Category Archives: TED2009

Skunkworks: Nairobi September 29

The latest Skunkworks was held on September 29 2009 at Teleposta Towers Nairobi. The focus of the tech group this week was on Tech & Entrepreneurship and four speakers were chosen to provide their insight on the new business models they are developing in Kenya. This comes at a time when the fibre cable initially considered the greatest thing since sliced bread has become a corporate product with targets to break-even before cheap internet costs can be passed on. The fibre is just one arm, so it was good to hear techpreneurs talk not just about revolutionary business but grappling and scaling numerous challenges of running such businesses in this part of Africa – i.e. business registration, financing, staffing, patenting, winning contracts, succeeding and making money

skunkworks panel

full disclosure – I correspond with Liko, drink with Kahenya and Joshua arranges some advertising at this site

1. Liko Agosta – Founder and CEO of Verviant a leading web developing firm and BPO provider talked about:
Startup financing: He started his company with savings, then family & friends, and finally banks
company strengths: include having a good team (20 staff in Kenya), good track record (measured by repeat business they get), interacting with customers, good customer service (including fixing up products for their customers that other companies had previously messed up)
customers: – have contracts with companies in the USA, Canada, Europe, New Zealand, and South Africa
– show companies how they can save money e.g. Africa online, akamba, instead of having staffed offices all around t company waiting for people to bring them money, have a platform that does this cheaper
watch cash – many business fail because they are under-capitalized, entrepreneurs should save money and keep costs low because it can sometimes take many months for them to get paid
– advises tech companies to focus on mid size products and contracts; this is because cash flow kills many Kenyan companies and this is likely to happen when if serving large contracts whose payments are spaced out
new product: pesapal will allow Kenyans to pay online via mpesa or zap for products and services from vetted merchants. It will also store transaction details details for 7 years, and comes with a readily available API, and pre-built components. More details on pesapal availed at verviant site on October 2.

2. Caroline Juma is the managing director of KCR – which stands for Kenya computer resources. She talked about her company which does human resources for IT professionals exclusively.
education or experience don’t always matter: while some companies ask for job candidates with advanced degrees or who have several years experience to fill positions, she sometimes finds that the best person may be one who is still in school, or who does not have the work experience. She looks at what they have done; KCR can test/examine what their skills are and will vouch for them to companies to employ them as IT professionals. IT professionals should show initiative, and work on projects that will enhance their career prospects not just learn outdated VB in university
don’t wait for governments: Kenya is not known for IT and call centers will not save the day. People should stop waiting for the government to do things in outsourcing, fibre etc. But governments don’t do that they only crate policy.
KCR is free IT professionals can place their CV’s with KCR for free, there is no charge, unlike with other placement companies
IT conference upcoming KCR will be involved in an Aitech conference in November in Nairobi on business match-making

3. Kahenya Kamunyu – CEO, ViRN Instruments. Involved with Zuqka, previously worked for BT, Yahoo, Sanyo Business, and Sony Playstation. Currently developing smart ideas and providing Venture Capital to small enterprises. Kahenya has been coding since he was 13 years old and gave a talk on his entrepreneurship and employment history from South Africa, UK, Japan and finally in Kenya, and the lessons he has picked up along the way:

boot-strap: be frugal, pay bills, and put whatever cash is left aback in the business. Businesses that are under-capitalized and will fail
More education produces bad developers! college kids write better program than senior engineer with degrees; his is because kids write code without rules, while company programmers can only write within the parameters/box set by the company
business is fun
what?! if you’re single you’ll never make money – get a wife/husband.
have a wish list: these targets let you know where you are going and give you targets to work for
look after your health don’t over-work yourself or get tired. Work smarter
give back to community: tithe, get involved in non-profits, help others – this is because what goes around comes around, and you may be the one in need of a helping hand next time
debt is bad: do not start a business when in debt, you will go deeper into debt and have to sell off assets
on partnerships: set the rules before you go into partnerships
Kenya is not friendly to start-ups it is very hard to start a business and expensive. It would also be nice if there were incentives for local companies. E.g. Vodacom in South Africa has a super low tariff for start-up businesses that use their products, why not Safaricom? Also banks are not friendly in lending to star-ups.
banking secret you can use a patent to get a bank loan
small is better many entrepreneurs chase one big multi year contract, but it is better to serve several small contracts. The big contract may pay one, and replace you with someone cheaper, while the small ones, diversify the risk, provide for better cash flow, and the happy customers whose expectations are easier to meet, will grow and stay your loyal customers of many years big fish =small fry, small fish= big fry
high tech not the answer many young people go into high tech industry because its the in-thing, cool, sexy now, but internet has expiry date, while people will always eat food.its unfortunate some entrepreneurs are too proud to go into mundane (non-tech) industries that are more sustainable in the long run-
Kenyans should invest in R&D talk to customers, observe competitors. Many Kenyan companies don’t do this and fail owing to bad idea/false assumptions i.e. build it and they will come.

4. Joshua Wanyama: Founder and CEO of Pamoja Media, and a TED fellow, helps companies strategize their online presence to make money.
company strategies (i) interactive strategy (ii) creative development (iii) media buying & placements online
niche is getting companies aiming to advertise to Africans e.g western union
understand marketing: easy to get a meeting in Kenya, much harder in the US
keep learning: learn through reading, searching online & in libraries, networking, associating with smart people. He has learnt more about business from reading after his education
use web tools: he runs a web based company that has several components – all online including e-mail, ad server, sales leads, finance (payroll) and project management> can this also be retransferred to a farmer or fisherman?
opportunities Kenya
– include online services, e-commerce, procurement and local content
– It’s time to walk the talk in Africa; in a country like Kenya only 20% of the top 100 sites ranked by alexa for Kenya are Kenyan companies. We need to retain more people within our domain, and keep traffic generated within Kenya
– thanks to m-pesa’s success, it’s now easier for Kenyan mobile development companies to get funding from abroad
– Mentioned other companies doing exciting things online including: Preciss,
Ushahidi, Verviant, Nyeri Online, Jumuika and Mama Mikes
keys to success for Kenyans online
– tell our success stories better
Ease the way of doing business: it has taken him several months to register his business in Kenya as well as to open a bank account for the company in Kenya. There seem to be difficulties for companies that have overseas-based directors or partners, and he has only been able to open an account with the help of a lawyer
– Cultivate a culture of entrepreneurship. Financing entrepreneurs is risky business the world over with expectations that 40% of business will fail, 40% will break even and 20% will bring in rewards
– companies should do R&D and follow through on these because one year from now the company or its products may not be relevant

Kutwa Tuesday: Toxic Brokers

Toxic Brokers The US has toxic banks, Kenya has toxic stockbrokers

Discount stockbrokers was yesterday placed under statutory management. It has been technically insolvent since new managers were appointed six months ago, and given the cost and extent of their operations it’s unlikely to ever turn round.

Bob Mathews was also re-admitted at a stockbroker after injecting in new capital, but once labeled at a toxic broker no amount of rescue cash is enough to salvage an institution. Nyaga stockbrokers got a lifeline infusion of Kshs. 100 million rescue loan, which was largely paid to other brokers, but it was not enough and the firm went under too. smart investors should read the signs of a collapsing company

Capital Gains market turnaround

The Nairobi stock exchange had its best week in a long time, with a mini run led by Equity Bank up 31%, CMC up 25%, Kengen 22%, EA Cables 20%, National Bank 16%, EA Breweries 15% and Diamond Trust 12%. With no significant financial results, or economic & political news out last week, the rise remains a mystery; Was it in reaction to US markets having their best week, or realization that there was a new finance minister in charge or investors realizing that they had missed on the infrastructure bond (and the next one was not as lucrative), or was it stockbrokers making a last stand?

Insurance Losses

Pan Africa Life a relatively large company with assets of Kshs. 6 billion ($75 million) returned a pre-tax loss for 2008 of Kshs. 175 million down from a profit of 51 million in 2007, which they attribute to the unrealized loses in capital markets. If a large insurance company is in this state, what about the smaller other Kenyan insurance companies? Already standard assurance has gone under and it was not the main company in public transport sector (matatu’s) whos’ claims are being blamed for its collapse.

Opportunities & Events

TED Global applications have opened for the 2009 TED Global 2009 conference. Deadline is April 3 for fellowship applications

Tujuane Mixer will be held on March 20. More details at Tujuane site and here’s a re-cap of the last mixer I attended. The event will be facilitated by Nyokabi Njuguna, Founder – Entrepreneurship and Leadership Foundation, and with a special appearance by R&B vocalist and Guitarist Harry Kimani.

Nairobi Wine Festival Get stylish and drunk is how Rafiki Kenya describes the event on Friday and Saturday (20/21 March)

Missing the TED Party

The ongoing TED Conference in California makes me think back to remember TED Global that was held in Arusha, Tanzania in 2007. From the opening talk by Euvin Naidoo President to the last talk President Jakaya Kiwkete this TED conference was a unique event; it was a magical event full of euphoric, optimistic and inspiring moments. Links, networks and friendship were formed and the path was set out to open a new chapter for Africa, through business & investment, with diseases & poverty largely eradicated. Sadly, in 2009, not much has changed in the continent and even some of the shining economic models then like Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, have had politics overshadow and handicap their economic ambitions.


New tools
– Heard about Twitter in Arusha, but only signed up last month. It’s a bigger world than blogging, and fills in a lot of the gaps e.g. found something unique, but too small to post, or you just want to share in a second via mobile phone? Twitter’s the answer!
– Never has much interest in photography as a blog tool, but got a camera now, so fellow shutterbugs – Hash, Mental, Afromusing, Mweshi – your influence has rubbed off, and I’ll be throwing in random photos of travel and daily work events here are a few

forest near Kericho

I found the Ark

would you steal these hotel sandals?
Getting some love
– Bankelele is listed as one of the 100 best blogs to learn about Africa – not sure how the selection was made, but there are some interesting reads on that list 87 Bankelele. Banking and business are at the forefront of this blog written by a Nairobi banker.
– The best way to learn about blogs in other parts of Africa or the non-Western (US, Europe) world is through Global Voices. They have a post that mentions the top-ranked blogs in Africa with Bankelele (ranks 18) from Kenya who writes about baking banking, finance and investment in Kenya and Bongo Celebrity (ranks 20)
– The Business Daily ( a Kenyan financial newspaper) had a feature on blogging with topics like Blog post revolution hits corporate Kenya, Blogs command attention of corporate world, Blogs emerge as avenues for making money, Companies use online platform to monitor views from the public, Fibre optic cable to pave way for corporate blogging, Mounting lawsuits could sound death knell for social sites and What is likely to compete with the mainstream media which noted Some are born out of events like Bankelele, started in 2004 after the blogger attended a “very riotous AGM.” And he describes his blog as “ It’s my diary of financial events —and as a banker and investor. I use it to keep track of pertinent events.

Anyway, I hope to link up with some friends from TED and collaborate on projects in the future and that the Business Daily leads to more corporate blogging opportunities and ideas in this part of Africa.