in today's paper explaining that their normal petroleum shipment coming in from Ivory Coast is delayed and, they are doing their best to serve their clients. They also assure that there is no need to panic.

Since the LEC is on and off every single day, we went to replenish fuel for our office generator today but there is no fuel available in any of the stations near our office. Our staff Samuel went as far as UN Drive but came back empty handed. 

We are panicking a little! 

I wonder whether LEC outages are related to LPRC's woes. It would be nice to see a public announcement from the LEC.