Over the past few weeks, cryptocurrencies, in particular, Bitcoin, has made headlines with its exponential growth, increasing its value by nearly $1000 overnight. This has played well for those who had jumped into the gravy train earlier on. While cryptocurrency is gaining believers every day, it is acquiring similar numbers in skeptics as well.
Bitsoko is a Kenyan company that has performed particularly well in this area. In this interview Bitsoko COO, Frank Deya tels us more about his company and the cryptocurrency scene.
Tell me about yourself, the Bitsoko team and about your journey as a
company so far.
My name is Frank Deya, I’m the Chief Operations Officer at Bitsoko. We have a team of 12 full time staff who consist of software developers,hardware developers, marketing and business development, administration and finance. Our entire team is under the age of 30, vibrant, hardworking and really talented especially in a relatively new and soon to be disruptive technology. We have been operating actively for over two years.
What does Bitsoko do? What does it have to do with bitcoins as the name
Bitsoko is driving mass adoption of digital currencies like bitcoin in Kenya. We are undertaking this through provision of merchant services. We target micro, small and medium businesses by developing enterprise solutions that enable them to ‘professionalize’ their operations. This is done by incorporation customer loyalty solutions, inventory management, customer feedback, e-commerce, customer analytics among other enterprise solutions; all implemented on the blockchain. The customer loyalty service was initially being implemented by awarding customers bitcoins as rewards for shopping or spending at a store; however, we have switched to ethereum and other altcoins which carries the advantage of enabling development of additional applications on top. We are also developing hardware that incorporates Internet of Things (IoT)technology that will offer businesses visibility by creatively advertising and showcasing their offers and promotions while at the same time connecting them directly with the customer through their mobile devices. Narra, is the name of the sign device in development, it sends automatic notifications to customer mobile devices which are in close proximity to where it is installed. The applications of Narra cut across various sectors from events, transport,retail etc. It will give businesses the opportunity to directly connect with their customers seamlessly while notifying customers of existing offers and promotions. Once rolled out successfully, businesses will have an opportunity to directly put their customers on the blockchain network and therefore begin to explore the benefits of this revolutionary technology.
Bitcoins have recently been shocking everyone with dramatic spikes in its value overnight. How has this affected your business?
The spike of bitcoin price has worked to a great advantage on our companyand operations. First of all, the publicity has drawn a lot of interest on our company, people are curious to know what we do and how they can get involved in it. This has made our business development a little easier since it saves us the effort of reaching out to partners, clients and other interested parties; instead they now come to us.
Secondly, we have been working on a token market that enables peer to peer trading of etherium and select altcoins, we’ve seen massive movements and activities as more people trade on it.
How would you describe the Kenyan market for your service?
The Kenyan market is hungry for our service, we get dozens of e-mails, phone calls and visits at our office every day from people requesting to find out how they can get involved. From small businesses, students, investors,corporates and the like. I strongly believe it’s a good thing going forward, it shows that Kenya stands a chance at taking advantage of the numerous benefits that will come with this technology at various levels.
Who are your major competitors in this space?
The only competitors I can think of are established players who are foreign based. We’re just scratching the surface of this massive market, and if there are any local competitors it would be encouraging to have them join this field, it will enable us to improve on our products and at the same time push cryptocurrencies to the masses. This is not a field that can be dominated by any single player, the fight to promote decentralization will be won if more players are encouraged to join.
What do you do to stand out from your competitors?
We have been focused on building products that suit the African market and address the challenges faced by our target audience. This way we create solutions that are on demand and which fit their existing operations.
Secondly, we create strong relationships with our partners and this enables
us to develop a deep understanding of their needs.
Thirdly it’s innovation. At the core of our activities is our never ending desire to undertake wide research and constantly innovate, this gives us an edge in this landscape.
You secured a whopping $100,000 in funding from Microsoft mogul Bill Gates, what did Bitsoko do to inspire such confidence from an internationally revered figure in the tech scene?
Actually, it was a grant; usually awarded through the Grand Challenges Exploration (GCE) initiative which seeks to tap into innovations that aim at solving key development problems. We were able to demonstrate the ability to explore new technology which could positively impact a huge mass of the
population if implemented. Most importantly is the team; which constitutes talented, dedicated and forward thinking personalities who have to this point proven their ability to deliver.
What has been the toughest challenge for Bitsoko since its inception?
Our innovations are centered on relatively new technology such as the blockchain, Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence. The fact that they are new and relatively complex means that creating awareness and an understanding of the tech to the masses becomes quite a challenge.
What has been the toughest challenge for you as an entrepreneur?
Learning to scale. The landscape of the field I work in is constantly changing and new and bigger opportunities present themselves by the day. Adapting to these everyday changes while staying focused on the long term company strategy sometimes becomes a daunting task.
Is there any point during your entrepreneurship journey that you would
term as easy or a walkover?
I would say on a personal level, I have never lost the passion to journey on. Even during those moments that I appeared to hit rock bottom. That has always been easy for me, staying true to the cause even in the most tumultuous moments.
Where do you think your company will be in the next 5-10 years?
At this stage we are pioneering the development and pushing for the adoption of the most advanced technologies that there is. We will continue innovating for our continent. We want to be the beacon of tech in Africa, creating solutions for our businesses and communities and changing the African narrative.
How is your experience at Chandaria Business Incubator at KU?
We have a very close working relationship with our incubator. The institution provides a perfect environment for collaborations with other aspiring entrepreneurs and innovators.
Your company also falls within fintech category, a sector that has grown exponentially, 84% in the past year, what do you think about the future of fintech in Kenya and Africa at large? Do you believe there may be a fintech boom in the region?
I think the fintech boom will be happening very soon. We are seeing unprecedented numbers of fintech innovations, start ups and products. However, in order for us to realize optimal performance we have to break infrastructural and regulatory challenges.
Do you think the bitcoin growth may be a bubble? How does your company plan to adapt if/when the bubble pops? (Hypothetically speaking, I do not wish this for you.)
When the term bubble is used to describe bitcoin, the comparison is usually with historical bubbles which tend to present certain characteristics and features. Bubbles tend to indicate a price no reasonable future outcome can justify. The internet exchanges information through various protocols, just as bitcoin conveys an exchange of value of a good or service when it’s spent. So if it’s utility is increasing, the network value will keep increasing.
What would you advise other entrepreneurs planning to venture into fintech, with cryptocurrencies as a base?
I’d advise them to first appreciate the steep learning curve for this field. They should take their time to study the fundamentals of cryptocurrencies and ensure that the venture creates real value and solves actual or existing problems.