Load-shedding has become one of the most discussed issues in South Africa and is affecting home users and businesses alike.
As a result of the hindrance that load-shedding causes, demand is high for easily-accessible updates on load-shedding times and schedules.
Two developers from the banking sector saw this demand and took a chance to capitalise, launching an app that has now become the go-to for load-shedding information: EskomSePush.
In 2014, Herman Maritz and Dan Wells were working in the same office, building apps for banks. They both wanted to know when load-shedding was taking place so that they could plan around it.
To achieve this, they began using PushBullet – a service that allowed them to send themselves notifications when load-shedding began.
This service was soon extended to their friends and family, after which they spent a weekend writing the initial app – which they named EskomSePush.
“We sat in a lot of conference calls talking about ‘push notifications’ and how these messages can be used to send users banking updates,” said Maritz.
“Some of these meetings had folks with Afrikaans accents and the word ‘Push’ always made our day,” he added.
“The name was definitely inspired by some of those banking folks. But simply put, it’s Push Notifications for Eskom. EskomSePush.”
Within six weeks of releasing the app to the public in 2015, EskomSePush had accrued over 100,000 active users.
The app’s active user numbers then peaked at around 250,000 before load-shedding was initially suspended.
However, since the reintroduction of load-shedding in 2018, EskomSePush has continued to grow and as of 28 March 2019 the app had 1.2 million weekly users.
Maritz believes that one of the key reasons that EskomSePush has gained such popularity is that people didn’t want to struggle to get the latest load-shedding news.
“South Africa was confused and we helped them with the necessary bits of info they needed,” said Maritz.
Advice to prospective app developers
Maritz and Wells have three pieces of advice for anybody hoping to create their own viral app.
Firstly, users should make simple choices – even if it hurts.
“When starting out you need to iterate fast to find out which ideas work best. This means some of the things you’ve built might not be perfect. But you need to try out a lot of things to see what works,” they said.
They added that when they started to encounter scaling issues, they looked at their original code and were heavily critical of it.
“But, even though we would approach the problem differently now, the code still runs,” said Maritz.
Secondly, the pair said that patience is key.
After load-shedding stopped in 2015, Maritz thought the app had ceased to be valuable. However, Wells kept the servers running and when load-shedding was reintroduced in 2018 the app still worked.
Finally, they said it is important to be excited about what you do.
“You need a lot of energy and love to make this work,” said Maritz. “Have fun – as soon as you start making it ‘work’ it’s going to bring you down.”
EskomSePush’s “email us” button receives around 8 emails per minute, meaning that a two-man team can’t respond to all user requests.
As a result, the pair launched EskomSePush’s “Nearby Chat” feature at the end of March.
This feature allows users to converse with other EskomSePush users in their area, allowing them to ask each other for help and keep informed on what’s happening around them.
“We’re really looking forward to hear about the first braai that happens after being organised via ESP Chat,” said Maritz.