Founded and operated by Wamani Trust, Kenya’s ipaidabribe.or.ke was a bribery monitoring and reporting platform allowing people in Kenya from all walks of life to report bribery and corruption instances for free and anonymously.
The site was launched at a time when Kenya was the world’s third most corrupt country only behind South Africa and France according to audit firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC). Like India’s I Paid a Bribe, over 80 percent of reports are about police, govt officials and bureaucrats seeking illicit bribes before they can provide public services which are supposed to be free or illegal altogether or to get away with a punishable offense.
In Kenya, traffic police are the most naughty for getting bribes from public service transport vehicles whether the drivers of the cars are in the wrong or not. It’s become so usual that drivers pay for bribes without question to gain favor of the traffic police officers. Some other bribes include paying for police abstracts, birth certificates, Passports among others. It’s unheard off for victims of crime to report these officers for fear of victimization in case of repeat services. Anonymous reporting was aimed at helping whistle blowers avoid potential issues of libel and defamation or assassination in case the corruption report is massive.
Anthony Ragui, the ipaidabribe founder had earlier said the site hit over 500 bribery reports. These were majorly reports about corrupt traffic police officers asking for bribes, to officials at the immigration department asking for bribes for passports and national I.Ds and school principals asking for bribes before admitting students to schools. Other cases of bribery included university lecturers asking for bribes from their students, magistrates and court clerks destroying court files and other cases such as bribing officers driving license among others.
Though the site was popular, Rangui never figured out how to sustain or make money from it. Unlike his counterparts in India who got financing from organizations such as the Omidyar Network to develop and sustain the site, Rangui struggled on his own from day one and apart from media excitement, Rangui was always on his own; probably depressed for never building a support network of people or organizations to keep the site up.
The failure to add USSD integration also meant users needed to have data to use the site-at the time when internet penetration was low and data so costly.
Apart from reporting corruption acts, the site would have also done educative or awareness initiatives to allow the public learn and engage each other on the online forums and should as well have come up with ways of rewarding officers who didn’t take bribes to encourage more users. The site would have reached out to governance and law enforcement and transparency and accountability organizations for both offline and online support.
If it was still up today, the site would be so important to report tender corruption and vote-buying in real time especially as the country gets into an election in August this year.
Launched by ex-Carmudi Nigeria employees, Linda.com.ng, was a dating site which expected to make it easy for singles in Nigeria to find and date other singles easily conveniently and lead to long-term relationships and celebrated marriages.
During the launch Jimi Akinleye, the founder of Linda.com.ng said, “Every single person in the country wants to connect with a member of the opposite sex. They do this because they believe such a connection would lead to a long lasting relationship. Often times, it leads to marriages. We want to be the bridge for such level of interaction. We want to be the go-to place for meeting new people, starting new relationships that would be long lasting and could also lead to marriages.”
Akinleye added that the platform aimed at spurring interaction and engagement. The site also promised to roll-out a couple of packages to increase matches and engagement among users before unveiling premium packages for members. According to a 2016 report by Marketdata Enterprises Inc, the global dating services industry is worth $2.5 billion in the United States alone with online services accounting for 70 percent of the market’s value with sites such as Match.com, Plenty of Fish, eHarmony among others. Linda.com.ng aims to capture some of that market. Unfortunately the site didn’t last.
According to Akinleye, the site was shut down because of some reasons.
High customer acquisition costs
“We were unable to acquire as many customers that we needed to keep us afloat. Customer acquisition costs for dating sites can be quite high, and the only way to recoup your cost is via native ads or user subscriptions,” Akinleye told TechMoran. “While the native ads was a long shot due to the engagement levels on the site, the subscription model was quite possible but it never really took off.”
Too low numbers
Linda.com.ng’s numbers were too low and for every $2 paid by the customer, the firm had to split it 20:80 with the mobile network providers. The telecoms got the larger share and this meant that Linda.com.ng had to fork out thousands of dollars to acquire and engage the users only to receive cents each time.
There were lessons various lessons the team learned too.
Bad timing and poor choice of market
“Choose your market carefully,” said Akinleye. “We launched this business in Nigeria because we are Nigerians. A better country would have been one with a moderate population and mobile money access. Sites like Badoo, Twoo, and even Tinder are operational in Nigeria, but I’m sure they make more money from countries like Kenya or North American countries like Brazil and Argentina. As at then, when we launched, it was a bit difficult getting a favorable deal from the telcos when it comes to mobile payment, but I think its better now.”
If it were online today, Akinleye says Linda.com.ng would focus more on offline and build organically because acquiring thousands of users who visit the site once a week or whenever they get a newsletter is not as cool as building a tribe of users who understand what it is you do and why they joined.
Simplify your product
By simplifying one’s product growth would be slowed, but it also means your users would become more addicted said Akinleye. The firm regrets not launching channels where people could share their relationship problems and get comments from others. This could be in the form of a blog which would be publicized on high traffic blogs because everyone likes to comment on issues.
Akinleye says entrepreneurs should embrace failure if they have to grow.
“Working on Linda taught me a lot, and that experience has helped other startups that I have been involved in either as advisors or as a consultant. The experience you get will give you first-hand knowledge of what to do better next time,” said Akinleye who’s now deeply into e-commerce and owns a few niche commerce businesses in Nigeria and Ghana. He also heads a content marketing agency based in San Diego which helps online businesses in creating excellent content for blogs and social network.
Did you learn anything from this story?
Tell us about your failure in the comments section below.
The debit card was targeting small and medium-sized enterprises but Nation Media Group and its sister firm Diamond Trust Bank, (DTB) didnt know what to do with the card after launch. Customer support was poor and NMG had no clue what to do with it. Apart from one or two diaspora targeted campaigns NMG kept paying bloggers to push the card online instead of actually reaching out to merchants and users to increase its adoption.
NationHela card was issued by DTB Bank and Nakumatt Supermarkets at Kshs. 500 and was linked to one’s mobile phone number and the NationHela online platform. The firm had expected users especially Kenyans in the diaspora to send money to Kenya to their friends and family from their bank accounts to a Nation Hela card in Kenya. It was also expected to be a savior to the then growing online buyer population who were expected to use NationHela card for their online payments or purchases.
According to Herbert Rajula, then the Nation Hela’s Commercial Manager, the card was to be used to facilitate payrolls and for general purposes.
“We have, therefore, targeted Jungle Nuts in Thika to kick start our project. Registration is ongoing for the 1,800 staff”, said the commercial manager during the launch.
Customers were allowed to deposit up to $10,000 in their accounts to kick start its use. Other companies, Rajula said , which were approached to take up Nation Hela, were Van De Berg flower farm in Naivasha, KAPA oil, PwC and struggling Mumias Sugar. DTB Pre-Paid Card programme manager Gilbert Shigoli believed that low income earners receive money from relatives abroad and for this reason there was the need to tap into the market by registering SMEs’ staff.
ionacloud was never going to ship from day one, and everyone knew it but no one dared ask the team any real infrastructure questions as cloud was the latest buzzword in the country’s tech scene in mid 2011 just months shy of the undersea fibre optic cables craze.
To give a little history, ionacloud was coined from three English words, I, Own and Cloud. I and Own reveal a lot about the startup. The first major blow to ionacloud is it never had a team even though the founders Wilson Kageni and Allan Juma were close friends and spent nearly 23 hours together working on it. ionacloud was Kageni’s baby and the concept became bigger in their minds even before they could ship any product. Juma had little control over the ionacloud concept and little input on what to do. Though the two guys had timelines, they were only written in the CEO’s mind.
It was never going to go anywhere without team chemistry, defined roles and boundaries and if it had succeeded, it wouldn’t last post revenue and a huge power struggle was brewing among the co-founders.
Just a little history, ionacloud was supposed to launch somewhere between 1 Dec 2011 to 12th December 2011 as the first free mainstream Personal Cloud Computing service allowing users to get private, fully customizable desktop environments inside their ionacloud accounts. It was like buying a PC but in the cloud. ionacloud or call it a virtual PC was only accessible to you as the owner with possibility of use across all devices and across all regions. Kageni’s pitch at various conferences like at the EastAfricaCom in 2012 months after the firm’s supposed launch did them more harm than good and made the founders bigger than the non-existent product. Instead of getting their hands dirty to ship the product, even jumbled up non functioning insecure cloud, the founders became conference speakers and moderators but we all could have fallen for the limelight anyway!
First forward to 2017, ionacloud never actually existed, TechMoran is not sure if there was any company registered in that name apart from a landpage taking in registrations at ionacloud.com. There was never a personal or enterprise or hybrid cloud service serving individuals and offices. There was even never a file shared or stored by any individual or company. ionacloud for entprise could be today’s Slack allowing business clients to share files, communicate and collaborate on projects in an office einvronment or remotely in the field. With the promise to upload up to 1 Terabyte of files ionacloud would have been massive. It’s promise of live collaboration could have had more users locally than Google Drive and Dropbox combined locally.
Just before its planned launch, ionacloud announced it would give away 1 million free Cloud PCs to the general public to allow them to test drive its free cloud but that would have been a red flag as not many people were connected to the internet in the country then and even those who were connected did so at work or from cybercafes and tech hubs that were the in thing too.
Apart from conferences, the media was also to blame for ionacloud’s dead before it launched. Instead of treating it as a concept at idea stage, the media sold the team as experts on cloud at the moment giving them airtime to speak on the future of cloud in the country and the advantages firms could stand to benefit. The benefits were true, cloud is central to any business aiming at rapid growth but without a product ionacloud become one of the first Silicon Savannah wordy risky experiment by incubating itself in public by failing to build an actual product to ship to the market for the entire 2012.
Like a grass to grace story, a year later, ionacloud gave birth to WebDesk, a Slack for students and teachers at local universities. Like ionacloud, WebDesk was aimed at putting everything a lecturer or student needed on one virtual desk. Using various free courseware, tools and resources, WebDesk aimed to help students and teachers to connect do assignments and get feedback from their teachers in real-time minus wasting time and eliminating other cumbersome logistics. WebDesk’s also died the same death, minus a serious user on boarding strategy and a proper lack of patience an tenacity among the team.
Though the team was smart enough to sell literally nothing to the public and remain relevant until their next hit remains a mystery that many startups like M-Farm and Kytabu have adopted.
Jooist, was a social gaming platform for feature phones that enabled users to discover games and play games on their own or with their friends, earn points and compare scores and achievements with whoever was in their gamer network.
Early in the day, Waliaula Makokha, Jooist’s founder & CEO, a young brilliant man armed with a Computer Science degree from University of London and his friend and co-founder and COO Brian Obara also with a Computer Science degree from William Patterson University of New Jersey and Paul Kamau, co-Founder and CTO, an ex-PayPal engineer with a 1st class Honours in Computer Science from JKUAT, knew the sky was the limit.
The three musketeers built the gaming platform simply by providing a platform to third party mobile game publishers, add social features and open up a stadium-like to integrate social features into their games through our patent pending platform.
Unlike today’s sports betting sites popularised by daily prizes and weekly or million dollar jackpots for players who would dare bet correctly, the Jooist marketplace had gamers playing and winning non-cash prizes and game publishers would at times insert adverts inside the games making the games less rewarding than sports betting. Makokha told TechMoran that if he was to start allover again, Sports Betting would be his number one choice even if it meant spending lots of money on servers and marketing campaigns because players want real time rewards rather than fame or popularity.
However, Makokha doesn’t regret everything. After building a platform to offer games via their custom web and mobile portal in partnership with mobile networks to their subscribers, it got some backing from GrowthAfrica accelerator, and these helped it to sign up a number of international partners and won several prizes.
In 2013, Jooist won Seedstars Startup World Nairobi held at the GrowthHub. Jooist beat 17 other startups from Kenya to emerge the regional Seedstars World start-up competition winner. Uhired.me emerged third while Lipisha came second, both startups incubated at GrowthHub.
At that time Jooist had its product clearly developed and already on the market. Some of its achievements included contracts with device manufacturers to supply social gaming software and content e.g. Samsung Africa, Tecno Telcom. Contracts with mobile agencies to sell targeted mobile ads via our mobile channels e.g. Thumbtribe, South Africa and TwinPine, Nigeria. Contracts with mobile game publishers to provide high quality, Jooist-enabled games to its platform e.g. Contracts with mobile game publishers to provide high quality, Jooist-enabled games to our platform e.g. Herocraft (Russia), FuguMobile (China), Indiagames (India), SoftGames (Germany) and Booster (The Netherlands) and it has recently signed contracts with two local mobile carriers.
It went on to partner with Miniclip SA, a mobile and online games company launched in 2001 based in Switzerland, to distribute their inventory of web games in Africa. The firm was also working on a partnership with Kongregate Games to distribute their content in Africa as well.
There was a time Jooist was serving over 100,000 downloads per month, who were giving them 1.5M page views per month and 500K unique monthly visitors.
The firm also launched Jooist for Flash platform formatted for desktop web with 300 games from Miniclip in addition to its Jooist for Java formatted for feature phones and Jooist for HTML 5 formatted for smartphone devices. The firm had 1000+ games across all its platforms and was working on Android and Windows Phone platforms.
Later it pivoted from an ad based model to a subscription based model to allow users pay just KES 10/= a day to enjoy over 1,000 games across over 2,000 devices. The firm is also in talks with WeChat and UCWeb Browser to help distribute Jooist games.
The firm later pivoted from a “social gaming network for mobile phones” to a “cross-platform gaming network (for all kinds of devices).”
With just KES 10/= anyone could access games across all major platforms from Symbian S40 and S60, MTK, Android, Windows Phone and all modern mobile and desktop browser. Jooist had a daily maximum download limit for downloadable games and unlimited access and play for browser based games. Users could chose to pay KES 50 per week or KES 100 per month where they get to save more as they get “free” days in return for upfront payment.
Jooist’s old model was ad-based which proved a tough call to monetize as advertisers did not perceive any ROI on the ad spend on feature phones and secondly, such users did not have purchasing power even though they had intent. Thirdly, rendering ads on feature phones was tough with 2,000+ feature phone models with varying browser brands. Ads on feature phones also could not yield as much as rich format ads that can be served on smartphones as such they are mainly sold via blind ad networks that don’t really pay well and one has no control over issues like brand safety among others.
“The reason for the phased approach is that our billing is based on shortcodes and we are yet to acquire the same from Airtel in Kenya and the different mobile networks in our target countries,” he told TechMoran.
Players used to pay for the games via Premium Rated SMS but acquiring shortcodes and integration to telco-billing systems was not easy.
The firm changed its focus on Kenya but still could not get it right. Jooist says it was too early in the market and most of the publishers it relied o didn’t get the logic. It could also didn’t raise enough money to sustain itself and it was not making any cash.
Closet49 was one time Kenya’s only online marketplace for trendy, fashionable, unique and eclectic items but seems to have succumbed to cheap new imports after a long-fought battle, sustained for nearly five years.
Launched in 2012 by Serah Kanyua and Irene Abagi with seed funding from 88mph, the fashion marketplace connected upcoming designers, boutique stores, and pieces straight from individual consumer closets and had over 9,500 active buyers via its site and social mediapages at its peak.
The startup had at one time signed up 58 traders and designers and even opened its API for anyone to use their platform to sell their wares minus.
If we say the girls were not devoted we lie. At one time, Kanyua arduously ran the platform on her own showing up for interviews, sourcing for trendy clothes from designers around town and did recruiting, PR and probably customer care and firefighting alone and deserves a hug.
However, the time for Closet49 had just come and every entrepreneurs knows when to give in to mounting pressure to move on to new things and avoid depression.
With the entry of cheap imports into town from the likes of Mr. Price, Jumia Fashion, among others, it was no longer trendy to swap or buy a secondhand outfit, especially from people you might meet at social function tomorrow. Clothes are so personal even siblings in most families rarely share clothes.
Though mentally agonizing, Kanyua didn’t give up easily. She remembers her campus days when she was inspired to start the online fashion site.
“I began selling clothes to friends while at University,” she told CNN. “My friends and I merged ideas to sell affordable fashion to people that didn’t want to pay too much and also give opportunity for people to sell clothes they do not want in their closet, that are still in good condition. They were able to get extra cash for their old clothes and find new cloths through this system.”
After graduating with a marketing degree, Kanyua knew that was what she wanted to do and passed over jobs to pursue her dream but after raising seed from 88mph, no one was willing to fuel the woman-led startup to grow. If the women and youth fund had been led by sensible leaders, Closet49 would be here today and a household fashion name for both kids and grownups.
After operating from her living room to save money, Kanyua expected Closet 49 to make a million shillings in annual profits in a year or two but like all the marketplaces out there, Closet49 does not own the clothes and the commissions earned depend on the inventory and the number of sales.
To increase the sales, one needs to have a variety of assorted clothing and to sell more, one needs to market more; and that is capital intensive.
Only connecting buyers and sellers when you have less traffic means you grow slowly. To move fast, Closet49 tried having its own inventory to maintain high quality as there’s a bit of control. However, setting up a good online and updating your inventory daily means spending more.Closet49 didn’t have the money for a word-class developer or for trendy inventory.
At the end of the day, we all tire, learn what we had to learn and launch something new.
Even if it dies forever, Closet49 will be remembered for helping customers looking for convenience, variety and affordability of online shopping by helping the avoid exorbitantly priced clothes in physical stores as well as opening up careers for young fashion designers and boutique traders to earn a living as well as grow their careers. Instagram might have been a plus to Closet49 had it been used heavily, but its also doing the same for everyone now.
Closet49 could still rebrand into a fashion blog to keep its members informed on the latest fashion news, events happening around them, and DIY beauty guides.
Despite having Dr. Bitange Ndemo, former PS; Ministry of Information & Communications as an advisor and mentor, Shakili.com, a peer-to-peer learning platform that aimed to connect educators to students and experts to professionals around their talents, careers, and interests never took off.
Founded by Nest Africa magician Muthuri Kinyamu, and friends Zack Kiuna and Nick Stewart, Shakili was coined from Share and Akili Swahili for knowledge as a knowledge sharing platform.
Kinyamu told TechMoran that Shakili woukd enable users to set up e-schools and create courses online and share knowledge and content with peers and their educators, researchers, motivation speakers like me and not-so-fanatic religious leaders.
On the eve of the Shakili’s launch he said the start-up expected to ease digital content sharing and networking among varsity students and educators.
“Through Shakili educators can create, upload and share digital content in various formats with students to make learning more fun and mobile and make learning possible beyond the school borders,” he said adding that it was a great idea as none of the local universities meet the recommended teacher-student ration.
We believed him until he took up another magician job at Growth Hub and became so vocal on Twitter forgetting to help lecturers connect virtually with their students-an intrusion students abhor to death.
“Our curriculum needs to be progressive to current needs of industry and marketplace. Shakili.com provides a chance for industry to also offer courses. Professionals are looking for ongoing learning and career development without necessarily incurring the costs of a traditional education. Shakili allows users to take up self-scheduled courses that allow flexible learning at their own pace.”, the team said.
Shakili’s primary target users were universities & colleges where lecturers or students create e-schools and courses to upload & share study content and aggregate already existing educational content from the web to the courses created.
Research Institutions, Corporate entities and NGO’s that want to share educative content in a social could also use it as well as speakers, coaches, tutors and consultants and bloggers and content creators.
Shakili’s value proposition was the magic of presence – with peers and teachers, the almost infinite access in the virtual world and the democratization of education by offering access to high quality content for students and giving experts a platform to share knowledge with interested learners.
The platform aimed at offering people the opportunity to expand knowledge & pursue their interests without dedicating fixed periods of time to fit in a university schedule like what Eneza Education is doing with Shupavu; but in a controlled environment.
With the potential to change lives by making the process of learning fun and mobile, Shakili never hit step one of their mission particularly because higher education in Kenya is limited to the physical contact and the lecturer determines the format of learning. Digital platforms are only used to send students notes and class assignments.
At the time of launch, the education sector was highly closed from one university to the other. Universities never shared knowledge even though they shared lecturers and tutors. Shakili was also never well marketed and might never have on boarded any university students or lecturers and even if it had; user on-boarding in institutions of higher learning for education is not an easy feat especially when the founders are not lecturers.
Adults, non-traditional learners or people that just need a little extra skill to advance in their careers had hardly heard of a browser leave alone an online learning platform.
Competition from platforms such as Blackboard among others have made entry into the virtual classroom industry not as easy as it appears.
Kinyamu, might have been overconfident about his venture with somehow strong connections then as the lead strategist at Social Edge Africa; a social media agency and as the troublemaker at SocialPRO social media clubs for universities which both doing so well.
Long in the days of GPRS (2G and 3G) feature phones, ambitious Mbugua Njihia launched Sembuse.com, a Java-based messaging and content platform long before Twitter became mainstream app and before Facebook lost its cool and became overpopulated.
Mr. Njihia wanted something to do different after realizing he wasn’t a fit into the International Business Degree he had enrolled in at USIU-Africa in 2005, he quickly decided to concentrate on the ongoing business plan competition at the university instead of studies.
Launched nearly five years after the launch of Facebook and four years after South Africa’s Mxit, Sembuse, which was a free app at m.sembuse.com and at s.zunguka.com aimed to make money via advertising and premium SMS alerts-something Mr. Timothy is still obsessed with at Symbiotic Media.
Then 25 years old, Mr. Njihia conceptualized and built the earlier versions of Sembuse in 2008 to help feature phone (premium users then) users get online, connect with their favorite brands, and help telcos sell more data when mobile internet penetration was at its lowest. Corporate firms would as well sell their wares to the users or just advertise them via SMS alerts or notifications.
Users would also talk to their friends and family through the 50 cent, 1000 character Sembuse Messaging Suite compared to the then Ks3.50 160 character SMS from telcos. With so much in the future of social networking on feature phones, Njihia sunk in around Ksh 4 million from friends, family and fools but his fortune didn’t last as months after that $100 worth Huawei Ideos hit the market.
Our first experience with Sembuse early in 2009 wasn’t fantastic but it just blew us because Sembuse was built locally and we wanted to have real friends than Facebook which still had not so many people we knew in person apart from former school mates.
The joy of it all wasn’t the news alerts, gossip rants, mobisodes or the stock market alerts which we did care a bit about after the massive 2008 Safaricom IPO but the fact that Njihia had built a hyper-targeting ad platform with an internal payment gateway and in-app metrics by just playing with computers at Starehe Boys High School gave us hope that somehow someway Africa was going to built its own Facebook. Until Sembuse was no more.
Through social engineering, Sembuse grew to a total of 214,000 users and 30,000 users active monthly before it sunk into oblivion. Had Sembuse been here today, it would have pivoted into a parent-teacher network or a browser-based or SMS interactive service for utility providers or today’s Ongair-like service.
BookNow, a bus booking platform was founded in September of 2013 and headquartered in Nairobi – Kenya, and was the first and only bus travel market place for East Africa.
BookNow aimed to aggregate multiple bus companies in East Africa in a move to help users to easily search for and book buses to their destinations via their mobile phones. BookNow aimed to take this time-wasting and offline service totally online and it was a noble move.
88mph saw the move as noble too and together with various investors such as Mahendra K.D. Shah, Ravi Shah, Ritesh Doshi among others put in $75,000 in July 2014. Confirming to TechMoran on the funding, Francis Gesora, Co-Founder and CEO of BookNow said, “We have raised $75,000 from angel investors and the bulk of this is going to be used on hiring customer support staff and to accelerating growth and also improve our product offering.”
Earlier the firm had raised $15,000 from 88mph alone putting the investments into the the firm at $90,000. Withn the cash, the firm embarked on signing up as many bus companies as possible to allow its users get as much information about various trips and the charges from the various players in the market. They had information about bus travel, ticket booking and how to make payments, print your receipts and locate the bus before the journey commenced.
The firm also marketed itself as a secure marketplace enabling bus travellers around East Africa to view bus schedules, choose their best bus company, select seat, place their bookings and plan their trips anywhere in Kenya, Uganda or Tanzania.
What users needed to do was simply visit the site, search for buses that ply the route they plan to travel and by the date of travel. There were more than fifty bus operators in East Africa at that time and each operator had their own routes, fares and departure and expected arrival times as well as amenities provided en-route.
BookNow also had special packages for groups or corporates willing to book a bus to a different destination than normal especially during company functions such as weddings’ burials. competitions among others. With the cash, the firm set up a 24/7 contact center attending to customers via email, voice calls among others. Payments were done via mobile money during a reservations window. The passenger then gets his or her tickets via their mobile phones then they produce the message at the bus for verification before boarding.
Just why do you think caused the death of BookNow?
BookNow didn’t totally die. Though the website is still online, the company behind the software has gone into oblivion after being heavily hit by a failure to raise a follow-on funding to stay afloat. The platform’s front-end reservation engine works but no one is sure if bus companies still get the SMS reservation alerts or they have ignored categorically decided to ignore such reservations and there is no follow up or conversion of a reservation into a real booking and payment.
This makes a direct call to a bus company more effective. As a marketplace, BookNow can be used by one to search for available bus operators but no one is going to pay for this; therefore the business of BookNow is essentially dead even though the software is accessible online and 30 percent functional.
Dependency on data
Another reason and one of the biggest causes of its ineffectiveness is the dependency on data for both the bus staff and passengers and data was expensive then and there was no added value from book now apart from the promise of filling up bus seats.
Most of Kenya’s Bus booking industry is still offline because of a poor relationship between bus staff who are mostly semi-educated and the developer community which has a savior syndrome. Most developers see a problem and think of saving the industry than helping stakeholders cut costs, save time and become effective. A USSD platform would have come in handy.
To earn revenue from BookNow, the firm had to charge a commission on every booking. This means, bus operators had to hike the fares or lose some of the money in commission which they were not ready to. Commission scared many away from fully going online. The need for cash to pay touts, loaders and bribe police also makes the transport system a cash sector as its harder to pay such bribes or take home a loot if all the money is paid into a company account or an M-Pesa Pay Bill account; thereby making it hard for BookNow to really take over the whole passenger on-boarding process.
Bus operators are less interested in such sector reforms because of lack of time, fear of scrutiny by tax agencies and many of them in advanced ages and are rigid to change. System breaches make automation a challenge to many family owned businesses.
Advent of Lipa Na M-Pesa
The advent of Lipa Na M-Pesa for merchants opened a door for bus operators to do their own online ticket booking via their social media pages and websites minus relying on a third-party providers such as BookNow who needed to be paid a commission.
These buses also need cash to pay for fuel, bribe the police, buy stuff on the way and even do minor repairs and leaks which might occur on the road. by relying heavily on a cashless BookNow, most of these operations would be a nightmare; this led to slow and to almost zero adoption.
As the first bus booking platform in the region, BookNow aimed to avoid the congestion and commotion associated with last-minute bus bookings in the region by providing travellers with a pre-booking option but most of the bus operators profit from the commotion and chaos associated with bus booking.
Profit from chaos
It’s easier for bus operators to set up such an online system. However, bus operators do rely on goons and unemployed touts to fill their seats for their major trips. The chaotic touts force some of the gullible passengers to take a bus they have never heard of or one they never planned to travel with in the first place. By introducing such a system, bus operators think they would take a long time to fill their buses and they will have fewer trips a day hence reducing their revenues.
Founded by Joseph Muchene, a Certified Public Accountant – Kenya, and Charles Muchene, an Electrical and Electronics Engineer, Cladlight wanted to develop a smart jacket for Kenya’s growing motorcycle transport industry informally called boda bodas.
The brothers conceptualized and designed a smart wearable and interactive jacket to help bicycle riders in East Africa to improve their visibility, day or night, while clearly showing intents to turn left, right or brake to avoid road accidents, which stood at over 3,000 to 10,000 a year according to WHO.
The two were selected to join an acceleration programme at the Nailab, a Narobi-based accelerator and a few weeks into it hired Michael Gathogo, a hardware enthusiast, as a project manager.
At the time, Charles told TechMoran, “There’s an increase in ‘bodabodas’ (public transport motorcycles) in Kenya, and as a result many inexperienced youths are rapidly acquiring one for business. In turn, there is a high level of road accidents involving these motorbikes,” he said. “Since the law requires that all these riders to wear a reflective jacket, we aim to launch a line of indicator reflective jackets for them.”
Cladlight was inspired by their dream for a road-safe society. It’s reflective, indicator jackets would be used not just by ‘bodaboda’ riders but could be used for safety at assembly plants, warehouses, machine rooms among others. It’s also wanted to work with fitness enthusiasts.
Cladlight did get off the ground. The firm did design its first prototype and set up an online store for orders; which is still up. But that was the far it went.
Competition after competition, the team mesmerized everyone with their innovation but like an idea too early for its time, Cladlight never signed up a huge government contract or motorcycle dealer or Sacco. If it did ship out any jacket, it was the only sample for Demo Days-famous pitch days where most African startups showcase their products and prove they are still alive even if they have no single customer.
With no funds to mass produce the indicator jackets which had transmission devices integrated to the motorcycle’s lighting or indication system, Cladlight had no future. With no subsidies to lower the prices to as low as $30 and still earn a profit, Cladlight was cursed to remain but a great idea on a website.
The idea was noble, when a rider brakes, the device in the jacket was to relay the signals wirelessly and turn on the lights on the jacket to warn the approaching car or rider that his colleague is about to either take a turn on a junction or stopping to drop or pick a passenger. If there was any single policy requiring this, maybe the government would have factored investing in them than the recent launch Huduma Card for cashless payments which died on launch.
During launch, Charles expected Cladlight to be a household name in East Africa, supplying and maintaining indicator reflective jackets. This saw them raise a paltry Ksh 1 million seed funding to help them improve the design of their jackets and make them more cool for everyone and for any weather.
“Though it’s not close to what we need, we are grateful to have received it as it will help us buy components, improve the quality and design of the jackets as the existing ones are not long-lasting. With this money we want to come up with better designs and all weather proof so many people can use them,” Charles told TechMoran.
Cladlight would go on to raise another €9,500 euro for the same smart motor jacket via crowdfunding 1%Club and the Cheetah Fund, money from the Dutch National Postcode Lottery.
Bart Lacroix, Director 1%Club said: “The new generation of African pioneers will no longer wait until the money floats to them. This Cheetah generation has innovative ideas and are enthusiastic and driven to kick-start their projects themselves. They want to show that they themselves can build their own country. The future of impact funding will move away from the classic top-down investments to more and more bottom up local crowdfunding matched by larger impact funds.”
Though more money was flowing into impact investing, Cladlight seemed to have missed it as well as other African social entrepreneurs who want to change the problems they see in their societies. They found it difficult to raise capital as they had no sales and no revenues. They had no hockey-stick growth, they were fresh graduates with less boardroom experience and their manufacturing costs couldn’t match the boda boda’s purchasing power in the streets.
There was no hardware innovation around before Able Wireless and BRCK came on the scene. Maybe the jackets would have been for hire or just simple stickers would have worked than entire jackets. It could be easier to argue that motorcycles already have indicators and the riders needed no complicated electrical jackets but the idea was noble and when Africa brings back bicycles and motorcycles back to our roads in some developed cities; the jackets will be a hit.
Founded in December 2012 and launched in May 2013, SafariDesk was a travel marketplace and vacation booking platform connecting travelers to offers, discounts, and travel rewards from travel providers in East Africa.
With $25k in seed funding in December, 2012 from Savannah Fund, Irvine Ndwiga, the CEO and Paul Hunkin, the CTO aimed to give users personalized travel information from leading travel providers via their site Safaridesk.com after living in Australia and New Zealand respectively.
The idea was noble, there was no online travel booking platform connecting vendors with travelers with centralized payments, ratings, reviews, communication, support and presentation. SafariDesk wanted to integrate mobile and social platforms to make it an experiential travel platform to help users discover and plan amazing vacation experiences in off-the-grid destinations in East Africa.
SafariDesk promised to handpick a selection of amazing locations that its users would love. All they had to do was browse around and find their favourite spots. Then they would connect with the vendor via SMS and pay for this experiences with ease online from the platform.
Safaridesk also allowed users to pay with Bitcoins from wherever they would be. At that time, SafariDesk said, “When all is settled, make the payment through our secure payment gateway using a number of payment methods. All major credit cards accepted, along with Bitcoin.”Focusing on their mission to make Safari less demanding and less work, SafariDesk added they would be featuring amazing destinations for users as well as add new and exciting features all the time.
It’s not just Safari, SafariDesk also wanted added a community platform to allow its users to share their experiences with the SafariDesk travelers community. Users would read about the epic tales from its community of intrepid explorers.
Unfortunately, the co-founders didn’t connect and even failed to raise a follow-on funding to bring their dreams to full maturity.
This is our second article in the Obituaries series after SleepOut which vows to be revamped into a better platform when it’s resurrected.
Launched in Kenya in May 2012, SleepOut.comwas 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.
In 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.