peter ihesie, iPolice, software developer, startup churchplus
Peter is a Software Architect and CEO of Complustech, in this chat we talk about the features of his software-as-a-Service (SaaS) startup Churchplus, how he became a programmer and the issues plaguing the startup community.

What is Churchplus and what does it do?

It is simple yet effective software for managing and processing data and information collected so as to enhance church performance, member to church relationships and so much more. For us it’s about using technology, to analyse data, telling you the membership distribution, with pie charts and bar chat. This helps you refine your message and the kind of strategy to adopt, let’s say for instance you have 1000 members, 30% married and 70% single, with age range of 17 to 35. This data if well processed tells you that your message should be centre more around marriage and relationships, and if the age range perhaps is 35 – 50, you need to introduce programmes that will bring younger people to your church or else 20years from now nobody will be in the church.

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So those are methods we use and a church administrator must have, more so, notification is key, being able to send emails and sms to members. What we realise is that they always have to come back to the system if they are using sms-portals to do that, and some of these things are repetitive. So what we did was to have some of those processes automated for instance when services or programmes are coming up, you can tell the system that the service is by 6am, send a message to my members say by 4pm, and the system will do that week in week out and this helps improve attendance of which is what churches are so looking at.

Then again it helps in building stronger ties with members; how do you engage members on special days? It’s like what the banks do on our birthdays, they send us text messages of good wishes, yet we go to church on regular basis and on our birthdays, or anniversaries, nothing. We have brought that kind of functionality, thus with the data the church has, the system is able to send members good wishes on their special days automatically, and it takes the burden off the church, and will eventually reduce exodus. And as for performance, weekly you collect attendance, first timers, new converts information, but if there is no system in place that will analyse the data, good use may not really be made of it. What Churchplus does is that it takes the data that you have and gives you a pictorial representation telling you that over certain period of time, this is how you have performed; you either see a downward slope or an upward one.

How do these churches know the best strategies to employ?

There are consultants we work with that help with church management strategies they can go to when they see a downward slope. They can help these churches draw certain key metrics are drawn, e.g., what their retention rate must be should new converts flow in continually for a month.  This data is taken and fed back into the system to tell them the standard they ought to retain or maintain to achieve a certain growth percentage.

It’s vital that we are able to offer the services to the churches at a very competitive price, we realise that most of us are trying to adopt technology but in most cases there is no budget for technology, so we are trying to give something back.

Why do you think there is no budget for technology?

Technology is new in the major space, it’s by seeing value that you will want to start budgeting for it, and for us we want to create value for them and from that they can start budgeting, we come to you with something you can easily afford, we advise you to create a budget.

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What are the plans and how many are they?

There are different plans with different features which are based on membership size, we have one for 50 members which is free, you can try it and see how it works, if it works, if it’s ok, then you can up to a 100 membership size. We have for 100, 1000, 5000, 10,000, and there are features in the mobile app we are introducing that helps to engage members in different dimension. We have seen a lot of mobile adoption by the average Nigerian, so for the church to engage its members not just on Saturdays, Sundays or mid week services, they can share daily info on the mobile app. This app enables members get announcements, share testimonies, comment and even send direct messages to pastors, thereby making them more reachable. More so with the app you can have access to the online media library for the videos and audios of your pastor or church events and services. More so you can pay your offering and tithe via mobile.

So this helps curb the issue of missing money from tithes and offerings?

Yes, the app allows direct payment to your church’s account thereby reducing human interaction between when you give your offering to where it’s counted.

How much has your Software-as-a-Service been accepted and how many sign ups do you have?

It’s been encouraging because most of them are just getting to know about this technology, it’s really not easy for any organisation to embrace new technology, but for what it does and how it helps them, it’s been positive, but again are trying to build that trust to ensure we deliver on our promises. So far we’ve seen over 400 signups, the response has been very good.

Why did you decide to create an app for ‘church business’?

First of all I must say, we do not call it church business, these are churches that are trying to help a whole lot, and we must begin to see them from a different perspective. The situation in Nigeria requires that we become very hopeful, and for me it’s the reason we are still progressing and not in a major conflict or war. So I will say it’s an inspiration from God, I have always had it in mind to do something for the church, help the process. I noticed that the data collected during services were not largely utilised, again after I tried a couple of products I discovered that for us to be able grow a business we needed to build something which presented larger opportunities and the churches presented that ground because there are lots of them around.

Beyond being the founder of Churchplus, what do you really do, do you just talk and others walk, or you walk the talk?

Actually I haven’t said this before, but I am one of the best software developers in Nigeria and I can prove it. I had a project that won the World Summit ‘m-Government’ Award in 2013. The project called iPoliceMobile which at that time was amongst top 40 apps in the world was developed as a security and safety app in response to the security issues plaguing today’s Nigeria. The app was to provide Nigerians with tools and information to become security conscious and to stay safe.

How did you become a software architect?

It started from school, i read maths and political science, i was playing around in school until my final year when i developed interest in computers. I wanted to be able to make computers act in a special way. I was fascinated with softwares and people were able to do. So i decided it was what oi would do.

In my final year i did my project myself rather than give it out to someone to do (which was the norm) because i wanted to learn how to do it. I was really excited to see a program work. After that i went to work for a software company, i was paid peanuts although it wasn’t about the money but just being in that environment writing codes. I stayed at home for one year after I left school and in that year i worked for two software companies, doing support and learning programming.

At a time it wasn’t challenging enough, i needed a bigger company, so i told them i was leaving. They didn’t want me to go. But i left and went back to the east, to Aba in Abia State precisely. I met a young man who was also a programmer and i worked with him, we worked hard and always late. I was with him for like 6 months and learnt a lot and when i wanted to leave again, he didn’t want me to.

I am very passionate about the things that i do, i may not be very good at the beginning, but after a while i pick and this is what i expect from people i work with, passion. At that time i had to go for National Youth Service, that was in 2007. While serving, i stood out as one of the best software guys, it was such that whenever i take a week break, they always made me come after a couple of days to solve one state government issue or another. It was interesting and i was really making money.

About then i wanted to start my own company, but my parents adviced me to come to Lagos to experience what the market was like. I came Lagos and realized that there was a good market for programmers. So i joined a company, Allied Soft, they developed virtual solutions for businesses, top banks and brands. After that i started my own.

What do you think are the issues with the startup ecosystem?

Oh well, you see, that stuff you call your idea, it’s your problem. Why I say this is that we have concepts that we haven’t taken time to look at, and because it’s our brain child, we are biased towards it and want to pursue it to the end. We do not know whether it makes the very sense, we do not want to care if it’s something that can be achieved within this ecosystem, so we spend time working on something that at the end of the day, is worthless. It’s very essential that we take time with our idea and see if it’s something worthwhile and people are willing to pay for and we can’t do that by just writing programs. We also need to refine our ideas. Thirdly we need to upgrade our technical skills, when you look at what someone in Ghana or even Kenya is doing, we can’t just compare that to what is found in this space.

“Many say funding is the problem but it’s not, we need to build technical competence”.

If someday you have that viable idea, people, VCs and Investors will scamper after you and would want to do business with you at any means necessary.

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