The OPPO A57 is launching this month in Kenya, here is what to anticipate.


The OPPO A57 was launched in China in November 2016 before making its way to India in February this year. The company already made headlines with its selfie-centric FIs and FI Plus which featured a 16-megapixel selfie camera and it looks like the company wants to continue with the same trend with the launch of the A57.

So what should Kenyan consumers expect? First, the OPPO A57 is clad in a metal unibody design and its home button also doubles as a fingerprint sensor. Available in two color options of gold and rose gold, the phone features a sleek back finish with curved edges.

The OPPO A57 Review,camera,specs.

The Oppo A57 is powered by 1.4GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 435 processor and it comes with 3GB of RAM. The phone packs 32GB of internal storage that can be expanded up to 256GB via a micro SD card. As far as the cameras are concerned, the Oppo A57 packs a 13-megapixel primary camera on the rear and a 16-megapixel front shooter for selfies.
The Oppo A57 runs Android 6.0 and is powered by a 2900mAh non removable battery. It measures 149.10 x 72.90 x 7.65 (height x width x thickness) and weigh 147.00 grams.The Oppo A57 features a non-removable 2900mAh battery which easily lasted us a full day on a single charge. Our HD video loop test gave us a runtime of 12 hours and 7 minutes, which is very good. There’s no fast charging, so the battery does a take a fair while to fully charge.

The Oppo A57 is a dual SIM (GSM and GSM) smartphone that accepts Nano-SIM and Nano-SIM. Connectivity options include Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth, USB OTG, FM, 3G and 4G (with support for Band 40 used by some LTE networks in India). Sensors on the phone include Compass Magnetometer, Proximity sensor, Accelerometer, Ambient light sensor and Gyroscope.



JOBVINE GLOBAL launches in Kenya as recruitment moves away from job boards




South Africa’s JOBVINE GLOBAL has launched in Kenya after closing a Series A funding round for its global rollout plan.

Founded by Joubert Botha who also runs MoneyVine, Karma Digital Media and HashtagRadio in 2009, Jobvine is an online recruitment platform that connects businesses, recruiters and job seekers in South Africa, Nigeria and now Kenya.

JobVine Nigeria was launched in January 2017 and today’s launch in Kenya expands JOBVINE GLOBAL into Africa’s most lucrative markets. However, several recruitment firms are moving away from job board model where they only provide platforms for job ads, job search and CV placement and engaging in headhunting and recruitment itself.

Job boards are so old school that anyone can launch a site without any operations in a country and charge a number of premium clients to do job posting for clients, CV placement for job seekers and select a few CVs from among them then send to a client remotely.

The new age firm needs more than those online aptitude tests, CV selection and talent identification. Firms in the new age job market require recruitment firms to do more than just scream millions of CVs to narrow done on two impressive persons.

Though the marketplace model is sweet, the human factor is important in recruitment and no AI or algorithms can replace that.

JOBVINE says it’s a recruitment based website, where job seekers can scan through a selection of employment opportunities placed through recruitment agencies or individual companies. Companies and recruiters can now advertise their jobs for free on the site and manage their entire Job advertising service through JOBVINE.

These might work for recruiters who are looking for just anybody to fill a position but more established firms are looking for specific persons who are not hunting for jobs and uploading their CVs on job boards for recruiters.

Accommodation booking site SleepOut goes to sleep and it might be for good


Launched in Kenya in May 2012, SleepOut.com was an accommodation booking site focused on Africa before Airbnb became known and commonplace on the continent.

The Kenyan-founded started was quickly spreading to other emerging markets and this made it to move its HQ to Mauritius in March 2014. It had boasted of  connecting thousands of guests and willing hosts to the tune of 150,ooo visitors monthly, had over 1,000 ”SleepOuts” in Kenya and had signed up over 500 properties throughout East Africa while still in BETA in April 2013.

In October the following year, SleepOut was declared winner of the  2014 Startup Battle of the Cities (SBOC) at IdeaLab! – The Founders’ Conference in Germany. SleepOut had castles, rustic holiday homes, italian villas, 5-star resorts and floating cabins and a year later, it was handling over 5,000 accommodation booking requests per month and over 150,000 visitors on average in Kenya alone.

SleepOut CEO and co-founder, Johann Jenson, an ex-UN staff member told TechMoran at that time that the most exciting feature of SleepOut.com is the all-star team of entrepreneurs that were both passionate about the travel industry and African tech comprising of the then CTO Paul Schwarz, a Zimbabwean software engineer with years of experience in the hospitality industry.

168843_395956997134117_1451596925_nIn May 2013, SleepOut had raised $200K to expand across Africa and Middle East. With such a start, no one would know the firm would go under a year later even with support from the Mauritius Investment Board. SleepOut had also launched an online magazine NOMAD and was among winners of PIVOT 2013.

What would have gone wrong?

Before we could ask ourselves what would have gone wrong, it’s better to know where and how SleepOut started.

According to Johann, he built Lamu.org in 2011 as a pilot project working closely with holiday home owners and hotel owners on Lamu Island, Kenya.

“At the time it was nearly impossible to find good value accommodation on Lamu Island. To add to this dilemma, pricing for many of the commercial properties was not consistent with the low occupancy which sometimes hovered around 25%,” he told TechMoran in an earlier interview.

Johann built a simple concept to place all the island’s accommodation options on a web platform and connect hosts with empty beds and potential guests looking for great deals. Within 6 months he says Lamu.org was getting great traction and while still at his UN job,  Johann got a few partners on board and began listing new accommodation throughout Kenya and relaunched the platform as SleepOut.com.

At the time the biggest challenges was building intelligent accommodation booking software in Kenya as it required a great deal of attention to detail and working closely with both hosts and guests to get the system right.

“In addition to drawing up the right specs, designing awesome software is expensive and in an industry as competitive as travel, you need to get it right,” he told TechMoran. “Our first goal was to build a product that we would use when travelling.”

Johann wasn’t building the platform for strangers. He himself is an obsessive traveller and has visited over 60 countries over the past 10 years therefore he was SleepOut’s customer number one booking “SleepOuts” and testing the platform.  So with SleepOut 2.0, he aimed at serving both  Africa and the middle East but there were drawbacks.

“The biggest drawbacks to scaling a startup in Kenya is 1) access to basic services such as payment gateways or reliable internet and power; 2) funding opportunities and 3) world-class software engineers,” he told TechMoran. “That being said, all of the above are quickly improving and there are several business opportunities which are uniquely Kenyan including access to unsaturated e-commerce markets, mobile payments, affordable skilled labour, low costs of living and a friendly and hospitable culture of customer service.”

Things didn’t seem to improve for SleepOut as by mid last year, operations at the firm were grounded and customers couldn’t get any support with some of them claiming calls to the firm went unanswered. Johann is now the head of Digital Customer Experience at Hilti and though the site is still online, a lot of funding would be needed to switch on the lights and assemble an A-team to run it.

Johann hasn’t responded to TechMoran’s requests yet and he might not but sources close to the firm say it run out of funds couldn’t sustain its operations. TechMoran is not sure if the firm was revenue positive but even if it was, the closure means the revenues weren’t enough to keep it afloat.

The expansion on Airbnb was also another major blow to SleepOut’s growth and success and though it was focused on Africa and the middle East, it would never have raised enough cash to effectively compete with Airbnb. Others think the firm scaled so fast so quickly. Closing shop is not the end of business but might open a bigger door to more opportunities and the lessons are never forgotten.

For startups in Africa to survive, the tech ecosystem will need to have more than just angel investors. It’s high time institutional investors, VCs and everyone else backed sensible startups such as SleepOut to stay afloat, make money and even inspire others to remain tenacious even during terrible times. Sister site EatOut remains strong and has made acquisitions across East Africa. EatOut is also announcing a massive funding round soon.

In the hotel booking space, Booking.com and JumiaTravel dominate the scene but Mark Essien’s Hotels.ng is set to launch a Kenyan arm to take them on.

Liquid Telecom rolls out IPv6 in Kenya to beef up user security ahead of 2017 deadline


Outdated in most markets and set to run out in 2017, IPv4 addresses are still in wide use in Africa even though they trigger additional Internet security issues, and make it increasingly difficult and more expensive for networks to add new devices and users to their networks,

To encourage the uptake of newer and safer Internet Protocol version six (IPv6) across the continent, Liquid Telecom Kenya is rolling out IPv6 addresses to all its customers in Kenya, and Zimbabwe, then across its other markets in Africa.

“IPv6 has been rolled out seamlessly to our home user customers and we are working with our business customers to help them exploit this technology on their office networks to better harness ICT to achieve their business goals,” said Ben Roberts, CEO of Liquid Telecom Kenya.

Liquid Telecom sees the transition to IPv6 as urgent and mandatory for firms; as IPv6 will enable a whole new ranges of technology by facilitating the Internet of Things with end-to-end connections for devices interconnecting everything from kitchen appliances to automobiles.

Compared to UPv4, IPv6 has limitless IP addresses, at 2 to the power of 128 addresses (340 trillion trillion trillion): that is more addresses than there are cells in every human body on the planet and more than Africa’s growing population with Kenya alone expected to hit 62 million in 2030.

“We are almost eating into the last block of 16 million addresses of the IPv4 space that the regional internet registry for Africa, (AFRINIC) has available.  This means we are soon entering a new phase where getting IPv4 addresses will become far more difficult and eventually impossible – there won’t be any more to give. So it is important that ISPs start to deploy IPv6,” said Andrew Alston, Liquid Telecom Group Head of IP strategy.

Designed by Vint Cerf and Robert Kahn in 1981, IPv4 has just 4 billion IPv4 addresses, far less than the global growth in the number of devices which saw the world start to run out of IPv4 addresses, initially in 2011, in Asia, and then in Europe in 2012, Latin America in 2014, and last year in North America.

With a presence in 12 markets across Africa, Liquid Telecom is extending this roll out to the rest of the markets after Kenya and Zimbabwe commending the two countries for 2X uptake of  IPv6.

However, Liquid Telecom is not working alone to increase the adoption of IPv6, AfriNIC, Africa’s Regional Internet Registry has been working with governments, universities and corporations to drive up the rate of deployment, with the allocation of Ipv6 addresses to providers proceeding as expected, even though few providers are deploying them.



Don’t Cry for Ghafla!

Sam Majani IMG HumanIPO
Sam Majani IMG HumanIPO

A family is having a conversation after dinner. On national TV a respected business reporter is interviewing an octopus-like business woman. Confused, Tim, a nine year old boy asks the dad what a socialite really is. But before the dad could answer, Tim’s mother, a fashion designer and business woman interjects.

“Son, a socialite is a classy model who is paid to attend events or create hype about products. She’s an influencer. Her presence gives weight and colour to whatever boring event it would have been,” her mom says.

Tim nods his head but prety much unconvinced turns to his dad, implying his mum has missed something in her answer.

Blame all that on one Uncle Chim, a self-proclaimed most-hated man in showbiz and Ghafla Kenya’s huge gossip king until his exit to PQ’s Mpasho. Chim wrote half of Ghafla and had its old testament at one time blocked to students in various local universities and even a number of family-inclined advertisers pulled out.

Not relenting, Baba Ghafla, Chim and the then Ghafla team brought several people’s lives to a standstill and as well made others shine. The most recent was when one radio presenter was dumped by her actor boyfriend, she was pregnant and low and in need of love. Chim blew the lid and eyeballs came online in droves reading. Some sympathetic, some jealous while the rest were too young to understand the magnitude, mostly just confused until deadbeat dad came on scene.

Chim’s altar had more touched and blessed than it could doom. As he ministered, his faithfuls gave more. More tips, more stories, more semi nude photos and more gossip and he also grew and grew. The socialites grew, Ghafla amassed traffic to millions of uniques, clients came in droves, more were even attracted by it’s cheap price point then something happened.

Money came calling.

Ghafla-Radio Africa in the good days!
Ghafla-Radio Africa in the good days!

South Africa’s Times Group bought nearly all of Radio Africa Group which owns Kiss 100, Classic 105, Radio Jambo, X FM, East FM, Relax FM, The Star newspaper and Kiss Television and almost every youth friendly FM station and other media properties in East Africa. PQ and crew got even hungrier.  They began courting Trinc Media and Ghafla. Having them at their premises for shows to maintain that family feel.  Trinc Media which was running various social media accounts for Radio Africa presenters and a couple of other corporates. The money had to be shared and Trinc was bought. The real price and stake of the social media outfit built at Sam Gichuru’s Nailab.

No one covered the story apart from our friends at the dreaded Kahawatungu and another one here. Kahawatungu has more info on the media itself than the paid reporters do. But it could have been vegetables had someone not messed up with Jackal News founder.

Now after acquiring 40% Trinc Media for just Ksh 3 million and PQ buying himself  20% according to reports, Radio Africa’s wise men went for Ghafla but Ghafla wasn’t an orphan as had investors with a significant stake who also believed in its potential. The sale didn’t go through. Ghafla says it would make all the marked price in just one year. And it was making some money and it still does today even though it looks like a mosaic of billboards cluttered together.

According to estimates the Gossip industry is worth $3 billion annually. Baba Ghafla knew this already and was the defacto king while other entertainment bloggers were sleeping on the job or too smart like Daily Post’s Tim Obare hidden from the public eye and not interested in advertiser money which comes with meetings and deliverables and takes several months to close and finally have the payments.

As Niaje died slowly (full story here today or and ressurected here), there were thousands of gossip sites creeping into the space. ENews was amassing some traffic, so was Nairobi Gossip, Buzz Kenya and just about everyone. As local tech companies still court print media and TV, tech bloggers were quitting tech to do something more lucrative. Gossip was huge. From the days of Grace Kerongo’s Hotsecret’s, the Gossip industry was growing at drop it like hot speed. The major problem most of the publishers were print. Star had (have) a brilliant entertainment section it ran, so was Zuqka then Pulse.

And as things were hitting up, Standard Group launched The Nairobian, then Aga Khan’s Nation Media Group followed with Nairobi News (RIP), but trying to go clean, away from the corruption in town and at his NMG campus itself, NMG’s Nairobi News tried to go after the heart of the reader with human interest stories but in a few weeks after launching it didn’t make any business sense and the Aga Khan’s money ought to be clean anyway. Nairobi News was killed.

FAREWELL-2-528x270The clean news thinking was also getting out of hand and got even worse with the launch of an evening news outfit called X-News (no relation to X FM). MediaMax’s The People also hired an old newspaper general to have a worthy second coming as a free daily newspaper and real saviour for the matatu loving Nairobians.

With all this developments, Radio Africa Group couldn’t be stopped. The group understood one thing. Gossip sales. It had the evidence and not just dry data from an international firm. It’s run lucrative entertainment/ gossip morning radio shows raking in millions monthly from advertisers.

Its appetite grew even bigger when Nairobi Now was killed before anyone could buy a piece.  Radio Africa Group’s huge obstacle-some guy called Sam Majani needed crushing. Majani, who like most entreprenuers, with no MBA became an easy targe. Radio Africa Group needed to move fast to save themselves the earlier embarrassment of failing to buy him out and probably teach him a lesson.

With just a little history for having founded a site for Kenyan music lyrics dubbed Kenyan Lyrics and dropping out of university, Majani was as vulnerable as vegetables and to some of his evangelist reporters, there salaries were their business. Their employment was their businesses and if they could get a better deal why not!

One meeting, the second and Radio Africa had its plan hatched. Get all those crazy noisemakers from top blogs, of course beginning with Ghafla, quickly customise a WordPress newspaper theme, pay them for tips, put them in great office with beautiful computers and women and even pay them more, launch a site invest in radio airtime, promise readers new iPhones and go out get advertisers as fast as possible promising them a 5-in-1 package of Print, Radio, TV, Social media and online before the first batch of reporters move on to start their own gossip sites.

And boom, Ghafla was touched and some of the writers and social media guys left. Some had already joined ad agencies for their social media prowess. Chim and his small crowd of elders left to start a new Ghafla clone for Radio Africa dubbed Mpasho which is first gaining traffic.

Though Ghafla says he is not moved with MPasho, there have been improvements since they launched. Each is struggling to break more news and have all the exclusives and inside the mind of the Ghafla CEO, quality content and SEO are still king and he still has the eyeballs.

Speaking to TechMoran in a mood only Ft: Kendrick Lamar’s song The City can descibe, Sam Majani, Ghafla CEO and founder said, “Ghafla has been rigged to survive any onslaught. Anyone in the company is replaceable, even me. Cabu Gah came in for Chim and I have Sue Watiri, Philip Etemesi just in case. Turning hiring into a process has been the key. You need to know what you’re looking for in people and how exactly to get it repeatedly.”

Radio Africa’s Mpasho and all the blogs tell us only one thing.  A whole generation has been converted. Kenyans will take their two or three socialites as attention seekers but overnight an industry is growing. Businesses will fuel the gossip blogs as is everywhere. Now worth $3 billion, the global Gossip industry is here to stay. Even without investor money such bogs will always have traffic and online advertisers want eyeballs not a nice family website with two clicks.

Gossip sells.

Mbugua Njihia
Mbugua Njihia

Mbugua Njihia, CEO Symbiotic, a mobile VAS firm based in Kenya told TechMoran, “Gossip has been the mainstay of human life since the days of old. With the drudgery that is the rat race humanity needs ways to take its mind of things and think or look at “other” people…a different reality. Hence porn, alcohol and gossip has a ready clientele. Think of Machakos “Airport” and the publications that move in the thousands at Ksh 20 printed on barely held together paper that can find easy use as an tissue paper thereafter; the headlines are ridiculous and some stories borderline unbelievable. You will pick a copy knowing full well it is rubbish, but hey…”

Majani agrees.

“Yes it’s true. The market expectation for an entertainment publication is to provide gossip. We are the supply fulfilling the demand. I cannot divulge what our biggest threat is. All I can say is it doesn’t exist yet. Who has anything close to Ghafla’s 1.4 million uniques, 10 million pageviews?”

Ghafla’s new high priest Gabuh Cah with several awards for his work is taking the site to where Majani has always dreamt of. Taking us back into history  of what Prezzo did to Caro Mutoko and Larry Madowo date some 19 year old socialite. It’s all fantasy though but it’s sticking up. As usual, both Ghafla and Mpasho have listicles are shared by both Ghafla, Mpasho, Nairobiwire and another outfit dubbed Enews Kenya.

Don’t get bored of the lists, just yet.

According to a report by the Wired, “Lists are everywhere. They’re the bread and butter of sites like Cracked and BuzzFeed, and regular content or sporadic filler at dozens more. (Yes, even WIRED.) From the multimedia gallery to the humble top 10, list-format articles — listicles — are rapidly becoming the lingua franca of new-media journalism.

They’ve met with no end of resistance from the old guard, cantankerous readers and old-school journalists convinced that listicles (and their admittedly unfortunate portmanteau) are rotting our brains, destroying our attention spans, and generally contributing to the decay of all that is right and good. Listicles have been picked apart, analyzed, attacked, explained, and defended.

Ghafla knows that with lists you’ll spend more time on the site, curious to see the next semi-nude photo of a socialite. The new media firm has also learnt to promote its content on social media and as well share it almost around the clock to populate your social media timelines so can’t avoid them.

Ghafla has also refused to remain a one hit wonder like the majority of musicians the new media startup writes about. The startup firm has launched Duwaa, a local social media and tech site, Tambaa a travel news portal, Mwalii, a relationship advice site and a MachoMoran killer and he’s trying his hand in business reporting. He understands the technology, has had some experience building his following on social media and pulling readers with misleading headlines. The writers he had, some of whom are at Mpasho might be a little competition but Ghafla seems to have something more for readers who flock the site everyday.

19-year-old architecture student at Nairobi Institute of Technology, Joe Karani Mpasho's first iPhone 6 winner with Carol Mutoko (IMG credits The STAR)
19-year-old architecture student at Nairobi Institute of Technology, Joe Karani Mpasho’s first iPhone 6 winner with Carol Mutoko (IMG credits The STAR)

Wondering why you shouldn’t cry for Ghafla?

Like Nairobi’s clubs and restaurants sitting next to each other and offering the same foods, the sites will co-exist and no one cares at the moment who will outlive the rest. Readers will flock one site then go to the other and media buyers don’t care which site they visited first before the other.

Its all about traffic and at the end of the day, who has more eyeballs wins. Online advertisers such as telcos, beer companies, cosmetic firms, dating sites, and even professional mentors and churches want eyeballs for their products. Daily Post, Ghafla, Mpasho, Nairobiwire, Nairobigossip among others will give them the numbers they need. Traffic is what feeds advertising and even though Kenyans might think there are too many blogs or new media companies, the Kenyan advertising market is way too young and unserious for any tangible business.

“The advertising market has to be big enough with enough being spent online by advertisers/brands in Kenya. Many still spend on billboard, TV stations and radio vs online. Online is 1-2%.  Needs to be closer to 5-10%. Brands have to know there are enough engaged and worthwhile users in Kenya to get a return on investment on their advertising,” says Mbwana Alliy- Managing Partner, Savannah Fund.

1908241_477586889031517_251499810_nGhafla, Mpasho and co. might be all smiles looking at Silicon Valley new media firms such as BuzzFeed raising millions with their GIFs. It tempting for them to think this might trickle down to Africa and bring fortunes in form of investor funding or advertising. However, experts this is a killer deception for anyone this side of the world.

“When you do the math, is the audience big enough for Kenya alone? Comparing with BuzzFeed when the context is different doesn’t help,  classic case of translating or cloning a venture without thinking about the Africa implications. Different business model for Africa might work e.g. Selling tickets etc. But must do the math on the business model. Not assume it’s BuzzFeed for Kenya and hence is bankable.”

Sam Gichuru, CEO Nailab
Sam Gichuru, CEO Nailab

Sam Gichuru, CEO and co-founder at Nailab, where Majani began his lyrics site before he got an investment from 88mph to launch Ghafla was unwilling to comment or be associated with Ghafla.

Tim is not done yet.

“Honestly Dad,” he calls out, “Who were the three big socialites in the 90’s? I can’t see them on any blogs?”

Cabu Gah has to publish the list just before Tim refreshes Ghafla.co.ke on his phone.



The Worrying State of Kenya’s Startup Ecosystem


Flash backwards. The year is 2007. Kenya is the premier country, globally to successfully pilot and launch mobile money transfers via (Vodacom) Safaricom’s M-PESA. This could be probably due to the failure of courier services, lack of access to banking services by folks in rural areas or due to the laxity banking institutions or courier service provdiers. M-PESA, build by British engineers from Vodacom PLC hits international headlines as a Kenyan innovation.

Money transfer & crisis reporting

And then Christmas comes; everyone says it’s time to re-unite with family and friends and it is a different kind of Christmas as it’s an elections year and everyone does their best. They turn up to vote in masses hoping to change their lives. Food prices are too high, so are prices for just about everything.

However, the unexpected happens, the once peaceful nation turns into chaos. Those who were once friend begin to fight, neighbours turn against each other and a full blown calamity ensues across the nation. Chaos, violence, fires, gang rape and murder and just about any gloomy evil happens. Neighbors turn against each other and it turns even uglier and cruel as friends hack each other to death with hacksaws and axes and machetes.

Amidst this bloodshed, a group of volunteers unite to start Ushahidi, to help report and map this chaos anonymously via mobile phones. And as voice ensued, so did the tenacity of the free agents reporting crimes in their areas. Ushahidi grew bigger and bigger. These gave birth to a community.

Community or marketplace

That community is what grew into iHub, a space for developers/techies, investors and industry stakeholders, who it seems, helped divert international media’s attention from domestic violence to the new crop of youth coding all day on computers. Ushahidi in the meantime, had grown to become a global tool mapping crises across the world.

And at iHub a new idea was born. Two young guys saw it better to incubate real businesses and instead of building a networking community of techies, stakeholders and investors launched Nailab, just next door to iHub.  Both are still friends were heavily depended on grants when they began but at the moment have devised various business models.

But as the iHub community grew, a new arm was born out of the need to incubate mobile startups. Mobile was the future of Africa and they were right, M:lab East Africa, the mobile startup incubator has seen a number of startups pass through its doors through its various training programs and help from various foundations and grants from both corporate firms and non-profits.

One of its largest startup conference and competition, Pivot East, has seen over 25 companies raises millions of shillings and expand globally. Such companies include KopoKopo, Eat Out, SleepOut among others.

iHub also instrumental for the birth of startup competitions outside its walls. One reputable and as well controversial was the ICT Board’s Tandaa Grants which saw some entrepreneurs win grants for their business, some of which died at idea stage and some of which never existed apart from the name and PowerPoint pitch decks. Luckily, a few others have gone to be as big as EatOut.

Y-Combinator Style

iHub was behind ipo48, a 48 hour startup pitching event that saw entrepreneurs make teams, conceptualize a business, develop and launch it in 48 hours and raise seed funding.

The ipo48 beneficiaries winners included Sematime (Tusqee Systems) a school SMS service for parents to track their kids performance and schools to communicate with parents; 6Degrees(Binary Science) a cloud phone contact back up service (which could have been acquired by Safaricom which rather launched its own service); PesaTalk, a web financial news startup since shut down; Ghafla, an entertainment site that grew out of KenyanLyrics.com-then a Rap Genius of Kenya and today’s Kenya’s top entertainment and gossip site and Futaa.com a web football news startup.

This lot made 88mph’s first cohort in its accelerator programme and then everyone knew they can raise millions with their web and mobile app. Youths took to Php, Django, Java, Android, HTML5 and others turned up with laughable WordPress and Joomla sites at hackathons expecting to win real cash and change their lives. We don’t blame them, they were all green then and competitions were the in-thing with fast internet in town, free coffee and sandwiches available during the day and pizza at noon and free beer and spirits to unwind in the evening.

No one had told this kids how firms like Cellulant began and grew. They probably had never had of Africa Online nor Wananchi Group. The kids were too blind of Vervaint Consulting, the firm behind PesaPal and TicketSasa. They knew little about Seven Seas Technologies, Craft Silicon, Africa’s Talking and Wananchi Group and others like True African and Mode and Movas Group.

Prize money, not entrepreneurship was the driving force. The washrooms were full with guys and girls practicing their pitches before mirrors and from event to event and campus to campus, you would see the same faces, same ideas, same hoods, with dirty stickers on their laptops smiling, others praying for lady luck.

Then down across the street another hub launched called GrowthHub, with an interest in social entrepreneurs focused on education, women, energy and agriculture. Then Strathmore University opened doors to its iLab Africa and BizLab, and every student knew what building an app meant. Cash in the bank and trips with corporate firms as a testimony or ambassador to preach to others to launch startups. Then Safaricom Academy opened doors at the same university. Jomo Kenyatta University of Science and Technology also entered the bandwagon with its own tech expos and recently C4DLabs at the University of Nairobi.

Quietly, Savannah Fund launched to accelerate African startups with a $25k seed fund for a 15% equity and at first guys in the tech scene thought it was iHub’s counter of 88mph, which had reportedly ‘used’ iHub to launch in Kenya and later ‘ignored’ them. However, Mbwana Alliy strongly declared they were a pan-African fund preaching tough love for African startups and were not just a Kenyan ‘Silicon Savannah’ fund.

Ambitious projects and competitions

Long before them, government technocrats were planning a tech city dubbed Konza Technological City to bring Silicon Valley to Kenya. It was both brilliant and laughable. Brilliant because we had just had fiber cables and the internet seemed underutilized and laughable because they didn’t know how Silicon Valley began.

And there was DEMO Africa and every startup at Pivot East wanted to be at DEMO Africa too.

And so much happened in between, corporate firms didn’t want to be left behind. Phone manufacturers brought in their phones, and so were big launch parties and partnership of things that never happened. Then there was something like Google Fibre in Nairobi, a nearly free-wifi service which needed just one last push to reach everyone in the city and IBM launched its Watson and Panasonic did a similar thing. And everyone took to Twitter and Facebook against Nigeria and South Africa. And even at events hype just build up like shit and snowballed to the mainstream media and the international media caught it too. And Vodacom’s M-Pesa worsened everything.

Tech tourism

With a string of success since the launch of M-PESA, Mzalendo, to Ushahidi, to Ringier’s Rupu, Nasper’s entry with dealfish and Mocality, iHub, m:lab, the climate innovation centre, the chandaria incubation centre, BRCK and ICC and Westgate, Startup Grind and Startup Weekend; all international journalists’ dream was to leave their boring newsdesks in their cold countries for a trip to Nairobi, then Maasai Mara to see the the big five and others went to the infamous Kibera and Mathere Slums.

Tourists who only used to visit Mombasa and Maasai Mara began visiting Nairobi too and the traffic didn’t bother them so much. Some came and left, others stayed to start an app or two then went back home to fundraise from friends, family and fools then send a fraction of these back for freelance developers to build these apps. Meetings were held on Skype for hours.

And as the Pesatalks and other Joomla and WordPress sites came tumbling down, entrepreneurs outside the hubs were silently building entreprise softwares and going international unfazed by the excitement surrounding the Silicon Savannah. Craft Silicon had sold software to almost every bank and retail store in Kenya and had expanded to US and other international markets. Seven Seas Tech was growing too to several countries in Africa and planning an IPO and TechnoBrain and Tezza Business Solutions were expanding too and so was Verviant Group with its PesaPal and TicketSasa among others.

Santa or vultures

And as fights began in the Savannah on who is real, who is Santa Claus and who is a vulture, Rocket Internet crept in silently. Took over e-commerce with Jumia, launched struggling Hellofood. Launched Lamudi which is steadily growing to be the best real estate vertical in Africa and then Jovago and then EasyTaxi and before Nairobi would realize that its hype was not bringing food to the table it was too late.

88mph had burn its fingers and put off investing in any startup in Kenya in 2014. Savannah Fund had thought otherwise and was putting in more energy into its Nigerian and South African markets than Nairobi and even moved to host Afrikoin in South Africa.

According to Nikolai Barnwell, 88mph’s Project Manager,”Nigeria is good for business as entrepreneurs have a no bullshit approach to tech unlike Nairobi though they have had less publicity. It’s a healthy environment for business and has no false promises or fluffy PR or NGO grants.”

Though not investing in Nairobi this year, 88mph has not moved out of the city. The fund has been busy opening in Lagos and has a fundraising fatigue from trying to raise funds from local investors in Nairobi.

Barnwell says he believes there are local quality Kenyan startups but he thinks they are not just big enough in the pipeline and it is not the startups fault. The fund is now changing its tack by looking to universities, banks and corporate firms as fishing grounds and not just hubs as it’s been doing.

He also says there was need to change their timetable. Having a DEMO day in December meant most firms were in holidays and even harder to raise extra money.

“We are also restructuring our internal systems so the next step will be the right one. Just changes from people involved,” he says.

NGOs & media hype

Away from 88mph, the closet accelerator to them in numbers is Savannah Fund, which is Africa-focused and picks startups from across the continent. The fund has also reduced its number from five annually to just 3 in its cohort this year. However, the firm also invested in two more startups recently in South Africa.

According Mbwana Alliy, managing partner at Savannah Fund said,” We have always said we are a pan africa fund a zillion times. Kenya is not the only place we look for startups- We look for the best startups in Africa, outside Africa addressing Africa wherever they are.

That being said we have invested in 4 out of 10 startups to date and we expect to another kenyan startup in the accelerator we are launching soon (we are still selecting)- which means Kenya still makes up a good 40% of our portfolio.
We will be publishing accelerator stats of our 337 applications we have had across Africa in the past 18 months across the 3 classes and Kenya represents half of it. We do 3-5 startups depending on the capacity of the team- we are not a sausage factory for startups, we would rather have a smaller class and focus on helping them than a bigger class and diluting our teams across too many startups for the sake of “living up the hype”.
Its hard to gauge returns of a fund in the early days- if 88mph is having problems, doesn’t mean we have the same type of problems. Even the best startups can still fail even after series A in Silicon Valley. In other words, looking for success after the first few years of operation is like asking for a marathon runner to win the olympics before their 10th birthday.”

And though Mbwana and Nikolai say it’s the NGOs and hype.

Some analysts think there is a problem with all of us.

Apart from Cellulant, Wananchi Group, TechnoBrain, Seven Seas Tech, Mode and Tezza Solutions Andrea Bohnstedt thinks startups in Kenya are overhyped.

“We need an assessment of Tandaa Grants, PIVOT EAST, DEMO Africa and several competitions. There are high expectations at competitions but lack of knowledge dealing with VC’s,” she said adding that, “There is need to grow local angel and VC networks and develop products to solve local problems. Lack of links with the local business community means there are no mentors, angel investors, employment and partnerships.”

“Entrepreneurship is not for all,” said Andrea Bohnstedt, a risk analyst and founder of Africa Assets. “Not everyone is an entrepreneur. Some of thse need to do internships to learn business processes and gain skills but they are expensive and leave quickly.”

Skills gap

On skills, most people agree with her.

A skills survey carried out a few years dubebd the Julisha report found that the ICT sector directly employs an estimated 27,000 professionals. Of the total IT employment in Kenya, IT support people represent the largest portion (27%), followed by Applications Systems Analysts and System Engineers (13% each).

Although an estimated 9,600 professionals are added to the ICT market each year, a third of the companies surveyed plan to contract external providers. The Julisha report reveals that software development and project management are the most in-demand skills for the 2011-2013 period and represent the areas with the widest skills gap.

But some firms are doing something about it. iHub has launched UX lab which trains develops on user experience design. iHub also has a research and consulting firm to help entrepreneurs up their products and also meet the needs of corporate firms in the market.

Microsoft4Afrika and Myskills programmes also promise to help improve the skills among entreprenuers.

But still Andrea that is not enough.

“Not everyone is supposed to start a company, some of these entrepreneurs need to get jobs to learn and get skills for business and no one.

Nikolai seems to agree to her line but the problem seems is not just skills but experience too firms to get entrepreneurs.

After getting the same caliber of entrepreneurs, the fund is looking elsewhere for entrepreneurs to fund. Though it is set to work with universities to help popularize its programs, it has set its eye on entrepreneurs from corporate circles, who are working at firms like Safaricom, orange, banks and NGO’s and not from hubs.

A reputable entrepreneur thinks those are minor problems but sees the country as the most unfavorable to start and run a business.

Unattractive  environment

Late Carey Eaton said the taxes imposed on startups setting up base in the country are so high and unattractive for anyone starting. Erik Hersman with his BRCK team also had similar problems with the tax authorities.

Hersman wrote on White African,

“FedEx called me with the news that a package we were waiting for had arrived. The true value of the components was listed on the package at $230. These were new plastic cases for the BRCK, as well as a couple modem and router components. The Kenya Revenue Authority decided that it actually should be valued at $300, and then charged 100% duty. To clear the package, we have to pay $300 (26,000 Ksh).

And as we speak, SleepOut, a hotel booking startup founded in the country has shifted its headquarter to Mauritius where the founder told TechMoran “on a more serious note Mauritius offers an excellent business environment for tech companies and the government has thus far been very supportive.”

And as the country loses the taxes, jobs for youth are going too.

As things deteriorate, these investors are not just sitting there and whining. Most of them are shifting base. 88mph’s Cape Town base looks to be lucrative. Just one of their last year’s startup has given them a worth exit and they are spreading their risks into many. They were also lucky to have a local fund partner with them in their earlier days of launch but their eye seems to be in Nigeria where they have partnered with a local partner to launch a new fund.

Nigeria’s debasing was another good PR and god forbid. PayPal’s setting up shop might be followed by Facebook setting up an office in Nigeria and business in Africa will change. Someone ought to start building the next Tencent or Alibaba than blogs for fashion football and fashion SMS apps for education and rent.

For nationalists however, not all hope is lost.

Local startups like Ma3Route, Able Wireless, Angani, BuyRentKenya, Chamasoft, eLimu, Soko,, Kopo Kopo, PesaPal, JamboPay, TicketSasa, CladLight are steadily rising. And to even count more blessings the investors themselves are beginning to look away from the hubs.

These however can’t be compared to IrokoTV, Wakanow, Paga, Konga, Takealot, Ubuntu,Healthcart, BidorBuy, Kalahari and a hundred others in Nigeria and South Africa.

Maybe worst is the reducing number of women founders in the country. Not sure if it’s a problem of sexism or just women fearing to venture out.

Sexism killing Kenya’s tech ecosystem

Ochieng Rapuro, the Managing Editor of the Business Daily speaking during the aftermath of the Next Big Thing competition, held at Strathmore University early this year said women never applied to join the competition and added that even during the Top40 under 40 women, few women nominate their friends or themselves unlike the men who come out in great numbers during their Top40 under 40 men.

True to what Rapuro said, most women disqualify themselves from some positions said Rachel Gichinga, a former iHub community manager and now Developer Outreach and Business Development Manager at Intel East Africa.

“I had no barriers, maybe just attitudes but I didn’t take them serious. I had great mentors like Orry Okolly among others and I think women should be trained to be more confident and need to be shown they can do it, though programs like Girl Rising, Girlscode among others. It should be done from high school,” Gichinga told TechMoran.

“There are women in prominent positions, but they are a small subset, say just 16 percent. Women need to be encouraged to take up more prominent positions. Women are traditionally influenced to submit. As founders, some meetings put down women CEO’s but in tech the problem is not as in the public sector. We just need to train women to be less risk averse,” Gichinga said.

Others think its not about encouraging women to stand out but teaching men to behave themselves. A 20 year-old who left Chicago for Nairobi was at first fascinated the hyped tech ecosystem in Kenya.

She bids her friends and family goodbye, leaving them in tears both of fear and of joy to come abd build an SMS education platform focused on non-profits and adult literacy programs.

True to her expectation, Nairobi was the tech powerhouse she had read about in international media. She went around a tour of all the hubs on week one. From iHub, the mother of all hubs, to m:Lab the mobile business incubator, to Nailab, to Startup Garage, to GrowthHub, iLab and iBiz at the Strathmore and everywhere she went, young entrepreneurs, boys and girls sat busy day after day building mobile and web apps to solve this or that problem. And Internet wasn’t so shitty after all and the Pizza was as great.

On week two, she gets herself set to start work on her SMS-based education startup. She meets a former school mate who joins her as a co-founder. A developer is hired, the site goes live and the USSD application, and then pilot begins in the slums. They go around talking to school dropouts in the slums, they sign them up to the platform and see if they can learn stuff they missed out in school. It works in the slums well. They then approach NGO’s, then corporates and  a business model gets on sight.

It strikes her that if they sign up just ten schools, it would be a great turn around. The idea of visiting the ministry of education comes up. A top down approach seems to be the quickest way for them to help impart skills to the youth, help them with homework and as well monetize, fast. They secure a meeting with someone senior at the ministry of education and they go back to their pitch decks practicing most nights, fingers crossed, ready to for a turnaround.

The meeting goes well. The officer looks convinced. He says the service is brilliant and of course, the deal is on but he is also has to talk to his seniors. And surely, he was ready to consult with his seniors; the ogas’s at the top as Nigerians say and everyone was excited. Then suddenly, before they could leave his office, he starts acting weird towards her, tells her how beautiful she is and offers to show her around, asks if they can do a drink sometime, and folks, that’s was the end of that partnership. We are not sure what happened to the business but we know the girl is now based in Jordan.

Stella Njoki of Zegetech told TechMoran, “The closest i have been to such a situation was with a client who threw words at me that were sexist and thought that I would be very desperate for the deal to entertain that kind of talk. He was the owner of the company but that put him into my ”black books as a person without integrity”.

Njoki says some women perceive tech company as a preserve for the male species as they think tech is hard. However, that is changing and an awakening is happening through initiatives such as Akirachix and more young women are becoming aware and are changing their mentality to think that tech is not that hard.

“First of all not so many women study STEM subjects in campus. Therefore you cannot start a tech company if you do not know about tech/have experience or classroom knowledge about tech to be aware of the opportunity to be a techpreneur. In my case, I personally did not study tech but I teamed up with people who were tech experts and I came in to bring in the non-tech aspect of a tech company which is business.

Njoki says she has never been disqualified because she was a woman. But has turned down a deal because the potential client had weird intentions. And though the industry seems more advantageous to men because they are the majority in the industry, women co-founders are advantaged especially with the latest government promise of giving youth and women priority in procurement and government funding.

“As a woman in tech and if you play your cards right you can get lots of advantages. Personally, there are opportunities that have opened up for the company and for myself because I am a woman co-founder. However, Njoki thinks culture and upbringing have a role to play in sexism.

“When men start to look at women as less equals and percieve that women are the weaker sex or that a woman’s place is in the kitchen and the attitude that women are not able to handle the pressure that comes with the tech industry, that’s bad.”

However, Njoki is happy that this is also changing as women become more educated and empowered, more respect is being given to Women in general and also women in the tech scene.

“I see more female founders coming up in the next few years but in order to get a head we have to work twice as hard as men because we have to prove ourselves through our work and to get the acceptance and validation that we are equally good enough,” says Njoki. “It will take renewal of the mind for respect is a choice. Men have to choose to respect women. I think more success stories on women that are doing great should be sought for, and told. As more stories are told to bring down the walls of sexism, the perception of the men will continue to change and they will choose to respect.”

But at times it’s not the bad bro mentality that’s dragging women but a lack of inspiration.

Speaking at iHub during a Startup Grind conference, Ory Okolloh said women needed to learn from other women in business to grow their business. She mentioned women in business Cynthia Nyamai, Ginadin Kariuki, Keroche’s Tabitha Karanja and technologist Njeri Rionge. She also urged women to partner with men and do businesses together and also learn to make decisions from them.

 Too high equity

And yet some entrepreneurs say raising $25,000 for a 10 to 20 equity stake is ridiculous and they would rather go to kickstarter or indiegogo. However, in an ecosystem without any success stories, it might be hard for an investor to pour half a million or more for a minority share. Firms like Kopo Kopo which raised $2.6 million, Soko which raised $700,000 from RIO Partners and others, Sleepout which raised $200,000 from African Media Ventures and recently BuyrentKenya’s recent raise are an exception.

There is hope though.

Savannah Fund has began Waterhole to curate resources for entrepreneurs. It has also partnered with Cape Town’s UCT to train entrepreneurs on VC funding. Savannah Fund will also train PIVOT East finalists on the same. There are several pHDs among the tech community too unlike in the past when IBM couldn’t get any PhD computer science research in the country to run its research lab.Nairobi Dev School and Akirachix have won some substantial grants to train and encourage girls to get into tech. One Africa Media is also set to start investing in local entrepreneurs in memory of the late Carey Eaton, its founder.

Apart from PIVOT East and some other competitions, entrepreneurs are choosing to stay in stealth to build their companies than court media without even figuring out their business model. Startups also know that 88mph, Savannah Fund and others are here for businesses and not into competitions and prize money.Platform’s such VC4Africa are also empowering entrepreneurs on VC funding, business models and fundraising and various other aspects both through the online platform and offline meetups and have helped several firms connect to investors, raise money and scale. Others are learning to bootstrap. For hardware guys, iHub’s GearBox is looking for guys who really want to get dirty and build stuff.



The Rise & Rise of Kenya’s Kopo Kopo

Ben (L) and Dylan (R)
Google's Eric Scmidt, iHub's Eric Hersman with the Kopo Kopo team
Google’s Eric Scmidt, iHub’s Eric Hersman with the Kopo Kopo team

When M-Pesa launched in 2007, many Kenyans didn’t give a fuss about it, it was just a convenient money transfer service, more convenient than the services of the day.

Seven years since it launched, M-Pesa has recorded numerous deposits and withdrawals, amounting to millions of dollars. The mobile money service is now used by over 70% of Kenya’s adult population and moving amounts of over 30% of Kenya’s GDP. Merchants, banks, public service vehicles, restaurants, websites and companies see M-PESA as  a golden goose. That’s Kopo Kopo’s partner by the way!

Kenya alone recorded over 25 million mobile transactions from just some 88,000 agents. With introduction of cashless payments, Kopo Kopo will be play a big role in many types of mobile money transactions, be it for school fees payments, hospital bills or for restaurants offline or online. M-Pesa remains significant, puts food on the table in hundreds of thousands of homes and will continue to do so and just like the launch of M-Pesa, Kopo Kopo’s start wasn’t glorious.

Lipa na M-Pesa
Lipa na M-Pesa

Rooted in M-Pesa

Founded in the summer of 2010 by Dylan Higgins and Ben Lyon, Kopo Kopo enables SMEs to accept mobile money payments, a move that is set to drive East Africa’s offline and online commerce. Kopo Kopo’s first stride to success was when it emerged a finalist at the Pivot25 in 2011 in the mobile commerce and mobile payments category, Kopo Kopo didn’t win, Lyon knew his mission wasn’t to win prizes but to change payments and eCommerce in Africa forever.

When I first sat down with Ben in late 2011, I had no idea if Kopo Kopo had a future but in his voice I could see a man out to do everything to succeed. Like young David facing Goliath, Lyon was already sure Kopo Kopo would be part of all our daily lives, on majorly all transactions, apart from just at restaurants and retail shops.

Media courtship or product development

Away from Nairobi, the global payments sector is not miniscule, according to global management consulting firm the Boston Consulting Group,  by 2022 payments and transaction-banking revenues will reach an estimated $1.1 billion, a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 8 percent. The revenue mix is expected to  shift toward account-related revenues as yield curves steepen and as pressure on transaction fees persists. The value of noncash transactions will reach an estimated $712 trillion by 2012, a CGAR of 7 percent.

As noncash transactions grow, so does Kopo Kopo’s clientele, its technology and the team; plus the quality of their services.  On its report card the firm passed 10,000+ retail merchants nationwide, making it Safaricom’s largest merchant aggregator, and one of the largest merchant aggregators in Sub-Saharan Africa. Add to these school fees payments, Matatu and websites this year and the number is set to more than double.

Unlike other businesses, Kopo Kopo has focused more on product development than having courtship with the media.

Lipa na M-Pesa
Lipa na M-Pesa

Steady business growth than lifestyle entrepreneurship

As it becomes one of the largest merchant aggregators in Sub-Saharan Africa, Kopo Kopo recently raised $2.7 million from Javelin Venture Partners and launched in Rwanda and Tanzania. While most local entrepreneurs shy away from VCs due to strict accountability, Kopo Kopo’s knows that building a living company means you answer to someone who has been there, done that and conquered than doing it all on their own.

The firm strategically occupies the corner of a modern office building on Ngong Road in Nairobi, a long way from the mere single room it had at m:lab and the single table it had at the iHub. Next to it is a cafe, serving drinks, snacks and fast foods to the building’s occupants. The cafe is a perfect meeting place for quick business meetings and that’s where I meet Dylan for our interview.

$2.7 million funding

Just behind the counter is a Lipa na M-Pesa notice allowing clients to pay for their orders by M-Pesa. I take out my recorder and order for an ice-cold Sprite as Higgins, the CEO Kopo Kopo, walks in. It’s a few minutes past eleven and I have 45 minutes with a man running a firm that’s already changing lives.

Awesome teamwork

Impressed by his friendliness and charisma, and his utmost simplicity, I put aside my notebook, forget about my recorder and like a student, literally digest every word from this man behind East Africa’s fastest growing payments startup. The story of the launch begins, I nod to this. Nod to that. And half into his second sentence I note his love for the team.

“We have over 40 fulltime staff members in our Nairobi office and a reasonable number in Rwanda and Tanzania. Kopo Kopo’s success is not a Higgins or Lyon’s doing,” Dylan says. “We have entrusted the company’s vision to each individual. Every one of our staff represents us and the company’s success is our entire role as a team and not as individuals.”

“Our various departments are passionate about what they are assigned to do. From our excellent developers, sales teams to account managers, we make up Kopo Kopo,” he adds.

He emphasizes that the entire team is instrumental in the company’s growth by saying growth would nearly be unachievable had it not been due to its great team.

Kopo Kopo hasn’t had a cozy rise to success and unlike the founders who have received grants and went on tour of the world; Dylan and Ben are frugal and have invested more into the firm than themselves.  No fancy cars, no weird parties and no yacht or exclusive dinners, as is the custom with expat counterparts in the country.

Focus on customer not competition

Higgins with his partner Lyon left the US after trying the product in their garage in the US. They piloted in it Sierra Leone before moving to Kenya where they settled.

KopoKopoThey began work on Kopo Kopo full-time at iHub and toiled with a team of three for nearly a year, sharing the iHub with hundreds of others. They then secured incubation at iHub’s sister arm m-Lab East Africa, with an own office plus constant guidance from Mbwana Aliy and Erik Hersman, managing partners at Savannah Fund. In the one roomed-office, Kopo Kopo grew until its team wouldn’t fit in that space.  The firm moved to a bigger office on the same building to accommodate its growing sales and IT team.  They kept growing. After a few months, they moved to where they are now.

Higgins does not talk about the funding. Neither does he mention any competitors, the firm’s focus is on customer satisfaction, he insists.

“We focus on the customer not the competition. We know that if we satisfy our customers, they’ll keep coming.”

Sinking home the old saying that the customer is king, a statement which has become a cliché among entrepreneurs but hasn’t lost its power yet.

savannah-fundLocal partnerships

With a skilled team on board and money in hand, and a virgin market, anyone would want to go it alone. But Kopo Kopo still believes in friendships. And they have at times been bad mouthed for courting Safaricom too much. Safaricom is their lifeline.

“ Kopo Kopo did a good job of “coptitition” with Safaricom, a deal that is helping it accumulate a lot of the value even up to today,” says Mbana Alliy, a managing partner at Africa-focused Savannah Fund.

“ Though “dancing with Safaricom” is risky, Kopo Kopo played correctly for a win-win.”

Higgins agrees. ‘We are who we are because of our partnerships. Like a marriage we spend many hours on these relationships making than work for both parties.”

“I think there is misunderstanding in the market.  We are not breaking up with Safaricom, they are not breaking up with us. We have a mutual partnership that will expect to deepen and widen in the months ahead.”

Look beyond Africa for Financing

With reports that Nigeria’s Konga.com has just raised $25 million, the biggest Series B on the continent to date from Sweden’s Kinnevik and South Africa’s Naspers. Higgins tells me startups in Africa can raise money anytime but the CEO’s need to look beyond Africa. They should be prepared to travel out of the continent to raise substantial amounts of funding, as the (East)African market is not as fully grown.

“It still is a matter of us finding those investors than them finding us as the marketing is still emerging here. There hasn’t been that many traditional series A’s. To all other startups in East Africa and sub Saharan Africa , be prepared for traveling and be prepared to have your CEO to spend a lot of time outside the continent, but that’s gone to true for sometime but not forever.”

iROKO-PartnersSome local examples

Though not close to what is happening in Silicon Valley, especially along series A and Series B financing, there’s an increasing growth of funds in Africa, with beneficiaries doubling by the day.

Rupu Kenya, SleepOut , EatOut, Nigeria’s iRoko Partners and One Africa Group of companies like Cheki, Jobberman and Private Property are some of the startups that have received funding from foreign investors. More angel investors are expected in this year. However, the funding does not validate that the continent’s mobile payments sector is lucrative, says Mbwana, especially for startups vs those that control the platform, (but) it validates getting on a growth path in financial services in Africa is valued.

“Iroko is in Nigeria, serving a lucrative LARGE diaspora and local market that is driving the business with what people really want and willing to directly pay for – online African entertainment,” Mbwana says adding that though, “startups in Africa can get funding anytime, it will only happen if they can prove to achieve scale in growth and/or revenue. This means serving multiple markets if a country is small or competitive with other players, lots of users and growth traction.”

168843_395956997134117_1451596925_nInflux of international players

African startups are is also getting major financing from as far as Europe with renown players such as the Berlin-based Rocket Internet which has heavily invested (and exited to MTN) in Africa and Asia, majorly setting up ecommerce portals across the continent such as Jumia, Kaymu, Lamidu, Jovago among others.

Rocket Internet is working with Millicon, Swedish Kinnevik, Summit Partners, JP Morgan and recently South Africa’s MTN Group. On the other hand is Tiger Global, Red Capital and South Africa’s Naspers investing in the likes of Iroko, Konga, One Africa Media Group among others. The two camps seem to be fighting for e-commerce in Africa. Ringier and SCM Ventures are on their own and are majorly into classified portals doing deals, jobs, news and marketplaces competing with OLX.

Local players are also many, represented by EvaFund , 4Di capital,  and seed funds such as Silvetree Capital, Savannah Fund and 88mph Africa with investment portfolio’s in just about every field and country in Africa. French and Arabic-speaking Africa has also not been left behind with funds such as Wamda Capital among others.

538332_489043051158844_309410937_nLooking into the future

The ecosystem improves every year on all fronts like most things in Africa, though in investing, caution ought to be taken as there are now corporate investors playing in the early stage (but) who are trying to tie in their own strategies or product/platform goals that startups should be wary of, warns Savannah Fund. Being too one-sided and sticking to investors that add value to build their businesses will help them focus on growth and revenue.

Looking into the future, Kopo Kopo wants to simplify lives through partnerships with mobile operators and banks across the continent that will make it easy for merchants anywhere on the continent to accept electronic transactions, move their money to the account and institution of their choice and do it all on one easy-to-use and accessible interface – Kopo Kopo.