You’ve probably heard of Jack Dorsey. The co-founder of Twitter, and the founder and CEO of Square, a mobile payments company which he founded simply to allow everyone accept credit card payments. That is in the US though, and frankly; Square has zero plans for Africa than to frustrate Amazon’s Local Register.
Now welcome home.
A group of three students from Kenya’s University of Nairobi-George Ndeeri, Martin Suge and Denis Gachoki have launched their own version of Square dubbed Lipa+ (Lipa Plus). Lipa+ is a mobile POS solution designed for the Kenyan merchants to help them to accept both credit and debit card payments by just swiping the card on a device attached to an android phone.
Aiming to be the simplest and most elegant way to accept payments in Kenya now and to make life easier, merchants only download the Lipa+ Android and iOS app and then begin to accept payments immediately minus any contracts or paperwork. Merchants can use their mobile phones, tablets and at just 3.5% + 50c per transaction allow customers to swipe their debit and credit cards and make payments as simple as never seen in Kenya.
Lipa+ then deposits the cash into a merchants account within 48 hours without question.
Just so believe them. George and Martin are Mechanical engineering students. George is entering his 5th year while Martin is awaiting graduation. Denis is a Geospatial engineering in 3rd year at the same university. George had created Socialbaze, a social network which grew to almost 200,000 users which later collapsed. George went on to start Hacking Programming, and was at one time offered 10,000$ to sell but chose not to even when the money looked like a lot to a university student then. George run shiw own blog Derify.com.
“We are passionate about what we do and have a history in tech startups and businesses,” Denis tells TechMoran. “Am passionate about entrepreneurship, I founded a web solution firm while in first year called Focweb Technologies Ltd and we’ve created innovative products before like Sheriasoft which saw us featured in Business Daily and Smart Business.
The third co-founder, Martin Suge, has also in the past be involved in other tech projects like a solar power mobile charger and a device that enables mobile phone to read flash disks. Also he cofounded 254dukas.com.
In short, the guys say they are passionate about what they do and their sole mission is to make an impact through solutions that matter. Though they say it’s not easy, especially being engineering students but passion keeps them through all this insanity.
Lipa+ story is so inspiring. George and Martin, the two mechanical engineering students had an idea of creating a device which could be attached on the audio port of a phone so as to accept and process card payments in 2009 ad as any good student would do, they approached their lecturer.
“They explained their idea hoping he could help make the concept a workable prototype,” Denis says, “but the guy told them to create the prototype would be damn expensive he went on to tell them to concentrate on their engineering books and to stop working on ‘irrelevant’ projects.”
With the idea forgotten. The guys went back to their academics full-time and they thought that was the end of Lipa+ like thousands of ideas that die due on campus. But fate had it that George would meet Denis, both students at the same university but starngers to each other after Denis had advertised a job vacancy for Focweb Technologies in 2012.
“I was so impressed by his skills and we ended up being friends and finally business partners. So one day in 2013 , George finds me reading the Fortune Magazine‘s 40 UNDER 40 and the feature guy was Jack Dorsey. He literally went crazy when he saw a company formed around the time they had the same idea was doing so well,” Denis says.
Dorsey’s Square’s got George thinking. He called up his friend Martin and together they started working on the electric circuit of the card reader. Through this time Denis was motivating them to JUST DO IT. And they did work. After several days of sleepless nights they send a prototype to some manufacturer abroad and within weeks the actual devices were sent to Nairobi.
At this instant, George welcomed Denis to be part of the project and luckily that same evening, Denis was meeting his dad, (Antony Gachoki) in town. He was so proud he wanted to show his dad what him and his friends were doing so he took some photos of the devices. As if scripted by luck from day one, Denis’d dad did invest and the three got the capital to start Kenswipe Ltd.
“We spent our first days approaching almost every payment processor in Kenya (Jambopay, iPay, Lipisha, Pesapal and others). One day we went up to National Bank and the guys there were like: If you are here for an attachment/internship request drop your CVs and go but we were like ……. Dude…… we want to be your business partners,” Denis tells me laughing.
They went ahead on their chase for business partners and later met Ben Lyon, Director of Kopo Kopo, a moble money payments integrator. Denis says Lyon could become a resource to the team by offering his time and experience to help them make Lipa+ be what it is today.
Though it wwas not easy to for them to create the apps and the card readers, they have finally begn beta testing them for the last 2 weeks and are signing up stalls and malls for the trial phase.
“Our mission is to be in every town,” says Denis. “We are now pursuing security compliance certificates from global players with the guide of our mentors . We are also developing a Chip and Pin device plus in the future after successful card enrollment we plan to integrate Mobile Money. Mobile money will make Lipa+ a one-in-all solution for cashless payments.”
Lipa+ is giving merchants everything for free and incurring the cost of the card reader and now has 16 merchants in just a few days of their beta launch. One device costs them $20 but adding tax, the devices cost $30 but the team is working on a way to cut the costs to les than 10$ if they order for the devices in bulk.
Denis has his dad to thank for the seed money. His dad has in fact funded him for 2 years since he launched his Focweb Technologies startup. At Lipa+, Denis says his dad is more like a partner, absorbing each and every cost they incurre. He has footed the development of the app, the manufacture of the devices and all their operations.