CEO Weekends: Kenyan Woman Entrepreneur Forsakes All to Launch This Tech Startup

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Women-in-Tech

Janet Ngugi, has beat all odds to build a platform with over 3000 courses from 47 institutions in Kenya.

Dubbed StudyinKenya.co.ke, the platform is a one stop portal with information on all universities and tertiary colleges in Kenya for users to search for programs and compare with others in the country’s institutions of higher learning.  Ngugi is now building a section that will allows users to apply for courses and pay for them directly through site and track their progress remotely.

At the moment, she says her platform is the most comprehensive where users have access to the up to date information on universities and courses in the country. Users can download application forms, paperwork requirements, see college’s bank accounts or contact information from one portal.

TechMoran caught up with Janet and she told us how tough it has been and how she kept hanging on.

What inspired you to launch Study in Kenya?

Before starting my University program 5 years ago, my parents approached friends and family for resources regarding schools and programs available in Nairobi, information about my grades and career path helped them provide me with information. Today, 5 years later I started receiving those calls and to my surprise, not a lot of information is available through the internet. I know from experience that the only way to get real information is to research and apply for University directly by visiting Nairobi or having friends and family do so for you. It’s a time consuming effort that costs a lot of money. While technology is capable of offering this information first hand and is the only way to do research in many countries, Kenya lies behind in this matter; I decided to bridge the gap of information that will connect finalist studentswith the universities at a much lower cost and with most updated and current information.

 

How many courses and colleges so far on the site?

So far, I have researched and compiled information from about 47 higher education institutions mostly public and private universities and a few colleges and I have t over 3,000 courses. This content is the result of my team’s hard effort to research programs and universities on our own; however, we’re aiming to partner with the Universities in a way that we can confirm that our content is always up to date. This is to us but it is more beneficial to them!

 

How much did it cost you to set up?

Upfront, it didn’t cost too much, I was able to program the site on my spare time and leased a server. However, the costs started increasing as soon as I took over it full time, as any entrepreneur cash flow is important to grow to the next level. Running the business at this moment is relatively cheap, but the costs of running and marketing will knock at my door shortly after we start the beta period.

 

studyinkenyaWhat is your business model?

As I mentioned before I just recently took over full time, I am supporting myself and most StudyinKenya (SiK) expenses out of savings and some in-kind grants for office space, pro bono work from other professionals, and volunteers. The GrowthHub especially have provided office space and invaluable in- kind support with brainstorming and strategy. Fortunately the horizon is bright in terms of seed funding, and hoping that my investment funding will be much more aggressive in the coming months. I do have adsense up and running on the site so, this helps in terms of easy cash flows. My focus is now to get the Universities into a formal partnership with SiK which will allow us to meet our goals both financially and in product quality.

Other than adsense revenue, nothing much to talk about seeing as we are still defining our business model. However, I can tell you the outlook is bright.

 

Any challenges along the way, how did you overcome them?

I’m sure you have interviewed hundreds of other entrepreneurs so I won’t lie, it is hard to stay motivated when so many things that are new to you come knocking at your door unannounced. I will keep them short though.

1) Understanding the business, it was a challenge to understand what efforts should go to the product creation, which efforts go to business development, and which ones to customer acquisitions and partnerships. Once I figured out that these three are related but really a job on their own, I focused in growing the team. I have found people who share the same passion for this project and this has really released a lot off my back, I can focus on the product and being a CEO, while I can rely on others for more specific work on growing the business and acquiring customers. Still, I have a lot to learn and I am looking for lawyers and finance people to join the team. Shortly we will start recruiting our Ambassadors (this is the people who will help us gather new customers in high schools).

2)Raising capital, no news to you I guess, raising capital is a job on its own, while I could have focused my efforts in raising money just with an idea in hand, I am a developer, I needed to have a running project to show and so I did. I am confident of my product and am building a business around it, I have gotten the approval and guidance of people from all over the world about the potential of my project, now we’re speed tracking our efforts to meet every grant deadline. I will focus in pitching for investment very soon, I just finished a program that prepared me to have all the resources needed to go get the big bucks.

3)Time, well if you are an entrepreneur like me you will understand when I say I literally eat-live- sleep Study in Kenya, balancing a personal life and a business don’t seem to be inclusive. It harms relationships that require your time. Time is the one thing I can’t offer to people who are not part of my dream at the moment. But my dream is much bigger, I have proven to myself this is a good business and will help a number of people, so at least I have that to keep me inspired and working around the clock.

 

Any external funding, how much, from who?

I have been fortunate as Study in Kenya is among 5 start-ups to receive $5,000 seed funding from the GrowthHub incubator program towards the pilot. Although the big bucks have not yet showed up, I am pretty confident all my efforts will start paying off soon, maybe sooner than you can imagine!

 

studkenyaIs finding a course or college a problem in Kenya?

Yes! It is, it’s so impressive how Kenya is considered the Silicon Valley of Africa, and how many of our people have travelled the world to get quality higher education, and yet in our very own backyard you can’t manage to put one and one together. During my market research I found interesting data mostly pointing at the miscommunication between the universities and the potential students. Students are looking for courses and the universities/colleges that offer those programs, and in order to match them both you have to physically visit the institutions. The lines at their admission centers are crazy! And yet, many people have missed deadlines for applications after returning home because they weren’t advised or relied in friends and family to pass the information along without taking into consideration dates and requirements.

 

Do you have any competition? How unique are you from them?

In these times ruled by technology there is always competition, however, we’re not selling information, we’re selling a one-stop shop for higher education. We’re about to start an aggressive partnership campaign where we invite all universities to join our site for free, we’re not just listing courses, we’re partnering with them to present the most updated information, we’re actually allowing them to communicate directly to all potential students. Some milestones will be even more exciting but we’re not talking about them yet, we will once we have figured out some costly programming. We hope to become the number one site for students aiming to continue their higher education to get informed, get important resources, and eventually apply directly.

 

How does your platform work?

Study in Kenya is a one stop shop that allows you to search universities and programs and allows the student to compare up to 5 courses. They have access to the most updated information and courses directly sourced by each university and they have also access to all resources (application forms, paperwork requirements, bank accounts, etc) to download, contact information for admissions at the University and timelines with important dates. Soon we will allow them to apply directly through our website and track their application, we’re still working on protecting this information, this is probably the most costly part of our platform but because we really think this is a great advantage to both universities and students, we are confident we will unveil this service in our second year.

 

Where do you expect it to be in the next two years?

Ideally I will be partnered with all public and private universities and colleges in Kenya. By the end of the two years people should be able to apply, pay and track their application all through their user interface. I am also aiming to not only provide university courses to high school students, but all sorts of educational courses available for everyone in Kenya, from short courses, certificate courses, technical courses, graduate degrees, as well as a resources section that will feature scholarships, grants, and opportunities abroad for Kenyans. Many countries currently have all their application process for foreigners go through a similar website, I want this to be the one place where all Kenyans and foreigners alike apply for school, hopefully the department of education will support our efforts!

 

STEM-logoIs being a woman in business or tech a challenge?

Yes it is. The reactions I get from people when they learn that I am the one behind studyinkenya.co.ke is usually precious. The reaction I get when they learn that I am also the developer behind it is priceless. Those reactions speak volumes about how women are viewed in society and especially expectations of women in technology. When I was pursuing my undergrad, there were only 8 ladies in a class of 45. The enrollment numbers in some institutions are sad. No wonder people get shocked by women techpreneurs and I think women need to rise above the stereotype and prove that we are capable of being business people too. We need organizations looking to aid women start-ups to come in and help revolutionalize women’s start-ups in Africa. There are many initiatives seeking to increase the number of women enrolling for STEM based courses but I think more needs to be done to give them an idea of what they are capable of once in the space.

 

What is your word to Kenyan women on entrepreneurship? Should they leave it for the men?

Alot of successful entrepreneurs are men but that doesn’t mean that there are no successful women entrepreneurs. In Kenya we have Njeri Rionge, Juliana Rotich, Julie Gichuru, Cynthia Nyamai, Tabitha Karanja, Suzie Wokabi, and Joanne Mwangi to only name a few. But it is sad that for every woman entrepreneur, we can probably name 30 men. Very little is expected of women in business and I believe that the best time to excel is when people expect very little of you since then you have everything to prove to yourself and nothing to lose. The downside to this is that you have to work twice as hard to have a voice let alone become a force to reckon with and the upside is that everyone loves it when the underdog triumphs. The choice is yours.