Albert Opoku Interview
Albert Opoku is a co-founder of Hapaweb Solutions, a web agency in Kumasi, Ghana. Hapaweb focuses on website design, online marketing, and strategy. In addition to their paid client work, they show a commitment to their community through giving back and supporting IT education and making resources available to local schools and organizations. Albert and his team have seen big accomplishments, have even bigger ambitions, and a lot of drive. (Above, left to right—Ben, Alice, Albert, Lilian)
How did Hapaweb Solutions get its start?
Hapaweb was an accidental startup. I learned about blogging around June, 2009 and created my own self-hosted blog in August 2009 using WordPress. Having fell in love with blogging, I created a blog for my friend Dr. Sodzi who loves to write.
A year later, a former lecturer, Professor Addae, needed a website, so I landed my first freelance job. After finishing the site, I found out that the professor’s organization would only issue a cheque to a company. Thus, I registered a company so I could get paid. The Registrar General required at least three directors for the formation of a company, so I called up my two good friends Gideon and Ben to sign the papers…thus Hapaweb was born on October 10th, 2010. One referral led to another and on January 1st, 2012, Ben and I left our jobs to focus on Hapaweb full time.
As of July 2012, you went 100% WordPress. How did you come to this decision?
When we started designing websites, we committed ourselves to build using only open source CMSs. Back then we settled on Joomla, Drupal, and WordPress. After a year and a half of using theses CMSs, we came to the conclusion that WordPress was best for our clients. Joomla and Drupal are strong and comprehensive CMSs, but our preference for WordPress stems from the ease-of-use for our non-technical clients and the massive support provided by devoted and dedicated forum members.
What changes in your business have you seen since making this switch?
We have had less customer tickets, as a good number of our customers are comfortable with using WordPress. Developing with only one CMS has also enabled us to provide better customer service as we can now concentrate on providing more non-human support such as videos, user guides, and tutorials to our clients on only one CMS.
Are most of your projects short-term builds or do you work with your clients to incorporate various services with long-term goals?
Over 80% of our projects are long-term projects. Our first clients were small businesses and sole proprietors who wanted websites for their business. Now we are receiving orders for middle and large-size companies who want us to redesign their existing websites from static html websites to dynamic websites which enable them to control the content from their end…and that is why we love WordPress…it meets the needs of our clients.
What have you been working on that you’re excited about?
We love our Free School Project. A key part of it includes building websites for the school and obviously WordPress is the CMS of choice. Thus far we have 14 schools on the project and will be adding 10 more by the end of the year.
We have just completed developing custom plugins for some of the schools which will enable them to put student results online. Soon, over 50,000 parents will be enthused to know that the problem they face with receiving their wards’ results due to the unreliable postal system in Ghana will be over as they will be able to check results online.
Corporate social responsibility is something that Hapaweb is very passionate about. Could you share a bit more about your philosophy and how you got involved in it?
When Isaac Newton wrote to Robert Hooke on February 15th 1676, he said “If I have seen further it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Hapaweb would not be what we are today had it not been for giants such as Automattic, Google, and OS4Ed. These companies have given so much to the world for free. We owe it to them, to ourselves, and to our people to act in the manner in which we have been treated. We cannot solve all the problems of Africa, but we can contribute to the future of Africa by supporting the next generation.
Our Free Schools Project is our main corporate social responsibility project. Thus far we have invested over GHS20,000 ($10,000 USD) in cash and in kind toward this project. Although the cost has had a significant influence on our profits and time, we are excited to know and see that we are gradually making a difference in the lives of over 26,000 students and 1,400 teachers as they make better use of the web.
As part of your commitment to corporate social responsibility, Hapaweb has shown support to several different activities. Tell us more.
Information Technology, especially web applications, is our strength, Education is our passion and free is our belief. Whenever we see these three in action, we try to get involved and support the cause.
Thus, we have been involved in sponsoring a number of Barcamps in Ghana, where young people are introduced to ways they can make better use of the internet. We have provided sponsorship to the national Conference of Directors of Education (CODE) to support IT education and training. We have partnered with Google Ghana and sponsored free training to businesses in making better use of the internet and we are currently supporting the publicity efforts for Embedded Systems training being organized by Kumasi Center for Lifelong Learning.
What (if any) challenges do you face as web designers in Ghana that others in the rest of the world may not encounter?
1. Foreign exchange losses
We host our websites with HostGator and register domains with eNomCentral. Payment for these are in US dollars. With the weekly increases in exchange rates, coupled with the fact that our rates to our customers are in Ghana Cedis, our profits are significantly impacted by exchange rate losses especially during periods of higher and rapid exchange rate changes.
2. Lack of local WordPress experts
In the majority of our website design projects, we need to develop custom plugins. We have been trying for months now without success to find local programmers who can build WordPress plugins to join us. We have been left with no alternative but to hire these skills on oDesk and Elance, and since we have to pay in dollars, our profits are affected by exchange rate.
How do you continue to motivate and educate your team in this ever-changing world of technology?
A key tool has been our intranet, where we all share resources we find useful. One of our favorite resources is the plugins spreadsheet, where everyone adds plugins they have used in building a site. Thus when anyone needs say a Facebook “Like” plugin, there’s no need to spend loads of time testing the many plugins in the WordPress directory—just check out what a team member has found to be the best and go with it. We also have the blogs lists, the tips and tricks list and many more. We usually take an hour or two every Friday to read around so that we can share some of our insights in our bi-weekly Wednesday meetings.
You’ve done a lot in the two years since you got started. What would you like Hapaweb to accomplish in the next two years?
Everyone in the office can tell you that even if you wake him or her in the middle of the night: we want to get 200 schools on the Free Schools Project. We want to have eight offices in Ghana and four country offices across Africa.
One word to describe your team.
Hmmmmm—one word. I would have said passion, but our favourite word is FREE.