From Uber to call centre: why Flare decided on the human touch for emergency dispatch in Kenya


In this catch-up episode, I chat with Caitlin who runs Flare.

Caitlin and I first spoke in late 2016, and you can listen to the original interview by scrolling down to the episode named Ambulances.

The premise then was that Flare would become a technology platform to connect people with ambulances much in the way that Uber has developed the model of hailing a driver through their app.

Whilst the vision of providing world-class emergency dispatch services remains unchanged, the company has developed more of a human touch.

As Caitlin and I discuss, a core offering they now have is a 24/7 dispatch hotline where trained medical professionals consult with callers before dispatching them to the appropriate provider.

We also talk about other things that have come from running the business over the past three years.

How they’ve been cautious to not scale too quickly, how large corporates are signing up to the service, and their considerations for international expansion.

The interview takes place in the garden of the Flare house (you may notice a number of companies such as Lynk and SunCulture operate from residential homes) and so there may be some background noise, not least from Koko – the office dog who comes over halfway through.


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Twitter: @RescueByFlare



Sam:                                      00:07                     Intro.

Sam:                                      02:37                     Cool. So we’re here today with Caitlin from Flare again. Caitlin, welcome to the show.

Caitlin:                                  02:42                     Thank you so much.

Sam:                                      02:43                     So we first chatted nearly three years ago, would you believe it, and we went through bit of an overview of what Flare was doing, what you were sort of getting set up to do. But yeah, just for people who perhaps haven’t listened, could you just give us a bit of an overview as to what Flare is and what your doing at the moment?

Caitlin:                                  02:59                     Absolutely. So at Flare we are building next generation emergency response systems. So what that actually means is that we’re building 911 for the 60% of the world that currently does not have an existing system.

Sam:                                      03:13                     Very succinct. And that was pretty much, that vision has not changed?

Caitlin:                                  03:17                     That vision has not changed. Definitely, the way that we’ve gone about it has changed. And how, you know, we operate. But as it relates to what we focus on, the vision has been the same since beginning.

Sam:                                      03:30                     Fantastic. And it started off sort of version one, I seem to remember was talking about was there’s a real problem with ambulances, like calling an ambulance in Nairobi in particular and that you’ve got I think it was 43 private ambulance companies. And then if you need to call an ambulance you’d need to go through in theory all 43, and it could be that there’s one around the corner but you don’t give them a call and you are basically looking to aggregate them all together, so that you can call, I think the dream was that you could call one number and then the one that was closest would be dispatched to you. How did that go in building that out, is that basically been built out?

Caitlin:                                  04:09                     Yeah. So from three years ago to today, we’ve actually made that a reality and have today responded to thousands of calls and dispatched thousands of ambulances to patients in Nairobi and also across Kenya. Our fastest response time is four minutes, which was amazing. And it was the exact same scenario that I described where someone calls us distressed and we knew that there was an ambulance around the corner, based on our technology and were able to dispatch. The part that’s changed is that we actually today operate the 24 seven dispatch center. So when someone has an emergency, they do call one single number, that single number routes to our dispatch center. It’s picked up by a paramedic or nurse who triages the call, provides care over the phone and uses our technology to dispatch. So I think the change is that we realized the value of a human in emergency response and that there is absolutely and was opportunity to digitize a lot of it, but there’s still is that value of having a voice at the other end of the call to calm you in some of the worst moments of your life.

Sam:                                      05:14                     Got it. Because the initial awareness was that it was, you know, Uber for ambulances and you’d kind of press a button and, you know, so and so is on his way. So you’ve sort of tweaked the products in such a way that there’s now, when, when you say they call a number, do they call Flare?

Caitlin:                                  05:33                     Yeah, so they call us, our consumer product is called rescue and so they call rescue. So we have a number that is…

Sam:                                      05:41                     Is it like a 07…

Caitlin:                                  05:43                     Yeah, incredibly easy to remember.

Sam:                                      05:45                     What is it?

Caitlin:                                  05:45                     So you are provided it once you sign up as a member.

Sam:                                      05:47                     Okay, very good, so I’ll sign up first.

Caitlin:                                  05:49                     So you should sign up at and then you’ll be given the number, but you make that single call. And what we realized again, in the moment of emergency, you don’t necessarily need to download an app or press a button is you just want to call instantly that one number and hear someone at the other end of the line reassure you that you’re going to be okay. That other individual at the other end of the line needs to be enabled by technology such that they can quickly make the right choice. And that’s where our technology is built in, is that it’s on the back end. And it allows our dispatchers to, you know, quickly find the right resource and get that ambulance moving towards you.

Sam:                                      06:26                     Got it. Okay. So when somebody signs up to rescue, they save the number in their phone?

Caitlin:                                  06:33                     Yep. It’s as simple as that.

Sam:                                      06:35                     Alright, very good. And then the dispatch team, so these are employed by Flare or employed by rescue. So you’ve got like a team and it’s 24/7?

Caitlin:                                  06:44                     Absolutely. So we have a team that works 24/7, 365 and is there to pick up your phone and phone call in seconds. And they’re all medically trained and so that they can provide directions over the phone. So if you’re having a heart attack, they can give the caller the step-by-step directions in layman terms such that you can actually provide that care over the phone while they’re also dispatching the ambulance.

Sam:                                      07:07                     Really? So 4 a.m. On a Wednesday morning, you’ve got a trained paramedic on an end of the phone?

Caitlin:                                  07:12                     Absolutely.

Sam:                                      07:13                     Is that quite expensive? To like, I’m thinking, if I’m a trained paramedic, would I want to be at work at 4:00 AM on Wednesdays? Do you have to pay them quite a lot?

Caitlin:                                  07:21                     I mean, we make sure they’re taken care of, but I don’t, I think one of the things is medical professionals here are a little bit more affordable, but at the same time, like we saw the actual value of having someone trained at the other end of the call. Also, because the system here is so fragmented and chaotic, there are more medical decisions to make. In the US or the UK, it’s pretty straight forward. You call 911, they dispatch an ambulance and they know exactly what hospital you’re going to because it’s based on your location. Here, there’s a lot more that needs to be decided, so they need to decide at 4:00 AM on that Wednesday, if you have a heart attack, where do you go? And you don’t know that there’s only one 24/7 facility that has a cardiologist, our dispatchers do. And they can make those decisions using our technology, which helps guide them, you know, to make the best decision. But otherwise, you know, if you just have a nonclinical person, we believe that you wouldn’t have as meaningful of a service.

Sam:                                      08:18                     Makes sense. So is there like a big sort of database of hospitals? If I click this button, click, click, click, click, click, cool, here’s your list of three.

Caitlin:                                  08:26                     Exactly. So it’s based on proximity and then what we say appropriate. So appropriate means does the hospital actually have the service that you need or we suspect you need to provide you that care. So some of it is pretty straight forward. Like if you think about it’s a woman who goes into emergency labor or has obstructed birth, does that facility have the ability to do emergency C section or you’ve broken your ankle, does that facility have an x ray machine so they can actually see whether or not you know, you have a fracture. So it’s some really basic stuff, but all of that is in our system such that our dispatchers are enabled by that technology.

Sam:                                      09:04                     Yeah. I can’t remember if we spoke about this on the podcast or at another time, but you basically had to go out and build that database of categorizations of everything. That doesn’t exist.

Caitlin:                                  09:14                     Exactly.

Sam:                                      09:14                     That sounds like a massive headache if you’re, not headache, but that’s quite job to get around to.

Caitlin:                                  09:22                     It was quite a job, but I would say now because we have a lot of throughput, meaning we have a lot of calls, we’re validating that information every single call, in the sense that if today Nairobi hospital has a functioning CT scan, but tomorrow when we call them for a dispatch, they don’t have a CT scan that will be turned off in our system. So we’re constantly revalidating that information. So once you’ve built out the system, we were able to kind of quickly adapt and kind of adjust. But it is an unbelievably like powerful set of data that no average individual will ever know or understand.

Sam:                                      09:53                     Are you utilizing it just for Flare? Or could you, I don’t know, sell access to that database to another organization?

Caitlin:                                  10:01                     Maybe if the price tags is big enough.

Sam:                                      10:03                     Yeah. Alright. I was thinking like it’s quite a lot of work that you’ve done. And I’m just wondering if there are other ways, if you’re sitting on it, like are there other companies like, I’d really like to be able to tap into this and yeah, maybe you could start like medical equipment leasing or something where you could, if you notice that these particular, sorry, I’m getting off topic.

Caitlin:                                  10:20                     I think for right now, our focus is on just making sure that we provide an unbelievably lifesaving service and that we do that in seconds and we make sure that not only do we save your life by getting you an ambulance, but that we also make sure that you get to the right hospital. That hospital is ready to actually provide you that care.

Sam:                                      10:36                     And you’re also doing fire engines?

Caitlin:                                  10:39                     So we are, so the kind of longer term vision meaning longterm in startup land is like six months, is that we build out our service capabilities such that we can provide, you know, not only medical emergency support but fire as well as security, police so that you can call, just like in the UK where you call 999, they then, you know, triage the call, is this, you know, police matter is this medical. Sometimes it’s both, you know, and so you need both resources. And so that’s the kind of future that we’re working towards is bringing all of those services together.

Sam:                                      11:13                     Yeah. How have the government been, I tend to say, are they sort of aware of what you’re doing? Have you had to like go through some regulations and things if you’re doing this or is it as a private company, are you perfectly legit? Is it perfectly legitimate for you to offer these services which could in other places be done by the States?

Caitlin:                                  11:31                     Yeah, I mean I think that’s an interesting question. I think a lot of countries, actually you think of it as a public service, but it’s actually offered by a private provider. So I’ll give you one European country, Denmark. And it’s, actually the largest providers called Falck and they’re a private provider. So I think there is actually a lot of historical precedents across the globe…

Sam:                                      11:50                     That’s a medical or fire?

Caitlin:                                  11:51                     Ambulance.

Sam:                                      11:53                     Ambulance, ok.

Caitlin:                                  11:53                     And so they do that. I think here we have engaged the government at a national level. So as probably most are aware in January there was the terrorist attack. And so I think another big use of our system is that during a mass casualty or a natural disaster, this was not obviously a natural disaster, but if there were to be a landslide or something like that, the need for emergency services is heightened. Like, you know what only need one ambulance, you might need dozens. And so from that level we’re starting to work with them to figure out how do we plug into that system because we are the largest provider and network of ambulances. And so we’re actually best able to provide that support. So at a national level, we’re working on that. And then Kenya is divided into 47 counties. And every single County manages their own emergency response. We’re starting to work on a pilot basis with some governments to understand how we could best work with them.

Sam:                                      12:51                     They’re basically saying, we’re currently trying to do this on our own, but we could just use Flare, and that basically take that problem away from us.

Caitlin:                                  12:58                     And it would, yeah, help optimize their services, make them more accountable, give them the data that they need and be able to provide a service back to their constituency.

Sam:                                      13:06                     Okay. So who are the main customers of Flare at the moment? So is it mainly just consumers, you know, individuals that are paying for flare?

Caitlin:                                  13:20                     Yeah. So the individuals pay for it through the membership. So you can sign up at

Sam:                                      13:25                     Yeah.

Caitlin:                                  13:25                     And it’s 2,400 shillings per year per person. It gets cheaper as you add on additional family members, but that includes everything. If you ever have an emergency, you never pay for the ambulance. And so the brilliant part about that is…

Sam:                                      13:37                     We never pay for that? Cause you were saying before, it’s like anywhere up to a hundred dollars.

Caitlin:                                  13:41                     Exactly. So we lowered the price so that a membership, because we know that every year you’re not going to experience an emergency and you should never think twice about having our product, you should always have it.

Sam:                                      13:52                     Yeah.

Caitlin:                                  13:53                     And so when you have an emergency, we don’t want to ever have to collect or ask you for money. Cause if you can imagine that you’re like choking and we’re like, “and our paybill number is 500134, put your account name as your name,” you know, or whatever. Like we don’t have the time to deal with that. And so it’s just a super simple product, highly affordable, meaning that you know, most can actually afford it. Today we sell to big corporates or small corporates. A lot of our clients are schools, factories, taxi companies, anyone who has the likelihood of experiencing an emergency tends to be a good client of ours. But we also sell direct to consumer online so you can buy it as a family or as an individual to make sure that you’re covered.

Sam:                                      14:33                     Okay. So, how did you land on 24, to 2,400? How did you, did you, is there a spreadsheet somewhere of like, Yeah.

Caitlin: 14:45                     There is a spreadsheet. So it’s basically a calculation of risk. Meaning how often will you actually need an ambulance?

Sam:                                      14:51                     How’d you get that? How’d you get a gauge for that?

Caitlin:                                  14:53                     Well, so every country is different. And the amazing thing is, is no one has that data in emerging markets or places we’ve never had 911 system. So we’re starting to build that up. So there so our membership prices, you know, may become cheaper or may become more expensive as we get smarter about the actual data. But generally you need an ambulance more likely in the first five years of your life and then in the last 10 years of your life. So there’s a big spread of like little babies and kids and then once you’re, you know, in the last 10 years of your life.

Sam:                                      15:23                     Yeah. Okay. And how many people have signed up?

Caitlin:                                  15:29                     So in total we have over 30,000 members.

Sam:                                      15:31                     Really? 30,000 members.

Caitlin:                                  15:33                     Yeah.

Sam:                                      15:33                     That’s incredible.

Caitlin:                                  15:34                     Yeah.

Sam:                                      15:34                     How have you done that? What have been some of the successes? Have there been any, I’ll rephrase. Have there been any things which like worked surprisingly well or things which worked surprisingly unwell or didn’t work surprisingly well or anything that you were like, this is going to be dead set and it didn’t work. And other things where you’re like, Oh, we’ll give it a go. And it ended up being really good.

Caitlin:                                  15:54                     I think the one strategy that we had is just said, who are the corporates that potentially have the greatest risk? And actually focused on that, which is opposite of what you think of insurance or insurance-like products, it’s usually they want the lowest risk people. But what we realized is that that was a captive market. These are, you know, companies that have experienced an emergency before and maybe it has, likely has not gone well.

Sam:                                      16:20                     Yeah.

Caitlin:                                  16:20                     And so if you look at what are the greatest reasons why you would need an ambulance you would realize that a majority of it is because you’re on the road. So car accidents and so focusing on taxis or mobility companies are a huge, you know, opportunity or factories or schools cause kids are more prone to injury and accidents and things like that.

Sam:                                      16:42                     And does your coverage apply only when they’re during work hours? Was it also when they’re back home?

Caitlin:                                  16:47                     It depends. Depends on like how the corporate would like to structure it. We’re pretty open to like structuring it in whatever way they like. Ideally we would like it to be again, simple such that no matter where you are, whatever time it is, you’re covered. So the ideal is that it covers you 24/7.

Sam:                                      17:03                     Yeah. I imagine also from your perspective you’ve got to factor in, you know, if you’re kind of looking at it from a factory perspective and then someone goes home and like falls over. Exactly.

Caitlin:                                  17:15                     Yeah. So some of it, and it depends on are they casuals, are they full time employees, all that kind of stuff. So we’re, I mean we’re very open to customizing and kind of working with the corporate to find what the best plan is for them.

Sam:                                      17:26                     Yeah. Sounds great. Now, note that we’re currently in the rescue garden and your dog has come over. So if there was any sort of panting or anything in the background, it’s not me, it’s just the dog.

Caitlin:                                  17:36                     It’s the Coco. She’s doing an internship.

Sam:                                      17:38                     Is she? Yeah. Is she gonna get the job. Do you think, what’s your sense?

Caitlin:                                  17:41                     You know, she’s got a couple more months left, but we’ll see.

Sam:                                      17:43                     I’m positive on it, I think. Okay, cool. So you’ve got rescue. Got the fires. Okay. what have been some of the things where you’ve been surprised that the company’s taken this direction? Why, actually I’ll rephrase, what have been some things where you’re like, I really would’ve thought we would’ve been doing this, but actually we ended up not doing it?

Caitlin:                                  18:06                     Yeah. I think one of the things was that, when we talked three years ago, we thought very much we were going to be a SAS product in the sense that we were going to offer this technology and charge our ambulance companies and that was going to be kind of our strategy or that we were going to use kind of like an Uber like model where we take a commission and things like that. And I think that was a big shift for us, just realizing that in emergency the last thing that we need to deal with is money, is that that actually creates an ethical quandary in the sense of do I help or do I not? And just how important that was for us to make sure that no matter what, we always help. So I think that was a big shift and kind of reason that we went to that process.

Sam:                                      18:48                     How did you land on that conclusion? Like was there like a series of team meetings? Was it like you were doing a company away day and you were like Oh my God, this is what it needs to be, how did that sort of…

Caitlin:                                  18:58                     Yeah, one of our, so we’d been stewing over it for a while and one of our ambulance partners was just like, you need to launch this, like it’s time. We actually launched officially during the Kenyan elections in 2017 so the first elections during August. And then between then and the second election, then we had launched the membership product. So we just realized that there was a huge need for it. And that, you know, we had built this amazing network of ambulances and it was time that we finally launched

Sam:                                      19:25                     Get into the world. Okay. How do people react to it? Was there, do people get it or they, did it take a bit of time for people to warm up to what’s going on? Like I’m paying this money but I might actually use it. Was there any sort of behavior changes or things we can say?

Caitlin:                                  19:43                     I think less so. I think that it’s hard to sometimes understand, especially even for myself growing up in a country that has 911 and you never even think twice. But I think that every time we go into a sales meeting or we have a conversation, if you ask anyone, have you ever had an emergency personally or a friend or relative, where you need to get an ambulance? And the question, the answer is always yes because it might feel very rare at an individual level. But at a population level, it’s not rare at all that someone needs an ambulance. And so I think that just the power of like having that experience and knowing what it feels like to not actually be able to get an ambulance really sits with people. And so it’s not a hard product. Most people are like, why didn’t I think of that? It’s, you know, it’s not a thing that you have to really, you know, sell. It does not take a lot to sell, to be honest.

Sam:                                      20:35                     OK.

Caitlin:                                  20:36                     I think that interestingly though, a lot of people have a lot of questions about it cause you know, now that they’ve started to think about it and they have a lot of experience of what didn’t go well when they tried to get an ambulance. So there is some kind of cynicism of like, Oh my God, is it going to really work? But I think the incredible thing is, is like we’ve gotten past that we’ve done thousands of calls and dispatches and there’s tons of proof points and testimonials and stories. And so if you didn’t believe it before, you do now.

Sam:                                      21:04                     Yeah. I was once with my so my friend works for a company that did online surveys and part of their sales pitch was cool, I’ll just right now go on a platform and ask the question and then suddenly be like demo like there and then. I guess you can’t really demo your products in a Live way. You can’t really say…

Caitlin:                                  21:25                     We can do it. But we do a lot of drills. So a lot of times like for some of the corporates they want to do a drill because I mean like a fire drill, you know, it’s always best to plan or like we work you know, with the US embassy to do drills as well. So drills are a good way, but yeah, you can’t really test in the same sense. But I think a lot of it just comes through having the testimonials and having a number of big corporates that have signed up. And so therefore the kind of confidence that if someone else bought it, then, you know, we must be okay.

Sam:                                      21:57                     What would you say is your like sales cycle, the typical sales cycle for let’s say, let’s say you’ve got a pretty big customer. How long would you expect it would take?

Caitlin:                                  22:05                     You know it’s so different. Our biggest thing right now is that we focus just on like really big corporates that we know will be kind of game changers and so.

Sam:                                      22:12                     Yeah.

Caitlin:                                  22:12                     It’s hard to say. It’s not.

Sam:                                      22:15                     I suppose each one’s different.

Caitlin:                                  22:16                     Yeah,

Sam:                                      22:17                     Isn’t it? Okay. And does it basically involve, you going on for meeting, you have a series of meetings. Figuring out the decision makers.

Caitlin:                                  22:24                     Yup.

Sam:                                      22:25                     Yeah.

Caitlin:                                  22:25                     Exactly. It’s pretty straight forward as it relates to that.

Sam:                                      22:28                     What are some of the objections that people have or think maybe not, you sort of mentioned a bit of cynicism around whether it works. Are there any of the parts which people find they need clarification or they’re not clear about?

Caitlin:                                  22:41                     Less than that. I think that sometimes people get confused about us and insurance and so they may say like as a company we have taken out a health insurance policy with Jubilee resolution or whomever and don’t they cover ambulances and that’s the only thing that people sometimes scratch their head on. The incredible thing is, is like sure they do technically, but they have no connection to those ambulances. So there are no more able to get an ambulance than you are yourself.

Sam:                                      23:08                     Yeah.

Caitlin:                                  23:08                     Which is kind of frightening. So a lot of times what we do is we double insure someone in the sense that we’re giving you access to our services that maybe you technically have access to anyway. But the insurance is never gonna help you.

Sam:                                      23:21                     Could you partner with insurance companies?

Caitlin:                                  23:23                     Absolutely. That’s part of the plan.

Sam:                                      23:25                     Very good. Have you had any of those conversations yet?

Caitlin:                                  23:29                     Of course. Yeah.

Sam:                                      23:30                     Are they, are they open to it or do they see it as, why would they, why would they not be open to it?

Caitlin:                                  23:37                     I don’t know why they would not be open to it. I think the only thing is then insurance generally don’t have such a strong touch on the actual service provision. They’re more a financial instrument. And so I think that getting closer to the actual services maybe is just something they’re not used to.

Sam:                                      23:54                     And if, would they, would the dream be take out Jubilee insurance, comes with Flare.

Caitlin:                                     24:01                     Exactly. Yeah. The dream is is that like everyone literally has access to our service that it becomes a national number. It’s recognized by all and whether it’s embedded into, you know, a product, you know, sold by this company or your car insurance, it doesn’t matter. Is that you have access to our system.

Sam:                                      24:19                     Yeah. So last time I was here, I think I mentioned Flare house everyone was around one table and now you sort of spread out a bit. So how many people have you got now?

Caitlin:                                  24:28                     We have a total of 23.

Sam:                                      24:30                     Okay.

Caitlin:                                  24:31                     About a third dispatchers, third kind of general ops strategy and then a third that are software developers.

Sam:                                      24:38                     Got it. Okay. Which is the most difficult section, which is the most difficult thing in terms of like this is the bit which is causing me headaches. Not in terms of the actual employees, but in terms of like the way the workers are?

Caitlin:                                  24:51                     I think the hardest part about the team is just that constant evolutions that we make and is how do you hire the right people that can grow with the company and at the pace of the company? Cause you can’t always foresee all of the needs that you need. So all of the needs that you will have. And so just having that foresight of someone’s like potential and allowing that individual to continue to morph into new roles and positions. And I think that’s a big piece of it because it’s not, every company does it differently. Some people like automatically hire a CFO and COO and all these kind of things. For us it’s very much about emergence of those leaders and that talent. And so how do you hire people with that potential and that are open to also constantly changing their responsibilities and roles.

Sam:                                      25:40                     Have you defined the rescue culture. Have you defined the company culture?

Caitlin:                                  25:46                     It’s a work in process. You know, it’s a lot of, I think, you know, initially, where you could choose, you know, several adjectives or tenants, but ultimately it’s something that evolves over time and it’s more that, you know, what you don’t want to be. And.

Sam:                                      26:02                     So what do you not want to be?

Caitli:                                     26:05                     What we don’t want to be is we don’t, we want, well, we want to remain human is that at the end of the day we’re doing incredibly lifesaving work and to always kind of remember that. So yeah, to keep that kind of passion in us incredibly collaborative is that, you know, that we realize that what we’re doing requires multiple, you know, partners and stakeholders and companies and everything that we do so that we’re never trying to just section ourselves off, is like, it’s always about kind of the power of many.

Sam:                                      26:40                     Okay. And that’s been quite easy to do. Or like how do you kind of test for some of those qualities in people, when you interview them?

Caitlin:                                  26:48                     I don’t know. So that’s what I’m saying. Cause I don’t know, I think that’s the hardest thing is like sometimes I think the easier thing to do is to hire, well, to make sure that you check off the boxes of like, it’s easier to check off technical skills like Kevin A, are they analytical or can they compose, you know, nice emails and texts and stuff like that. Some of those, those skills, it’s easier to test for, but I think the culture is like, you gotta almost have a trial and see, and…

Sam:                                      27:18                     So did you do that? Did people come in for like a week?

Caitlin:                                  27:22                     Yeah. And I think that that’s how you actually see, do they fit and jell. Cause I think what I’m saying is there’s not like a check box of like, do they have this, do they have that, and it’s also like, we’re so complex as individuals. Like it’s really hard to understand all of those things and the dynamics and a lot of it’s also the other people on the team and how do they fit in, and I don’t think we’ve totally figured that out, except that you got to try.

Sam:                                      27:47                     You got to try and just, if there’s a fit.

Caitlin:                                  27:48                     Yeah, yeah.

Sam:                                      27:50                     What are the next employees that you’re going to be, or the next positions you’re going to be hiring for?

Caitlin:                                  27:56                     So I’ve kind of, across the board, we need to increase on all fronts from dispatchers to developers to more people on kind of our ops side to scale. So we definitely believe the lean kind of team. But yeah, we need to kind of add in all of those three spaces.

Sam:                                      28:14                     Get a little bit more fat.

Caitlin:                                  28:15                     A little bit more skim, skim milk,

Sam:                                      28:19                     And the company, funding wise, you’ve obviously stayed afloat and things. Have you, and it sounds like you’re making some good revenues if you’ve got 30,000 paying customers. How’s the company sort of looked from the sort of fundraising perspective?

Caitlin:                                  28:39                     Yeah, so we still, I mean, we’re still growing much faster than you know, our revenue, but at the same time, but our revenue is growing really quickly as well. But we continue to raise from private investors VC funds, have gotten some grants and awards along the way. So externally funded to be able to support the kind of rapid growth that we’re seeing.

Sam:                                      29:01                     Yeah. What were the grants for? Was it just like, here’s some money to keep going? Or was it like, oh, we’d like to do these specific projects, we would like you to do so…

Caitlin:                                  29:10                     Like general funding, not specific.

Sam:                                      29:12                     That’s quite handy, yeah. And then I remember you mentioning that there is a company in India or a couple of companies in India that have been doing something similar and so they’ve been quite useful. It’s been quite useful. Like barometer, barometer is the wrong word, just like idea of what could be going down the line. How have those Indian companies been doing?

Caitlin:                                  29:34                     I have no idea.

Sam:                                      29:35                     Yeah.

Caitlin:                                  29:35                     I’ve totally lost track to be honest. I think one of the things that we’ve just done is like focus on what we’re doing and yeah. Who knows? Yeah.

Sam:                                      29:43                     Nice. I just felt like that kind of makes some sense isn’t it? Like you focused on your own.

Caitlin:                                  29:50                     I think it was like I was curious in the beginning to understand because we were all sorting out some of the same decisions, but I have no idea if like we reconnected and if they’re one, still operating or two, what their business looks like. I’m sure that we’ll cross paths at some point, but I really have no idea.

Sam:                                      30:08                     So I’m just wondering, I can imagine that might be something that an investor asks is you’re doing this quite innovative business model, like has it worked elsewhere? Or are they not really that concerned?

Caitlin:                                  30:19                     No, because I think what we’re doing is we’re building a basic infrastructure that everyone understands is required for growing cities, countries. And that’s not innovative in the sense that 911 and 119 and 999 exists in parts of the world that had the resources and could put that system up. So I think that that’s never a question. That’s the cool thing is we’ve gotten past that stage is everyone recognizes the invaluable resource of having that three digit number to call upon. And regardless of how, what we’re doing of how we did it is we’re using, you know, cloud based technology and we don’t need landline phones to build 911 any longer. And so that’s what we’re doing is innovative as on the tech side. But the actual businesses itself is not the innovative part.

Sam:                                      31:05                     Got it. You say at the moment, currently Kenya or all across Kenya. Views to go elsewhere?

Caitlin:                                  31:12                     Yeah, we’re trying to identify where that elsewhere is. There’s tons of opportunity. I mean 95% of the continent is without 911. So there’s no lack.

Sam:                                      31:23                     Where’s the 5%?

Caitlin:                                  31:23                     The 5% is Egypt, and then Botswana and then parts of South Africa.

Sam:                                      31:28                     Only parts?

Caitlin:                                  31:28                     Only parts.

Sam:                                      31:29                     Why is that? Like local government?

Caitlin:                                  31:32                     Some of the local government outside of the cities, it’s pretty hard to get access to the provincial ambulances. And there’s not like a strong central system, and the cities, it tends to be privately run.

Sam:                                      31:44                     So it will be Africa, it won’t be anywhere else in the world?

Caitlin:                                  31:49                     I think that makes, proximity-wise, the most sense.

Sam:                                      31:52                     Yeah.

Caitlin:                                  31:52                     But there is definitely opportunity elsewhere. But I think for right now we’ll stay closer to home.

Sam:                                      31:57                     One of the things that kind of shocked me, on our last interview, was you saying how like the system you’re building is much better than, or has the potential to be much better than elsewhere in the world, where it’s built on a landline system. I was wondering if there’s going to become a point where countries like Denmark or the UK or Germany are going to pick up the phone and say, can we just use your system even though they already have it, that 911provision.

Caitlin:                                  32:26                     Yeah. I mean that would be incredible. But yeah, I don’t think we’re that far off from being at a place as it relates to our technology that that would be a conversation that we could start.

Sam:                                      32:35                     Yeah. Because is the premise that everyone has a smart phone when they make the call. Is that what is necessary to get the location or kind of, can you get a lot of the benefits from Flare on a smart, on a feature phone?

Caitlin:                                  32:50                     You could, I mean there’s some creative ways to get location information. It depends on how precise you want that location information to be. If you have a smart phone, it’s obviously much better. But even for places like Denmark or the UK that have landline based technology, it’s very difficult for them to get any type of geolocation information from your smart phone. So we’re already kind of lept over that.

Sam:                                      33:13                     Yeah.

Caitlin:                                  33:13                     Because we’re able to pull your geolocation.

Sam:                                      33:16                     And so people, the 30,000 users in Kenya, they are all using it on a smartphone?

Caitlin:                                  33:22                     No, no. So we have a hotline, they just call a number. If they don’t know where they are, we can then ask for their location.

Sam:                                      33:28                     Yeah. And you can identify them.

Caitlin:                                  33:30                     Yeah.

Sam:                                      33:31                     Very cool. Okay. What have been some of like the big lessons you’ve learned, you think over the last few years? Like in terms of either things, which on reflection you’re like, Oh, we should’ve figured that out more. Or just, yeah, just generally things that you’re like glad that you know now, from the last few years.

Caitlin:                                  33:54                     I think one of them is to stay lean and that, as a founder, is to try to do everything in a little way in the sense of really understand the business from start to finish because you can quickly, in the beginning you’re always in the weeds and then you need to quickly get out of the weeds to be able to pitch to investors. But to always have your hand deep in the business as well because I think you could easily lose touch with what’s actually happening because you’re just changing so quickly. And so I think being lean has helped us do that, such that we don’t have a ton of layers, we don’t have a massive team, is that we hire highly skilled, experienced individuals and we try to always kind of stay at the high level but also stay in the detail. I think the second lesson is just that everyone scales in different ways. And I think sometimes the focus is always on one metric and realizing that a business is so multidimensional and just making sure that you confidently, or we confidently kind of tell the story that we want to tell because we ultimately know our business kind of better than anyone. And so making sure that yeah, that you understand how your business is going to scale, but that it doesn’t need to follow the same path as say for example, Uber and that it can follow a very different pathway. And I think for us being in healthcare or preventing an emergency service quality is everything. And so just making sure that you scale at the right pace to show your potential but also don’t ever compromise the actual service that you’re providing.

Sam:                                      35:27                     Yeah. Do you have like some high level metrics that you keep an eye on each month or each week?

Caitlin:                                  35:33                     Yeah, we look at a lot of different things from, you know, number of ambulances on the system to number of memberships to number of dispatches to response time. So it’s quite a complicated number of different metrics to really understand like how are we performing, but definitely something that, you know, we look at regularly to kind of understand are we scaling too quickly, are we not to be able to kind of readjust.

Sam:                                      35:58                     Yeah. Okay. And so just a few more questions, if that’s all right. You said that a long term, for startups along the longterm view is six months. If you were to extend it a little bit further, 12 months, what do you think Flare could be doing?

Caitlin:                                  36:15                     Ideally we’re operating in multiple countries. We’re offering a more holistic emergency response. So beyond medical and yeah, I sleep a little bit more. Yeah.

Sam:                                      36:34                     Okay. All good goals, And at the moment we’re, we’re here in the Flare house. Would you need, are you kind of at capacity here or would you need to, would you need to move to a new location?

Caitlin:                                  36:46                     I think we’ll be good for the next like 12 months. I think if we operate in another country, we will open, you know, an office there. But for right now, I think we’re good.

Sam:                                      36:55                     Yeah.

Caitlin:                                  36:55                     We’re going to try to stay lean as long as we can.

Sam:                                      36:58                     Yeah. Okay. I’m sure your investors love to hear that.

Caitlin:                                  37:00                     Yeah.

Sam:                                      37:00                     Yeah. What would be like a dream customer for you to get at the moment if you were to sort of just like think about it, what would be like, what would the characteristics be to get a dream customer? Like what does the dream customer have to have?

Caitlin:                                  37:20                     I think it always helps to have a customer that has, you know, high visibility or credibility in the market and whether they’re kind of a leader in whatever field, whether it’s a premier school or premiere factory or also any international company tends to be high profile. So I think,

Sam:                                      37:37                     Yeah,

Caitlin:                                  37:38                     Some of those.

Sam:                                      37:38                     Okay. I imagine it’s, yeah. What is your, cause is this, from their perspective? Is this just a cost which they didn’t have previously or an internal account whose budget this comes from?

Caitlin:                                  37:53                     Yeah, that’s not really the question. I mean like people, it is a cost, but it’s also on the other end, there was another cost if you lost an employee’s life on the job, someone was paying for that.

Sam:                                      38:05                     Yeah.

Caitlin:                                  38:06                     Whether it was PR and your image, your reputation that you were actually paying out an insurance claim for death and disability. So it’s not such that we’re just adding an additional cost. Oftentimes it’s offsetting a huge risk that you actually had.

Sam:                                      38:21                     I say that like I’ve sort of had, sometimes I’ve experienced yes. Sounds good. Sounds good. Sounds good. But, you know, budgets, are fixed and yeah, I’ve, like, this department, yeah, it can’t come from this department. And so I’m just wondering, is there, like, do you need to speak, do you need to be speaking to, yeah, who do you speak to when you go to a corporate? Who’s the, who’s the agent? Who’s the sort of decision-maker that you talking to?

Caitlin:                                  38:45                     You know, it highly varies whether or not it’s like the CEO or the HR person or a managing director or there isn’t, I wouldn’t say there’s a rubric.

Sam:                                      38:56                     Okay.

Caitlin:                                  38:57                     It’s really understanding that company understanding why they would want the product and also making sure that we’re quite strategic about how and who we sell to.

Sam:                                      39:04                     Okay. And after that they’ll just make it happen.

Caitlin:                                  39:07                     Yeah. Or if they don’t, we try to get them to push to a yes or no quickly.

Sam:                                      39:10                     Okay. That makes it sound like you’ve had a few experiences where a no has been dragged out.

Caitlin:                                  39:18                     Yeah. But that’s what, I mean, I guess that’s okay. It’s like you kind of learn. I don’t think that, to be honest, that’s not, our issue is not about selling. That’s which most people don’t, I guess have that luxury. Our issue is how do we maintain quality and how do we scale in the right way such that we don’t overextend ourselves and we provide that service. The same service that we provide to the first a hundred customers that we provide to our current customer base that we can provide to the next hundred thousand, to the next million.

Sam:                                      39:44                     Yeah. Fantastic. And people who are listening, they can sign up and that’ll just take them through the whole process.

Caitlin:                                  39:53                     Yeah. It will take no more than five minutes, hopefully even less to sign up here. It’s integrated directly with M-Pesa or credit card. Yeah. And you can sign up. It’s 2,400 shillings per annum and it covers everything. Once you start adding households and family members, it becomes even cheaper

Sam:                                      40:09                     When you say everything like any ambulance?

Caitlin:                                  40:13                     Any of those.

Sam:                                      40:13                     Yeah. Very good. And in theory, not you would want to, you can take six ambulances a year and it was still getting covered.

Caitlin:                                  40:21                     So technically it covers you up to two ambulances, but the chance that you need two ambulances in a year is pretty rare. Yeah.

Sam:                                      40:27                     In the spreadsheet, it’s like not point, not.

Caitlin:                                  40:29                     Yeah.

Sam:                                      40:29                     Very good. And so And if they want to learn more about the company, perhaps sort of understanding, see if they’re a fit with the culture, et cetera. What’s the best way to learn more about you?

Caitlin:                                  40:40                     You can go to also or you can visit us on Facebook or Twitter or any of our other kind of communication channels.

Sam:                                      40:49                     Fantastic. Cool. Well Caitlin, thanks so much.

Caitlin:                                  40:51                     Yeah, thank you.


A tech success story. How Africa’s Talking equips African software developers with APIs


In this episode I speak with Bilha Ndirangu who is the CEO of one of Africa’s most successful tech start ups.

Started in Kenya nearly 10 years ago, Africa’s Talking now serves over 5000 customers and has operations in 18 African countries.

Most of this growth has been self-generated, though last year they took on investment of around $10m to fuel the company’s expansion.

For those who have not worked in the tech space, an API (or Application Program Interface) is a way that software developers connect up different bits of technology.

Without APIs things get tricky because if, for example, you want to build an app that sends an SMS to users you need to negotiate directly with the telco to allow them to send messages on your behalf.

This comes with heaps of technical complexity (and sometimes regulation to conform to) which mean it’s incredibly painful to do.

Africa’s Talking takes away all of that complexity by doing the hard work on behalf on developers.

They go across Africa and complete of the headache stuff of integrating with telcos and banks, and then allow developers to seamlessly plug in so their apps/ businesses can easily begin accepting payments and sending SMSes.

It’s a great business model which gets better with the network effects of them expanding to more countries.

In this episode Bilha and I talk about the company’s formation, how it’s changed upon its recent growth spurt, and how the bigger the company gets, the more it becomes defensible against outside competition.

I really hope you enjoy this episode with Bilha.


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Sam:                                      00:00                     Intro

Sam:                                      02:19                     We’re here today with Bilha from Africa’s Talking. Bilha welcome to the show.

Bilha:                                     02:23                     Thank you.

Sam:                                      02:25                     To get us started, can you tell us just a bit about you and a bit about Africa’s Talking?

Bilha:                                     02:28                     Okay. So my name is Bilha, obviously I’m the CEO at Africa’s Talking and been at the role for the last six months. So I’m just taking over from my co founder and former CEO Sam Gikandi. So, a little bit more about Africa’s Talking. So we are a tech company founded in Kenya and headquarters, founded and headquartered in Kenya, so been around for the last seven years. We were founded sorry, nine years cause we were founded in 2010. But the reason I say seven years is because the first couple of years we were sort of doing different things until we finally pivoted into what we’re currently doing in our business in 2012. And so we’re currently doing is we build APIs. Those are application programming interfaces and what, the purpose is to help software developers connect to infrastructure on the continent. What I mean by that is we want to help software developers be able to build the applications, whatever applications they’re building, whether it’s farmer solutions or eCommerce solutions, etc. And be able to, what once they’ve done that be able to connect to tel-cos and payment providers because at the end of the day, they do need to get paid. They need to communicate to their clients. And so we recognize that there’s actually, it’s quite difficult for an individual software developer or a startup or a small company wanting to build something and then have to go to the tel-cos or the big banks and get the integrations done. And so what what the business does or at least the solution we are bringing to the table is how do we democratize access to tel-cos and banking institutions and also make it easier even for the tel-cos themselves to reach software developers because they don’t have to deal with individual developers. They sort of just deal with us and then we would sort of bring all these developers.

Sam:                                      04:25                     Very cool. Okay. So it’s like technically it’s complicated to, I imagine have these relationships with tel-cos and if you’re a small little startup, it’s almost impossible.

Bilha:                                     04:37                     It’s virtually impossible.

Sam:                                      04:38                     Because you’ve basically done the hard work for them and then you set your, the service you sell to these small startups is because we can do this at scale, we can offer a much more affordable.

Bilha:                                     04:49                     So because you can do this at scale one, we can even offer it to you in the first place because as you said, it’s virtually impossible to get it. So, I mean, before we had all these startups or developers would build solutions but couldn’t figure out a way to get paid or couldn’t figure out how to communicate to their clients on SMS, etc. Or you, you know. So firstly really just remove that huddle, but then our second year, as you said, And then there’s also, the other thing that I forgot to mention is it’s also regulated because you’re talking about communications and payments. So in many ways,you still need to get some approval from a government regulator, which again, can be quite a hassle. So because we’ve actually gone ahead and gotten those regulations in place,that’s one thing that the developer doesn’t have to worry about. And the third thing, as you said. Yeah, now it’s this thing around reduced pricing because we’re able to communicate,negotiate better pricing with the aggregate, with the tel-cos,and then they would sell, you know, in smaller quantities to the developers.

Sam:                                      05:47                     Yes. Interesting. The price isn’t actually the top in, one of the top two. It’s simply just the ability to give you the service like, that’s quite interesting, like you’ve really just opened up this market.

Bilha:                                     05:59                     Exactly. Yeah. I mean cause at the end of the day, we think about it anyone building an application and when I say anyone, it could be a business. It could be a software developer that’s trying out something, an enterprise or a small SME. Your biggest thing is you do need to figure out a way to communicate with your clients and then once you finish communicating with them, whether it’s a payment reminder or it’s, say let me tell you about my new product. Once you’ve engaged the client you also need to get paid at the end of the day. So it’s a kind of thing where once that’s available and it’s a lot easier to integrate into different applications and services it was not, it was naturally easy for it to become a top product in the market just because it’s something that people needed and I think ATK, Africa’s Talking came in and was solving a real need and so it’s not difficult to, for people to understand why I need it because they’re actually, they’re constantly figuring out how do we get clients who engage with us or how do we get our, how do we engage with our clients?

Sam:                                      06:57                     Yeah. What sort of scale is Africa’s Talking at now?

Bilha:                                     07:01                     In terms of scale, so there are different ways you measure scale, so we have about 30,000 software developers that have been signed onto our platform and we keep growing that number. I mean, our goal is to hopefully have about a million African developers signed onto the platform. We’re currently in about in 18 markets and growing. So in 10 markets,

Sam:                                      07:24                     Does 10 markets mean 18 countries.

Bilha:                                     07:24                     18 countries, yes. So, in 10 of those countries, we actually have people on the ground and operational, and then the other eight markets initial, we are looking to ‘operationalize’ for the next few months. But the goal is to go across the 54 markets a team of about 130 people and growing. And yeah.

Sam:                                      07:47                     So 30,000 developers, are developed your customers?

Bilha:                                     07:50                     Yes. So we, the way we think about it is that we think about our customers as developers. I mean, of course. Which is yeah, behind the developer will probably be a business. What I mean by that is there might be an individual developer who is just kind of, you know building their own stuff, etc. But in many cases, you tend to be a business that’s looking to integrate our services into their workflows. So some of our biggest clients, for example, tend to be mobile phone lenders or, you know, clients that are, or companies that are doing micro-financing or doing you know, the pay as you go, sort of energy solutions, etc. But even big supermarkets, etc. So all these tend to be our clients because at the end of the day, as I said, businesses need to communicate with their end customers. But we like to think about the accounts from a developer perspective so that even if it’s a business that’s represented, we still like to think about it as a, as a developer. Because for us, we are selling a technical product and we are only as good as what developers think of our product. So a business could like our product, but then if their developers don’t or don’t want to use it. Yeah. Don’t want to integrate, just becomes a real pain, you know, they kind of be like, okay, I don’t want to do this. Yes.

Sam:                                      09:07                     So do you have, How many like paying entities? I’m trying to think of like…

Bilha:                                     09:13                     So I’ll probably put it at 5,000.

Sam:                                      09:14                     So 5,000 and,

Bilha:                                     09:16                     Yeah.

Sam:                                      09:16                     Okay. And so then average of six developers per…

Bilha:                                     09:20                     Exactly. So it could be that or the other way it could be so it’s 5,000, but then there’s a lot of developers that we haven’t found ways to monetize and we’re still figuring out how to monetize them so it could be…

Sam:                                      09:29                     Could they still derive value from so many.

Bilha:                                     09:32                     Exactly. It’s kind of thing where they’ve probably, you know, cause creating an account on the platform is free. So any developer who hears about us can create an account and then tends to, what tends to happen sometimes is that they will build something but they don’t really take it to production or they’re just learning how to use the APIs but they haven’t found a way to monetize it. So, yeah. So yeah, so I’ve kind of put it at, what, 30,000 that we’ve registered and we want to keep signing that on. We have about 5,000 that we’ve actually monetized. So at least we’ll be able to move them from creating an account, learning how to use a product to actually building something that they can actually pay for.

Sam:                                      10:06                     Cool. Okay. And you said that most of the ways in which people, so Africa’s Talking, you’ve kind of, you’ve gone in, you’ve, you’ve done these integrations with banks, with how it goes and stuff and you basically said, okay, out of this there were various services. Is that right? So you, Africa’s Talking has various services, you’ve got like SMS.

Bilha:                                     10:26                     Yeah. So there’s several services. So I mean the way I like to think about it is anything like tel-co or a bank, or any other infrastructure providers sell, we can find a way to expose it to software developers in an easy way. In an easy to consume sort of manner, as have some of the products that have sort of fallen out of that sphere are SMS. So these are the typical, your bulk SMS or two way SMS. When I say two way, it’s when, you’ve heard of short codes. So you’re able to do SMS, there’s USSD, which is a three digit number. So the *435#, that’s quite, I mean it’s quite, it’s still quite useful, especially in this side of the world because it has feature, feature Phones are still a big part of the way…

Sam:                                      11:08                     So it’s a USC, it’s basically like a really light version of an app, but it works on a feature phone. And so you kind of just go through a bit of a menu.

Bilha:                                     11:18                     Exactly.

Sam:                                      11:18                     Is that right?

Bilha:                                     11:19                     So *4543# and then say like, my bank actually gives me a USSD option in addition to the app they give me. And I can query my balance. I can, you know, do some basic transfers, I can. So I can pretty much do a lot of things that you could do with an app, but of course not as feature rich, but very useful in this side of the world because most people either use feature phones or even those that have smart phones, Data is still really expensive. So most people I know…

Sam:                                      11:46                     Really, so even if you had a smartphone.

Bilha:                                     11:48                     Yes.

Sam:                                      11:48                     You wouldn’t download, say the KCB banking app?

Bilha:                                     11:52                     No. I mean they probably would, but very few. Most people wouldn’t.

Sam:                                      11:54                     Yeah.

Bilha:                                     11:55                     Or even if they had it, they wouldn’t use it because they don’t pay for, I mean data is one of those things that still are very, people use it, but I mean when we talk to people on the ground, it’s a very, it’s still very…

Sam:                                      12:07                     Yeah. People like aware of how many megabytes they’ve got left?

Bilha:                                     12:10                     Exactly. They are very conscious or actually most of what I want, what’s interesting is that people actually buy it on a daily basis. So it’s one of those things.

Sam:                                      12:18                     Really.

Bilha:                                     12:18                     Yeah. So the tel-cos actually offer this, so they have I think offers as low as 20 megabytes a day or something like that. And so in that case, someone would probably budget their megabytes on, I want to use this amount on social media, I want to use this on, you know, very, you know, very specific things. So they don’t necessarily have the luxury of I want to do a transaction on my whatever. Let me go to KCB, let me go to my mobile phone app and build that, leave alone any other sort of application. So USSD remains like a really big we have at least getting people to sort of interact with applications on this side of the world.

Sam:                                      12:54                     Okay. So you basically built technology where relatively.

Bilha:                                     12:59                     It’s almost plug and play. I mean it still requires a bit of integration, but in as, something that would have taken you months on end to do, would literally take you 30 minutes if you’re a good developer. Yes, exactly. And then we sort of, we also shield you from all the work from the tel-cos because you do have to raise the code and map it to the tel-co, etc. So that’s a lot of the work that we take away from the software developers.

Sam:                                      13:22                     Okay. So you, you’re currently doing that, so you started in Kenya?

Bilha:                                     13:25                     Yes.

Sam:                                      13:27                     You’re now in 18 markets. Does that mean that each country you go to, you need to do these difficult integration, these difficult things?

Bilha:                                     13:34                     Yes. So each country we go to, firstly, as I said, it’s a regulated environment because it’s dealing with communications and payments. So in each market you actually have to go to the regulator and get some kind of license. And then once you’re done, go talk to the different tel-cos and start over.

Sam:                                      13:48                     You’ve got an exasperated grin your face.

Bilha:                                     13:53                     But on the other hand, I think about it and I’m kind of like, that’s actually why we’re in business because if this was easy then anyone could sort of go and do it because we actually have really big clients who have the clout and could take, could actually go to a tel-co and get integrations themselves because they’re big enough and the tel-co, you know, but they still want to work with us because when, once they think about the pain of, you know, having to talk to each tel-co, go through the integration process and then maintain the integrations because there’s a constant maintenance and support that’s required. We find a lot of clients are just kind of like, you know what, let’s just deal with one person that’s Africa’s Talking. If anything breaks, I know the person I call, I don’t have to call like multiple engineers in different tel-cos to sort of work on this. So in as much as it’s an exasperating process, I recognize that’s actually part of the biggest value add we bring to the table. And for me the other thing that’s useful about it is that it allows companies, software developers to think a little bit more Pan-African because we exist. And what I mean by that is I’ve seen clients come in, maybe start out with us in Kenya, but because we do have a presence in say Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, they are sort of able to think, Oh I could actually extend my product to all these other markets and because Africa’s Talking is actually there, I don’t need to do any other integrations. My one integration with Africa’s Talking will allow me to reach customers in Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, without having to do any extra work. So that’s, I think for me one of the biggest, I think one of the most important reasons why expansion is important.

Sam:                                      15:23                     Have you seen many examples of that happening?

Bilha:                                     15:25                     Yeah. Yeah, for sure. I mean I have clients for example, who’ve told me they’ll only expand to the markets we are in.

Sam:                                      15:31                     Okay.

Bilha:                                     15:31                     Because it kind of like, I don’t want to have to think about integrations and so they follow us where we go. The other thing is we’ve seen, actually part of, what sort of drove us to start expanding is because we talked to some clients who’d come in, start out in Kenya and then very quickly, because Kenya is a very, it’s a very interesting market but still fairly small. I mean think about the population, there’s about 40 to 50 million people. So very quickly companies start to think, wait, I could go to Uganda, I could go to Tanzania, I could go to Rwanda, just sort of have an East African sort of presence. And so very quickly they start asking us, can you help us reach customers in those markets? But now interestingly, because now we’ve also gone to West Africa and starting to look into Southern Africa. There’s a presence in Nigeria and as soon as we landed there clients immediately started, asking us are you in Ghana? So that also drives some of our expansion. But also at the same time, I’ve seen Kenyan clients now who have actually had the, you know who actually said, you know what, we’ll actually go try out Nigeria because Africa’s Talking is there. So it’s the same product so we don’t have to worry about the technical side of things. Now it’s more let’s go and try and sell it.

Sam:                                      16:40                     Are there any countries where you’ve said, right, we want to go there. And you tried and you’re like, you know, this is even too hard for us?

Bilha:                                     16:46                     So far, no. I think probably because we do have, I mean when you think about our vision, it’s very Pan-African and it’s very, we’re very entrenched in making sure that, excuse me, we’re very entrenched in making sure that this, this, this technologies are available across Africa. I mean, given the name Africa’s Talking.

Sam:                                      17:05                     Yeah.

Bilha:                                     17:05                     So I think we have a little bit more of a different DNA where we’re willing to go into difficult markets. I mean, that said, of course there are markets where you kind of look at it and you say, okay, this is going to be a little bit more difficult. Let’s sort of give it a more longer term.

Sam:                                      17:21                     Which are some that have been particularly difficult?

Bilha:                                     17:24                     I would say so for example, we are currently registered in Sierra Leone and DRC and so we are, we actually want to go in and do business, but then it’s kind of like, okay, let’s take this a bit more slowly than we would you know, from some of the other markets. For on the flip side, I also come to appreciate that every market is actually quite difficult in its own way, just given the intricacies of doing business in Africa. So I could actually tell you, even in the markets that we’re in, there’s been definitely some obvious challenges. So, I mean, I think rather than saying this market is much easier than this other market I feel like it’s a lot easier to just, it’s, it’s, I think what makes more sense. Is fantasy. Okay. Doing business in Africa has its challenges and I think someone coming to do business in Africa should be willing to embrace that. But then once we embrace that and I was going to a market, you can sort of say, okay, this are the issues, let’s fix them. Because in as much as, for example, we are a Kenyan company any other new market I go into, it almost feels like we’re having to start a fresh. Yes, the policies might look the same, but you have to deal with different policies. Your having dealt with tel-cos I think quite differently. And especially what’s interesting is to watch how tel-cos, banks, etc Are still very localized in as much as you might have like a global brand or like a Pan-African brand. Once you go and talk to the tel-cos in each market, they think very differently. They view the market very differently. So it’s almost a completely, completely different conversation from the last conversation you had with them. Yeah.

Sam:                                      19:03                     So you’ve got 130. How, what’s the rough split between what everyone does? What’s the split between what everybody does?

Bilha:                                     19:14                     So I think, I’ll probably put it at 50% engineering, so we’re still a very hardcore engineering company cause we build all our technology in house.

Sam:                                      19:22                     And those engineers, they are doing the difficult integrations?

Bilha:                                     19:25                     Yes.

Sam:                                      19:26                     Okay. So that’s what, okay.

Bilha:                                     19:27                     Yeah. So that’s, yeah. So they build, they do the integrations and they build the layer that developers can connect to and all the dashboards and everything that yeah, pertains to that. And then probably not the remaining people probably put out about 20% doing operations. And then we have fairly decent client relations and sales sort of organization.

Sam:                                      19:53                     Okay.

Bilha:                                     19:53                     Yeah

Sam:                                      19:54                     Okay, cool. So it’s, yeah, heavier on the engineering side of things. And then how many people sit in Kenya?

Bilha:                                     20:03                     Kenya is still one of our largest markets, I’ll probably put it at about in 90 people. Yeah. And then the rest of the people are now scattered in the other markets.

Sam:                                      20:11                     And when you do, for example, let’s say you go to Rwanda, yes. And you have to integrate with the tel-cos. Is that done from the engineers here or do you have to have engineers in Rwanda doing that?

Bilha:                                     20:23                     So I, there’s two levels. So there swamp. So yeah, so these two levels integration. So I think the hardcore engineering because it’s, it’s more or less similar set of APIs and we found that it’s a lot easier to sort of localize engineering and have the engineers sit in Kenya. So say we go to Rwanda our person on the ground who leases the tel-cos and makes sure that we get the different information that we need and then convey that to the engineers here. Sometimes engineers might need to go to Rwanda, or to the country and spend a few days or weeks finalizing integrations. So once that’s done, we then find that there’s support, the constant support that’s required. But that’s not as involving as the original integrations. So in that case, you might have like a tech support person or an engineer sort of sitting in a different markets. We have already funded a lot of that core engineering work gets done out of Nairobi.

Sam:                                      21:19                     Okay. And how has the company been funded to date?

Bilha:                                     21:23                     So for the longest time we bootstrapped the company, so it was the founders kind of just putting in their own money and it did help that we got profitable quite quickly, which is not your typical sort of cycle for a tech company.

Sam:                                      21:37                     What, why, why could Africa’s Talking get profitable quickly, whereas others couldn’t?

Bilha:                                     21:43                     I think it was, as I said, I think we came in and we hit something. We found a need very quickly. Like, I mean, I think there’s a, the product what we call it, the pro, the, the problem we’re solving was a real problem. And I think the one, the minute to able to release the APIs into the market there’s a real hunger around it. But I think it also helped that we maintained a very lean team in those days. So it was, you know the founder, one of the founders is an engineer, so it brings a lot of the engineering work that our founder kind of helped. Just make sure that we got our Tel-co connections done and that lessons and everything. So I think what helped is that we definitely have a lean team. And so as soon as one, we didn’t have the, you know, we didn’t have massive expenses and we raised the production, you know, almost day one, it kind of go the product market fit as we had a lot of people signing on. So that kind of helped to get as profitable quite quickly. So it was sort of, you know, keep the business sort of funding the business out of, you know, out of its own pocket. But last year we took our first series a investment from the IFC and orange digital ventures.

Sam:                                      22:56                     IFC?

Bilha:                                     22:56                     Yes. So the info, I see it’s the investment arm of the world bank. Oh, yes, yes. So they do have a venture capital group that are…

Sam:                                      23:04                     Is that like a commercially focused, really?

Bilha:                                     23:09                     Yes, yes, yes. Exactly. Yes. I know that the, yes, it is well behind they have the arm that’s called the IFC. Yeah. And so they do commercially, you know, targeted or commercially geared investments. And so, yeah, so last year we took funding from them and part of the reason we, the business was still profitable then, but then we thought it might be worthwhile to like bring in some partners on board for extra funding. And then it actually helped us expand a lot faster, especially given that our mission is actually go across the continent, would kind of been able to kind of keep doing the slow burn sort of expansion, but then you realize, no, we actually do want to go to, you know, we want to go across the continent a lot faster. And that of course requires a lot more people and requires a lot more…

Sam:                                      24:00                     Higher ahead of the curve.

Bilha:                                     24:02                     Exactly. Exactly. So that’s when,

Sam:                                      24:03                     Wow, okay. That must be quite exciting.

Bilha:                                     24:06                     Was actually yeah, definitely quite exciting. Changes the tone and all of a sudden, that’s where the massive growth came in. I mean, I think up till last before last year, we’re about 40 people in the company. And so we’ve literally tripled.

Sam:                                      24:20                     What’s been like some ways that other than I guess you need me needing to get a bigger office. Like what are some things we should change in the company, but also what some things would just stay the same.

Bilha:                                     24:34                     I think what’s changed a lot, quite a lot has changed. I mean I always joke with the team where, I remember the days where it would all sit in the board room. The entire company would sit in the boardroom and would all fit in one room. Now all of a sudden you’re like, no, we cannot fit in one room And so would that makes sense. I mean it makes for different. It’s a, just a different way of communicating. So where else before it could have been easy sort of make all decisions around the table and everyone knew everyone was in a way where things happening this way, etc. Now you don’t have the same luxury and you have to be a little more than, at least from my perspective, it to be a lot more deliberate about how you communicate, who you communicate to with. How do you, cause I am still very passionate about making sure that everyone feels like they’re part of the company and they’re contributing and their ideas are hard and that can become a lot more difficult. The bigger you grow and you start sort of forming sort of hierarchies where this person has to report to, this person has reported to this person. And so part of the conversations right now for me has been how do we definitely bring a lot more management. So kind of making sure that everyone knows what they’re doing and they’re properly managed. But at the same time you’re not killing their culture, which was everyone could bring the ideas to the table and could feel hard and and contributed to, you know, feel like they’re contributing to how that organization was moving forward. So I think learning how to communicate to a bigger team and making sure that all those ideas are still bubbling to the top, the best ideas are still bubbling to the top regardless of someone’s role or how long they’ve been in the company. I think that’s been one of the biggest challenge.

Sam:                                      26:08                     Yeah. How have you done it? Do you have like a Slack channel?

Bilha:                                     26:14                     We use Slack a lot.

Sam:                                      26:15                     Okay.

Bilha:                                     26:15                     So lots of different channels. But also I think we’ve kind of re optimized the team. So kind of have sort of broken down the teams into like having really small teams focused on very specific things because I think that’s a lot easier for, in as much as it’s a big company, people don’t feel like they’re part of, you know, they’re not part of this huge thing that credit. Yeah. So they, they, they, they don’t quite know where everything is going. So the premise is that if we can have people focused on one product for example, and you just have a team of maximum of 10 people in the team that sort of helps people kind of feel like, okay, yes, I’m part of a bigger company. But…

Sam:                                      26:56                     Day to day, my team,

Bilha:                                     26:57                     I know one of my team, I know what we are, we are all about, we have, you know. So I think that’s a lot easier for, from a management perspective, but also from getting everyone on the team kind of feel like I can contributing my ideas don’t have to get swallowed up with this big company.

Sam:                                      27:12                     Okay. Let’s say you’ve got 10 people team, is that made up or some engineers? Some…

Bilha:                                     27:18                     Exactly. So we kind of created that, which the whole goal is trying to create self autonomous you know, what’s the word? Autonomous teams. And so if you’re a product team, you kind of have like some engineers, some sales people, client relations, people support people. So within the team they can sort of do almost anything that needs to get done for that product. We are having to rely on people from the outside. So helps them hopefully move a lot. I mean the thesis that hopefully they’ll move a lot faster so you don’t have to wait for an external resource to, you know, fix up, fix an issue. That’s what you need, fix, etc. But everyone sort of understands the product a lot better and they all hopefully all have the same goal to grow the product. And so the engineer’s hopefully are working in sync with the sales people, with the client relations people. And you sort of, you minimize what I think I see in some organizations where suddenly you have organizations where the sales people, the technical people don’t talk to each other or they’re quite siloed. And so sales or promotions is pushing in one direction. Engineering is pushing a different direction and somehow there’s always, you know, things don’t quite always work. But I think if you sort of what we’ve seen is you can create this thing which in commercials and engineer engineering you’ve got my sales person and I’m going out there to sell. I’m confident that whatever I tell my clients or sell to the clients my engineers will actually, that’s does, that’s exactly what they’re building. And the same thing, the engineers know that if they build things. That’s actually what’s gonna get sold. So you don’t have this sort of thing where engineers will staff and no one is selling it or I go there and sell. But when 10 years on a river to fulfill. Yeah.

Sam:                                      28:55                     What are some things that have stayed the same since you’ve gone from 40 to 130?

Bilha:                                     29:00                     I think we’re also a novelist. Try to create a, we want to try to create a culture where people hopefully feel like this is, it goes beyond the job. I mean you I keep telling people you spend more than you, you know, most of your life is actually spent in the office. So the people you work with you know, are probably even much more closer to you as it were than any other person just because of the amount of time you spend with them. And so to the extent that we can sort of still maintain a familial culture and people feel like, you know what, I’m excited to come work here. People are nice. People actually want generally help each other. So it’s not a cutthroat sort of environment. I mean to a large extent I think, I feel like we’ve been able to sort of still maintain that and hopefully people still feel like, you know what I’m being pushed to, I’m being challenged to work, you know, to do, to do something more and more, and people, the people I find in the office are actually my friends, it’s not just coworkers that I, you know, come do some work and then leave. Yeah, so very much we’re very serious about what we’re trying to do and what you’re trying to achieve, but still very laid back in at the same time. Yeah,

Sam:                                      30:12                     I noticed outside a lot of people having lunch is lunch free?

Bilha:                                     30:16                     On Fridays only. Yeah. I’ve been thinking about trying to make it free every single day, but hey, actually the numbers actually

Sam:                                      30:22                     Series B, maybe, series B from it yet, but, but did people generally sort of eat food together and…

Bilha:                                     30:29                     Yeah. So most. Yeah, most people kind of just hung out and even hung out after work, which is a great thing I think.

Sam:                                      30:33                     Yeah.

Bilha:                                     30:34                     Yeah. So lunchtime, people either sit on the lounge or go out to together?

Sam:                                      30:39                     Very cool. So in terms of the opportunities, I mean from my understanding is Africa’s Talking is in this pretty cool position where you’re going and you’re doing this hard work that no one else is doing and then you need to turn around and sell your services to developers or clients.

Bilha:                                     30:58                     Yeah.

Sam:                                      30:58                     What are some of the challenges in the making money aspects of it? I guess there are sort of technical challenges with doing integrations, but in terms of actually for example, like going to Sierra Leone, what are some of the challenges in actually sort of making sure that you’ve got the generate enough revenue from that, from that market to make it up?

Bilha:                                     31:17                     I mean, I think two things, one I think once you’ve kind of gone through the hurdle of getting integrations, which is really hard on its own. I think that the second thing is because we’re selling a technical product and we are, it’s, it’s a product that still needs a software developer to integrate our system to whatever application he’s building or he’s building for his clients. Part of the challenge has been finding developers in the different markets we are in and getting them to know what to build and how to use it and being able to say, okay, you know what, I understand cause they see the value, but I guess they, they will sort of be able to do the integrations and

Sam:                                      31:55                     Is it ultimately dependent on people being able to make money from tech products?

Bilha:                                     32:03                     Yeah, exactly.

Sam:                                      32:04                     Yeah.

Bilha:                                     32:05                     Cause I think the more you have either that or businesses that actually understand or see the value of digitizing their processes. Because if I’m an enterprise and I think it’s important to communicate with my clients where SMS or, you know, or smart you know, voice system, then I’ll actually put the money into kind of, you know, Hey, let’s develop a system that can do that and I’m willing to pay for the SMSs, I’m willing to pay for the voice minutes. So to a large extent, I think it’s, and it’s a different, different ecosystems are different levels. So the more we can find businesses that are willing to put in money to digitize their process, then that becomes easier for us to sell the products we have.

Sam:                                      32:45                     You’ve currently, one is the the startup, which is looking to build a tech platform, but the other is just going to be organizations saying you’ve got loads of inefficient services that you’re doing versus you going, yeah, you use Africa’s Talking and we’ll make it so much easier.

Bilha:                                     33:02                     Exactly.

Sam:                                      33:02                     What’s the rough split? Are there any other types of customer or is it just those two and what’s the sort of split?

Bilha:                                     33:10                     I managed to get the actual numbers. I mean when I think about it like I think I’ll probably say 70% would probably be in the start-up area or sort of setups. Yeah. So very much heavy in the start up ecosystem especially in Kenya,

Sam:                                      33:27                     Is that 70% in terms of number in terms of revenue generated?

Bilha:                                     33:31                     I’ll probably say number.

Sam:                                      33:33                     Okay.

Bilha:                                     33:33                     Yeah. So revenue is still revenue is still very much on the enterprise side of things because at the end of the day, the businesses just have a lot more money to spend. So in as much as we may have a lot more startups. But even startups, I mean I think it’s it’s dependent because I mean you have startups that have raised quite a bit of money, so they are operating very much in a very different league compared to a startup that’s just kind of, you know, getting started and hasn’t raised quite a bit, hasn’t raised much money. So yes, they definitely wanna use a platform and we see their spend. But, you know, it’s until they actually have the resources, they can actually spend a lot more. But what you see is that businesses grow with us. So that, someone actually, you know, we’ve seen startups start with us and maybe the first couple of months they’re not able to do a lot more on the platform. But as their businesses grow or as they raise funding, we actually see their spend on the platform growing or increasing. So for us it’s really important to sell the value to anyone that’s building technology because technology scales. So we believe that if someone comes in and likes the platform from day one, maybe the money, they won’t spend a lot day one but then as whatever it is they’re building creates more value or gains, becomes more valuable. It then translates into more usage on the platform.

Sam:                                      34:47                     Is there much resistance? I’m trying to maybe on the enterprise side, resistance to using Africa’s Talking. Are there, maybe not competitors, but what are some of the other alternatives that exist for,

Bilha:                                     35:00                     Well of course I wouldn’t say necessarily resistance. I think it’s more, maybe it’s the, the couple of things. One could be that they’re probably locked up in a long term contract with a different provider. So the question could be how do you come in and make sure that, you know, the next time they’re doing a contract or something you, you’re part of that. Of course there’s some enterprises that might say it’s easy for us to go directly to Safaricom or to one of the tel-cos. Again, that works fine if the tel-cos is just, if the the business is trying to do a short term thing and they can go to and tel-co, but very quickly breaks up, breaks apart when they try and go to multiple tel-cos. And then just, I think just learning how to, I think for us it’s also learning how to sell to big customers. We started off as an engineering startup and so we’re very good. We really understand the developer mindset. Exactly. Software engineering. And so it’s been easier for us to sort of penetrate the, startup developers. Exactly. So now we’re having to learn how to work with enterprises and just realize that they have a different sales cycle and ways of doing business.

Sam:                                      36:09                     What are some interesting things you’ve learned?

Bilha:                                     36:12                     It’s basic things like they create budgets like years in advance or like a whole year in advance. And so if you miss the budget cycle, you know you’re out of that business kind of thing sometimes it might just be simple things around could you talk in an organization because it, maybe, the engineering is quite different from, you know, the person making the decision.

Sam:                                      36:34                     And you could be very excited.

Bilha:                                     36:36                     Precisely. But the person who’s making the decision, finance or whoever it is.

Sam:                                      36:42                     What’s the rough, like not specific, but rough figure that some, if, let’s say you’re a thousand person corporate in East Africa or other parts of Africa are we talking like 10,000 us dollars, a hundred thousand US dollars in terms of like how much are we’re actually going to have to pay you pay Africa’s Talking?

Bilha:                                     37:03                     Maybe, which, yeah probably around 10,000 plus whatever. But the thing is they don’t, because of the way our model works we don’t have because for you integrate into the platform it’s free. But then what happens is that it’s not quite sure of how much spend you want to use on the platform. And so the business can decide, you know, what, I want to talk to all my customers and maybe if I have a million customers probably be a lot more or maybe I want to send very, you know, so it’s up to the business and it’s kind of very much dependent on what their communication strategy is and how many of the customers they want to reach and how often, etc. So for us, because the platform is free and you only pay per transaction, we’ve seen businesses kind of, you know, scale up and down depending on either how well the business is doing or their communication needs. And so I don’t think the biggest thing is not so much how much they have to spend. I think for us, at least with enterprise, it’s always more how much, the willingness to get them on board and if they see the need to digitize their processes. Once they’re on board, then know we sort of sit there, their spend can, you know, sort of goes up and down depending on, you know, what they’re thinking about or much they want to spend.

Sam:                                      38:15                     Very cool. Okay. So just a few more questions, I know you’ve got a team meeting to go to. So what do you reckon Africa’s Talking looks like in three years? Or is this someone actually coming in now?

Bilha:                                     38:27                     In three years, a couple of things. One, as I said, we will definitely want to go across the continent. So I think we’ll definitely be a lot more, there’ll be a lot more Africa’s Talking in different markets that you see. We continue to grow the team and I think there’s a question around, you know, how big do you want to grow as a team? But I do see us becoming a you know, just a few more employees. I still don’t have a number in my head, specially just you ought to manage growth in the sense of you want to make sure that everyone coming in is well utilized and, you know, but at the same time we definitely recognize that we might need to, you know, grow the team quite significantly. When the last thing is I think just a product portfolio. So I think right now our product has been very much tel-co and banking related, so offering tel-co services and banking services. And, but the question is whether we can actually find ways to get a lot more products on the platform. And we’ve already decided to do that. So there’s interesting plays around building a platform on IOT, the internet of things a data analytics platform. So there are, but all these products are still all geared towards software developers. And I’m also trying to figure out what other ways to engage software developers, so we’re thinking about things like training, how do we train more developers? Just given that, I think there’s really smart talented developers on the continent. But I think giving them a chance to sort of learn how to, you know, work at a very high performance tech company I think is really important. So finding ways that we can engage the developer ecosystem a lot more than just going beyond the platform that we currently provide.

Sam:                                      40:07                     Very cool. And people who are listening at home. How can they learn more about Africa’s Talking?

Bilha:                                     40:11                     So you can always go to our website, so Of course we’re on Twitter @Africastalking. And so, and same thing on Facebook, but more so, I mean if anyone is actually ever in Nairobi or in any of the markets we are in we keep an open door policy so anyone can walk in any time and you’ll always find someone to talk to, talk to you. Yes. We also do quite a bit of developer outreach events. So especially for folks in campuses or developers. So you’ll probably see as in a campus near you are a tech hub near you in any of the markets that we’re currently operating in.

Sam:                                      40:46                     Fantastic. Cool. Well Bilha, thanks so much.

Bilha:                                     40:48                     Thank you so much.

How the “Distributed Economy” thesis could revolutionise how we think about Africa’s development


This is a slightly different episode of The East Africa Business Podcast where  we’ll be covering a thesis around development.

When you consider how countries and societies have spurred economic growth it has all happened through urbanization.

Streams of people moving from rural livelihoods to populate cities where they would find a better life and more opportunities.

Underpinning all this was energy.

Opportunities and wealth are a function of economic productivity and in order to produce more, power is needed to run, say, factories.

Historically this has been generated centrally, in a power station and sent out via the grid.

This has favoured a society built around these central sources of power and hence led to the rise and growth of cities.

Azuri Technologies, however believes that this same path does not need to be taken in Africa


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In this episode Conrad Whitaker and I discuss macro trends around the continent’s development,how off-grid solar can change the paradigm for migration patterns and ultimately what their view of the future is with the distributed economy.

I’d love to hear any feedback you have for this episode. I certainly found it to be one of the most thought-provoking interviews done to date.

(hence why it goes on for a little longer)

More information

How countries and societies develop is a fascinating discussion, and one which acts as a bedrock for any understanding of how businesses operate.

This episode offers a new perspective on the paradigm which Africa can take, opening up the possibility to leap frog the development paths taken in other parts of the world.

Azuri Technologies are in the business of providing low-income households with their first reliable electricity source, through solar powered devices.

Whilst a light bulb (and satellite TV) could be viewed as just basic necessities, the fact that these have been powered through individual energy sources (as opposed to “grid” electricity) is, to Azuri, just the first step in a new trajectory of development.

Going forward, other basic needs can be provided to rural communities without the need of building expensive and difficult foundational infrastructure.

The interview is longer than normal as we delve into Africa’s current status quo and how it might differ from elsewhere in history.

We discuss how enabling basic infrastructure increases economic productivity in people which then catalyses economic growth. An example being that with light at night, children can study more and people can spend more time cultivating their land.

If listening at home and thinking how an idea you have might hit into the bigger picture of the continent’s development, this episode is a must.

Lessons and Insights

Next big thingsolar powered irrigation systems 

Biggest insight: “The distributed economy theory predicts that Africa’s development will leapfrog the West”

Find them Online


Facebook: AzuriTechnologies

Twitter: Azuri_Tech

YouTube: azuritechnologies

Why Ethiopia needs a localised version of Uber, with Habtamu Tadesse from ZayRide


In many parts of the world, ordering a taxi from your smartphone is the new norm.

Until July 2016 though, this was not possible in the country of Ethiopia, Africa’s second most populous country.

There are several nuances about Ethiopia which made it difficult, and it was only once Habtamu returned to his home country after several years away that the capital Addis Ababa now has this service.

It’s worth saying that Ethiopia is distinctly different from the other countries featured so far on this podcast. The ruling government runs a relatively closed economy, and there are strict regulations on anything involving interaction with the international business community.

In this interview, Habtamu and I discuss just this, and some of the workarounds that he has had to develop in order to operate in Ethiopia.

We cover how people have debit cards, but can only use them to withdraw cash, national company ownership for particular industries, and also how unlike other countries that Uber and the like work in, it’s illegal for private drivers to earn money giving rides.

There’s lots in this episode around doing business in a difficult place, and the strategies to overcome it, and so beyond just leaning about Ethiopia, I have no doubt you’ll get a lot from it.


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Born in Ethiopia, raised in Boston

I returned to Ethiopia after working for Uber in Boston with a view of bringing the idea Addis Ababa. Only 4% of Addis population have private transport so there’s a big need.

We’re better than Uber

Mainly because the internet is poorer than elsewhere we have designed our app to better fit the environment. Namely compressing the app size (because of 2G connectivity) and having a call centre.

Logistics companies have to be Ethiopian

Owing to the regulation a logistics business has to be Ethiopian, meaning Uber/ international companies couldn’t operate here. This is aside from the technical difficulties.

We went to the Ethiopian CIA

The equivalent government entity were required to sign off on signing up ZayRide. They were concerned with the safety of passengers which was all sorted.

July 2016 was the first ride

The first customer didn’t realise that he was the first customer. The passenger was a US expat who heard about it on the radio. He had a great experience.

We partner with bars on Friday nights

ZayRide gives 15% off on evenings when people may have been out drinking. There will be a partnership where the bar will include a code at the bottom of the receipt

You pay cash to the driver

It’s not possible to use international credit card processors. There are no ways to process debit card payments. People have plastic cards, but it can only be used to withdraw cash.

We’re building our own payment processor

There are costs involved with paying cash in our business. ZayRide doesn’t want to wait for someone else to build it, and so they are doing it themselves.

Mobile payments

Essentially it works by transferring money from one account to another. From the users’ perspective it feels the same as paying with a debit card, except that they’ll swipe it at the end of the trip.

Ethiopia is way different from Africa

In Ethiopia businesses are wary of anything too automatic. Having a physical device so business owners can “feel” the money they’re receiving. They want it to be tangible, and so don’t trust mobile money as much.

Government official’s phone number

It’s normal to take the personal number of the officials that you work with. You’ll call them up at night, it’s normal here.

Limousine fleet in Boston

A lot of the taxi drivers in Boston are Ethiopian and so I was able to sign them up on behalf. I could see that it would be a big opportunity.

Series A funding

To date it’s been funded by Habtamu’s Ethiopian restaurant. For the next level, investors are from Kenya, London and the US.

Personal cars not allowed to give rides

The regulation prevents private drivers from giving rides to people. The rationale is that it would take business from taxi drivers who have invested in their car. ZayRide have overcome this by having a crowdsourcing scheme.

Increasing supply is important

Currently there are 8,000 cabs and there should be 40,000 cabs. The market hasn’t corrected itself as Ethiopians don’t view taxi driving in a positive way. Drivers make lots of money though, which isn’t always seen.

Looking after our drivers

This is pressing for us. Maintaining a good relationship is key for us – we meet with the Taxi Associations every fortnight so that they feel part of the decision. Everyone is happy.

100,000 customer base

This is a big target for us. Partly through partnerships with hotels and NGOs. This will be done partly through offering tablets to the hotel lobbies so guests can hail a ride easily.

A dying tribe…

Is the inspiration for the name of ZayRide. They live on an island and the population has now dwindled to 5,000. ZayRide is named this way to give them recognition.

Social Media Follows etc.




Running an online business in Ethiopia when the power goes out, with Feleg Tsegaye from DeliverAddis


When running an e-commerce company in most parts of the world, there are certain things you can take for granted. Namely that your customers can get on the internet in order to use your service.

In Ethiopia, this isn’t always the case.

The country regularly has power outtages meaning the population are without electricity and businesses are forced to adapt.

Even when the lights are off though, people want food, and part of the reason that Deliver Addis is still in business is that they have had the creativity and tenacity to overcome such issues.

Feleg and I discuss how they created offline procedures for his online company, attracting investors in a nascent climate, and the steps they take to onboard restaurants to their platform.

It’s a great insight into business in Ethiopia, and so I hope you enjoy.


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Ethiopian parents, raised in the US

After growing up in  the US I felt a need to return to Ethiopia and create opportunities for people there.

I was getting hungry…

and the fact there wasn’t a food delivery service in Ethiopia made me think why not create on

Others like me

It seems that there are others in Addis Ababa who are also “hungry and lazy”

Not many motorbikes

Unlike other African countries, Ethiopia doesn’t have the same “boda boda” culture. This makes it difficult when sourcing drivers.

Cultural things to overcome

Ethiopian culture doesn’t value urgency as much as some other cultures. This means that we have a training programme that people need to pass in order to meet the requirements.

Keep it asset-lite

Sometimes Deliver Addis will rent back a bike from the driver, if the driver owns it themselves. Deliver Addis then rents the equipment back from them.

Women are too smart to ride motorbikes here…

So all of our drivers are men. The longest serving driver has been there for 3 years.

We have a rota

To ensure that there is coverage. Drivers will self-organise this to ensure they have X drivers on call.

Restaurants are big fans of us

DA delivers a lot of volume for them, and so as long as the kitchen is open, they can make money.

There’s a lot of data

We track popular dishes as well as time spent on different parts of the flow in order to optimise the experience.

Minimise number of clicks

This is our goal in terms of placing an order. Optimising for where they spend time on the site.

Investors understand our business

We just closed our investment round from international investors who have a presence in Ethiopia.

Ethiopian investment climate isn’t mature

Especially when it comes to technology businesses. There are a number of blockers to overcome such as the internet being shut down.

How to overcome no internet?

For an ecommerce company it’s pretty critical. When it happened we overcame the situation mainly through using phones, and developing offline procedures.

We had our best month…

In the month without internet. People found our number and were able to order still.

Ties with Jumia..?

There could be some sort of partnership that exists, as they don’t operate in Ethiopia.

Deliver Addis is nuanced

There have been additional steps necessary to ensure that our business works, in Ethiopia especially.

Tenacity is key

Often Feleg will hit the road and go deliver a meal when it’s needed. The boss is in there with me.

Have a presence beyond Ethiopia

A goal is also to go to other countries. Feleg owns additional domain names, such as and The latter was more expensive.

My favourite dish is vegan

It comes from a chain restaurant that has developed an awesome tofu dish.

~$3 delivery

There’s a view to start charging restaurants also in the future. But for now we just want to have a good catalogue in place

Restaurant onboarding

It takes several stages. The first is to have a “blind taste test” which involves someone from Deliver Addis coming in to have a meal. Looking at the cleanliness of the bathrooms as well is a good gauge too.

Hole in the wall

We look for the places with a great value proposition, and so aren’t too worried if it’s not a big established restaurant.

Ethiopia is worst case scenario

From a technology perspective, it’s really difficult to work. Therefore when we look at other places to go, it’s somewhat “trial by fire”, but if it works here, it’ll work everywhere.

Tech is all me

Feleg has built the tech platform himself. The servers need to be in Ethiopia as the cloud computing doesn’t really work.

Organic growth

There hasn’t been a marketing spend yet, word of mouth has got us this far.

Social Media Follows etc.




Revolutionising access to credit in Africa through Peer-to-Peer lending, with Hilda Moraa


Many international studies have pointed to the lack of SME financing as being a huge blocker to a country’s development.

In the context of Kenya, many small business owners are excluded from the formal financial sector due to the high operational costs involved with opening and running a bank account. As a result, they have no formal credit history and are not able to get a loan.

Pezesha are seeking to overcome this by giving the unbanked, their first step on the formal financial ladder.

Hilda, the founder and CEO, and I dig into the difficulties of getting a bank account (and by extension, a loan), how Kenya’s ubiquitous mobile money network facilitates their business, and how they are layering on their data analytics to the dynamics of the existing social investing culture in Kenya.

This is one of those episodes that can leave you scratching your head at times, but nevertheless shows the huge potential for technology and financing to transform a region.


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Pezesha means financial empowerment

We empower the unbanked population through affordable mobile credit. This brings hope and freedom to them.

We’re not a lender per se

We’re sitting in between and creating a platform that builds upon the sharing economy.

Our customers can’t go to a bank

To get a loan to grow their business. This is because they don’t have any financial history or any formal credit records to verify them.

The majority of Kenya lives on <$5/day

The banks see them as risky and, because it costs money to run a bank account in Kenya, simply having a bank account open costs operational fees which excludes them.

The unbanked have moved to mobile credit

Mobile money penetration is at 85%. Hilda’s grandmother has M-Pesa, living upcountry.

M-Pesa has become the bank of the unbanked

Allowing them to transact, and send and receive money. This gives them the services previously only possible with a (paid) bank.

We utilise chamas

A chama is a social network who come together to save and invest around a common goal. The money is typically rotated around the group. People meet in person, regardless of social background.

“Pezesha is automating Kenya’s social investing culture”

This comes from partnering with the chama network. This means bringing in technology to, say, credit score their members as well as increase the level of financing that they get.

Fund of funds

There’s then a dynamic of external investors funding the chama group and become part of the returns.

“We have Kenyans lending to Kenyans they’ve never met before”

On the back of Pezesha’s platform, it’s possible to build trust. The credit score combines a borrower’s willingness and ability to pay.

Alternative data

We use mobile money transactions, as well as different datasets to profile and understand the customer. This means we’re not reliant on just one form of information (i.e. M-Pesa transactions) but having things such as psychometric tests as well.

Agents on the ground

We have people who are our out doing a lot of the onboarding and collections out in the field.

We want people to walk up the financial ladder

The ideal is that they can walk in and get a bank account and a loan as a result of the credit history that they have got from Pezesha. We want to normalise the effect so others can trust the unbanked population.

We’re a data company

We sit in between existing financial players and utilise credit scoring.

You get a 7-12%/ year return at the bank

Despite this being high, investors won’t be proud with that type of return. With Pezesha, you get 13-36% annually.

Average loan size is $50

This is used to buy weekly stock and then 30 days later, they’ll pay $55.

People are paying back!

This was one of the (nice) surprises: that there are lots of the unbanked population who are still paying back on their loans. This is in part because by paying back they are helping to fund other fellow Kenyans.

Website links etc.


This gives details on how to be a borrower or a lender on Pezesha.


PartnersCGAPDFS Lab

How mSurvey’s Head of Data leverages the company’s big data for insights never before possible


Understanding your customers is an incredibly important aspect of any forward-thinking business.

In many developed markets there are reams of public data available to understand demographics, as well as established market insight companies who give a perspective on consumer tastes.

In Kenya, however, this was difficult. mSurvey was borne from a PhD student’s frustration at not being able to get such insights, and five years on the company is one of the region’s flagship start up success stories.

In this episode Sam Kamande, who is mSurvey’s Head of Data, and I discuss the many applications of their technology platform, how the fact that African consumers are very comfortable communicating via text message is good for their business, and the vision for utilising the big data they collect to give a holistic view on the African consumer.

This is a cracking episode, full of tid bits of information on the East African economy, doing business and generally the real impact of applying technology to an area that has been historically overlooked.


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I’m Chief Data Scientist

Helping clients get the most insights out of their data. After working in corporate life I returned to a role in mSurvey to help with the next phase of growth.

Supporting engagement between consumers and organisations

This is mSurvey’s core mission and what we are working towards. We’re giving a voice to customers who previously haven’t had the opportunity.

It was hard to get insights

The founder came to Kenya from the Caribbean for his PhD, and soon found that it was difficult to get insights from unconnected people. It’s been five years of solid growth.

In Kenya, sim card ownership is 120%

A lot of people have two different sim cards. One will be for voice, the other for data.

12 million interactions in Kenya

Coming straight from consumers. There’s a bit more in the Caribbean. Because some people are engaged twice, there are probably 11 million unique users.

80% of mobile usage in Africa is texting

Therefore there’s not much apprehension in responding with a mobile survey.

We’re replacing the feedback box

The typical use case is going to a bank and having customers give feedback via a text message after they’ve been there. This is part of how mSurvey has been able to engage 11 million, by partnering with large organisations and helping them get real-time feedback from their customers about their experience.

Real time feedback

The mSurvey product is called Voice of the Customer. This allows companies to get instant feedback from customers who pay via mobile money. When someone gives a bad rating the manager will be able to reach out by the time you’re back at the car. Conventionally this wouldn’t happen.

Net Promoter Score

This is one question which is asked: how likely are you to recommend us to a friend? It tracks customer loyalty and is a predictor of revenue. Tracking through mSurvey allows companies to measure this over time.

More and more companies take customer experience seriously

This leads to greater customer loyalty. Getting the NPS score is still relatively nascent in this part of the world.

Collecting data in Africa used to be expensive

We enable people to understand the market in a quick and efficient manner. mSurvey allows organisations to have a quick turnaround which can be used in conjunction with other market research.

Build a relationship

We don’t blast out messages to everyone. Our goal is to have a long lasting relationship with the 40,000 audience.

Segmenting the audience

We’re looking to grow the width and depth of our audience. We’ll do this by learning more about people through the conversations that we have.  This comes about from interpreting the answers of the surveys and bringing together data points.

Provide the best understanding of the customer in Africa

This is the vision of mSurvey. This gets closer through the product Consumer Wallet which helps to understand how much is being spent by the Kenyan consumers. They understand the 10% of mobile money, what  about the 90% in cash.

Average wallet size

Which is the average expenditure in Kenya, comes about through engaging the audience every day, and understanding how much they pay. From this we derive the measures and can segment it by gender, age and location.

Betting has become very significant

If you’re in the water business, your competitors are not other water companies. If the consumer is struggling they might decide to reduce their water consumption, and instead spend it on betting. Instead of buying one more beer for $2, instead I’ll spend it on betting. The bar has therefore lost out on that $2.

The reward is 20 cents

Consumers get paid this for responding to a question. It gets factored into the cost of the service delivery.

$5 per question

This is the rough cost for doing an audience on demand survey. The price comes down with volume. They’ll guarantee, say, 1,000 responses, and with a ~65% response rate they may send 1,400 conversations.

Customer experience

Biggest surprise? Businesses in Kenya are taking customer experience seriously. Even the government are treating their citizens as consumers. It gives consumers an avenue to keep organisations accountable, and that they’re taking this seriously.

Social Media Links etc.


Sign up to our audience: send msurvey to (+254)0700040030

Request a demo: via the website

Java House: “Starbucks of Africa

Dream. Grow. Be Found. How Fuzu equips thousands of Kenyans for the workplace, with Jussi Hinkkanen


The demography in East Africa dictates that tens of millions of people will be entering the job market in the coming years

There is not only a challenge of creating jobs, but also guiding individuals on a path of what they want to do.

People typically lack the career counselling framework from, say, their families, especially for roles such as “digital marketing manager”.

Jussi is building Fuzu – a platform to guide people through their careers.

We discuss growing a company with a base in both Finland and Kenya,
how Fuzu categorises their type of job seeker and the challenges of bringing a disruptive business model to a traditional market.

Jussi also has probably the best rationale I’ve heard around the role of “for profit” and “not-for-profit” organisations in solving large scale social problems in developing markets, something I’ve always struggled to grapple with myself. It comes in at around 12 minutes.

For now though, I hope you enjoy the episode.


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Here are some of the key quotes:

“Youth unemployment is a massive challenge”

From my 13 years at Nokia in emerging markets this became very clear.

“The old tools don’t work”

We need to make something more exciting and more practical for the millions of people in Africa pouring into the job market.

“Finding your way”

Fuzu is for people to understand where they want to go with their careers. People don’t typically have career guidance.

“Fuzu is a fully online experience”

1) Platform for dreaming 2) Platform for growth 3) Platform to be found

“Career employability platform”

Is how we (try to) summarise what we do in a sentence

“Community is growing”

We have around 200,000 users and are growing at about 10% a week

“We’re agnostic”

Fuzu uses machine learning to segment the user base and then speak to them in a relevant manner. We have 7 segments.

“Fully automated experience”

By automatically directing people through their career using data and machines, we can do it at scale.

“None of the segments are large enough”

And so we decided to go after all seven from the start. We can then create a platform with which to flow content through.

“To tackle a significant social challenge – be a business…”

The challenge with non-profit approach is that there’s not a fundamental innovation loop which results in a mediocre platform. We could have got millions and millions in funding had we been “not-for-profit”.

“… however NGOs have benefits too”

Especially when it comes to playing to their strengths, especially with regard having deep networks and an understanding of the social problems.

“120 million people”

Will be entering the market in Africa between 2010-2020. By 2035 it will be the largest jobs market in the world and so something needs to be done.

“We’re two-sided”

Job seekers have a freemium model, and then for the employers have a fully paid service.

“To disrupt, you are competing with conventions”

Fuzu are going up against the classifieds businesses and traditional recruiters. It takes employers some time to warm up to the idea.

“We can find you the needle in the haystack”

Much faster. We can match it with the best talent once you launch a campaign, as well as doing active “head hunting”.

“We combine the strengths of Kenya and Finland”

The R&D team sit in Finland as they have a lot of experience. On the ground in Kenya we do content and marketing. We’ll look to move the R&D team to Kenya as people get more familiar with software like Ruby on Rails.

“Pretty easy on the jobseeker side”

People understand job platforms – our barrier to growth is that people need to invest time in writing their story, like with LinkedIn.

“Similar to LinkedIn”

The white-collar workforce are on LinkedIn in Kenya, but the platform has been slow on the education side of things.

“Inertia in the B2B market”

How to build trust and sell innovation to the businesses took longer than expected, getting back-end tools in place might have been a good idea.

“Plan your market entry”

Fuzu won the award for best entry with a tiny budget, in part through partnering with 16 tier one employers.

“I wouldn’t be happy with < 25 million users”

A platform like this works at scale and so in 5 years time I would hope we would be pan-African with many active users.

“Fuzu means…”

Self-made success in Swahili. I know right, a four letter word for quite a specific concept..!

Social Media Follows etc.

Website:  Fuzu
Facebook:  Fuzu 
Twitter: Fuzu

We Farm are building an SMS-based social network for farmers, with Kenny Ewan


When you consider different ways of getting information, you might think of going on Google or reading a book

But how to do this in an environment with no libraries, computers, let alone internet access?

Farmers in the field have limited means to get information and We Farm are looking to help by providing a Peer to Peer platform for farmers to send SMS questions and answers to each other.

Kenny, the CEO, and I discuss the process – of pairing these questions and answers, why he thinks people are altruistically contributing to the platform and the most common question that they get asked by farmers…

At times the audio is a little bit iffy, but we’ve done our best to edit things to what is hopefully an acceptable level, if you want some more information head to / podcast for the show notes.

For now though, hope I you enjoy this episode with Kenny from We Farm


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Here are some of the key quotes:

“We Farm is a crowdsourcing app…”

For people without the internet. Primarily people are connected via SMS.

“Farmers interact with We Farm”

They send in a question of something which they would like to know. Typically about how to deal crop pests or when the rains are coming.

“Machine learning”

The We Farm algorithms process the messages sent through and match the question to other farmers who can answer

“The 150,000th farmer”

Is soon to be onboarded onto We Farm. We’ve just had our second birthday

“There aren’t other tools for farmers”

If you’re using an old school feature phone there are limited services for you. What we do even more so is empower the community.

“A lot of farmers have never been asked their opinion”

This is how We Farm is looking to challenge the “top down” approach of assuming that poor people need to be told what to do.

“Offline marketing in a digital age”

One of the challenges we have is to sign up farmers. This is typically through radio and partnerships along the supply chain.

“We are for profit”

But have a social mission at our heart. Our model is similar to a social network, like Facebook and Twitter, which become profitable at scale.

“Data for multi-nationals”

One of the big amounts of value that We Farm generates is through tracking droughts and diseases as they develop, providing this hard-to-get information to commercial entities.

“Building algorithms”

We’re looking at taking plain text SMSes and categorising them into whether this could be, say, Foot and Mouth disease. Our tech is built out of London.

“60% of questions answered in 24 hours”

This is pretty similar to online services like Quora. In the data we can see things like when people are charging the phone.

“A core human need to contribute”

Which is often the primary reason why farmers answer questions. We’re tapping into the same motive as why people write on Wikipedia.

“Non-financial rewards”

Are overwhelmingly preferred by farmers, rather than cash incentives. People like to be recognised on the radio.

“Young to old”

Younger people seem to be asking more questions, and older people answering them. This is an interesting East Africa cultural dynamic.

“Detecting existing answers”

This is something we’re looking at doing to provide a quality service for our farmers – using our existing bank of answers to answer common questions

“There is some filtering of answers”

Though ultimately it’s based on how the community responds to the questions sent. It’s difficult to block derogatory words because, for example, the Swahili word for “coconut” is “nazi”

“Branding for both”

One of the challenges has been having We Farm make sense to both VCs in London and farmers in East Africa.

“Channel agnostic”

We want farmers to get their information from We Farm, whether it’s SMS or Twitter or whatever over the next few years.

Social Media Follows etc.

Twitter:  WeFarm
Website:  WeFarm
Facebook : WeFarm

Paying for textbooks by the page: how Kytabu is disrupting Kenyan education, with Tonee Ndungu


The main way that students learn how to pass an exam is by reading from a textbook.

Traditionally, this has been built on the premise of publishers printing physical copies,
distributing to schools and taking cash payments.

This all comes at a cost, which is prohibitively high for a lot of schoolchildren in East Africa.

Tonee and I spend this episode discussing Kytabu.

They’ve turned the model on its head by digitising the content of these publishers, and allowing students and teachers
to access what they want, when they want it,
renting chapters from a book at a few US cents per day, paid for with mobile money

We also discuss how a lot of Kytabu’s employees are still at university, other trends that Tonee sees in the East African EdTech space and how a different interpretation of doughnut can completely undermine attempts from abroad to distribute educational content

It’s a great example of using scalable technology to disrupt an industry, and so I hope you enjoy


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Here are some of the key quotes:

“Kytabu is an EdTech application”

We’ve taken the entire curriculum that a student needs to pass Kenyan examinations, put it on a mobile application, and rent it out using mobile money.

“It’s being used everywhere”

We’ve never done a national launch, but it’s grown organically and is being used beyond just Nairobi

“15,000 users”

Is the current number on the app. Our potential comes in being able to get it into schools more. There are 8 million schoolkids in Kenya, so the potential is there.

“Supplementary education”

This is the main demand we find for Kytabu: students who are studying in school, and want additional resource when they’re revising.

“On the app, it’s the same content that’s in textbooks”

All of the content which is on Kytabu comes directly from Kenyan textbook publishers. This means that it fits directly with the curriculum.


It’s a smartphone application which somewhat reduces the app’s reach, but we’ve still found that enough people have mobile devices to use it.

“You now don’t need to buy a whole textbook”

Because the book is stored in the Kytabu app, it means that people can just rent it for a day/ week/ term rather than have to find the cash to buy a book which could get lost.

“Around a shilling (1 USD cent) per day”

It’s super affordable and can be lower. We’re seeing schoolkids spending around 7-10 shillings a week to access the content that they need.

“It doesn’t sound like a lot…”

But for the publishers, it makes sense. This is a scalable way in which to distribute their content, and incurs almost zero costs compared to the printing, distribution and piracy costs that come with physical textbooks.

“Schoolchildren use it for revision”

We use students using content for 85% of their curriculum. Our assumption is that they have the other 15% in hardcopy”

“Teachers use it in class”

They download everything for a whole term in the subject. We can see each week when they are using the content, and so can work out what they’re teaching and when. They’re spending $2-4/ month for all of their content needs.

“We need all subjects”

It only really makes sense for us to get everything at once, rather than focusing on just specific subjects (such as Science rather than Maths). Teachers are looking for very specific books, rather than just “a science textbook.

“Only 16% of Kenyans have access to a book”

Not all of the books, not some of the books, but just one book. And so by being able to rent them through a digital platform it hugely improves the accessibility.

“The publishers have been great”

They understand how digital is the future and how they need to embrace it. Kenya’s largest publisher lost millions on piracy last year, and so it’s compelling for them to work with Kytabu.

“Kytabu works for them”

It doesn’t really make sense for them to build their own platform. Students are interested in content from different publishers. Textbook publishers are in the content production industry, not really making a digital platform.


That’s the sell we have with publishers. Publishers come to us now – it’s a compelling sell now that we have the relationships with the publishers.

“A lot of interest in video”

This is one of the main trends that I’m seeing in Kenyan EdTech, along with an increase in teacher generated content. Another is parents buying tablets for their kids to use in school.

“Kytabu is completely Kenyan”

The whole team is Kenyan. Without myself and the CEO, the average age is 22. The majority are still at university, who manage their time between studies and working at Kytabu.

“Education is big, but slow”

The main surprise is the scepticism around new educational tools.

“Traditional donor money goes to non-thoughtful programmes”

Programmes that look to spend money to send stuff out to rural communities often miss the local context. The stories need to be local otherwise they won’t be adopted or understood.

“We want video to be more than entertainment”

We want Kytabu to start using video into the learning experience, such as taking museum experiences and bring it to the classroom. We also want to define what Kenyan content can be.

“Kytabu means book”

In 69 languages. Crazy, right.

Social Media Follows etc.

Website : Kytabu
Facebook : Kytabu
Twitter : Kytabu