Startup Governance in Silicon Savannah

There have been a lot of negative rumors and one-sided stories across Kenyan social media of late about the business changes at Angani, a Nairobi-based Cloud services company, and the subsequent platform outages that occurred. It’s an unfortunate state, as people I’ve known and respected for many years have not tried to get the “other side of the story”. A few have reached out, and after doing so have chosen to remain silent rather than go against the current meta-narrative that is being pushed.

That meta-narrative is, “white investors are abusing their money and privilege to push out black Kenyan founders of a company to steal it.” This is factually wrong and will have long-lasting negative repercussions if not corrected. The racial overtones alone demean us all. We’re better than this.

The real meta-narrative of this story is one of inexperienced management and the subsequent irresponsible behavior of startup founders, and how that reflects on the Nairobi tech ecosystem at large. It’s about growing pains and learning, and also about a community coming to terms with the need for more professionalism when scaling and growing companies. It’s about what independent board members and investors rights and responsibilities are.

To understand why these allegations are wrong it’s first helpful to understand what drives investors (from any country) and their actions.

On Investors

Tech investors are driven to invest in companies that can scale, gain market share and subsequently make profit. They look for great teams that have good ideas that they can execute on and pivot with as the business landscape changes around them over they years. Typically investors have financial interests in numerous companies at any given time, and depending on how much capital they’re injecting, they will take a seat on the board to represent their interests.

Because they have so many companies, the best case scenario is when a team is executing well and the investor has little need to be involved in anything but receive updates so he/she can help where asked. The worst case scenario is when you have to spend days or weeks working on a company and can’t give attention to the other dozen companies you’re supposed to be working with. In short, no one wants any drama.

That said, as an investor you’re also a significant shareholder and typically represent a number of other shareholders when you have a board seat. When you’re making decisions at board meetings, you’re doing so for these people as well, and your mandate is to find a way forward that increases that shareholder value.

So what happened?

Unfortunately, at Angani, an all too common story emerged of inexperienced founders (knowledgeable, but inexperienced in management) who couldn’t overcome personal differences in order to run a company, and had seen a decline in revenues over the preceding 3 months (37% in June, 17% in July and in August).

When you take a sizable investment your company isn’t the same anymore, if things get tough (as they often do at some point in a company’s life), then you’ll have others outside of the original founding team weighing in to solve issues with you. In this case, that’s what happened, and the independent board members did the job of oversight and governance. A number of viable options were proposed and considered, whether that be restructuring the company or changing executive positions, however two of the founders rejected any board recommended changes and opted instead, to leave the company instead and walk away.

Following this board decision was a period in which access to the company’s key infrastructure was supposed to be handed over. This didn’t happen, which precipitated even more issues that culminated in the platform failing and taking down client accounts. It was at this point when Angani issued a statement explaining the system failure.

This is far from the sensationally incorrect story of a hostile board takeover by investors. It’s an old story that can happen across any industry in any country.

Final Thoughts

Startups fail. Sometimes this is due to bad ideas, business or operating models, others to poor financial management, and some to founder disputes. This happens everywhere in the world and is unfortunately the norm for tech startups.

However, we can’t allow ourselves to change the dialog to something that it isn’t. This isn’t about race but instead the simple realities of how ugly and painful it is when a company goes through real management challenges. Nairobi has benefited from an openness to foreign talent and investment for many years – and it shows in the successes that have happened since. We should try to learn from this so that we don’t repeat these mistakes or, worse, that we develop a reputation as a petty and unprofessional investment market and further scare away foreign investments.

We’re one of the most dynamic and active tech communities on the continent, and because of this have high visibility to investors. Capital will not continue to flow to other startups in Kenya if investors believe that a gun can be held to their head on governance and oversight issues of their investments. There are other places that they can go where the community will be more investor friendly, and where they can fall back on the rule of law to protect themselves.

Our tech community is a work in progress, it takes all of us working together to make it better. We need to get this startup and growth stage of tech companies in Kenya right – we can do better, and we will.

“Iko Sawa, Iko Poa” The Kibo 150cc

I’m out test-riding this Kibo 150cc motorcycle today (it’s designed and assembled here in Kenya) asking boda boda riders what they think of it.

I'm out test-riding this Kibo 150cc motorcycle today, asking boda boda riders what they think of it

Since 2010 there has been a massive influx of motorcycles into Kenya due to the reduction in duty on bikes under 200cc, and until 2013 there was an extra exemption on import duties for motorcycles completely assembled in-country. Tens of thousands of young men have taken to the courier and two-wheel taxi professions due to this.

The staple of the boda boda (motorcycle taxi) drives is the cheap Chinese and Indian bikes usually around 100-150cc. The Bajaj or the TVS will sell for anywhere from 80,000 to 110,000 Ksh ($800-1,100), get approximately 40km/litre and carry a good 200 kilos. While not well designed or made, they do the job. Possibly as important as the pricing is the fact that you can get spares for them, and any tiny town worth its salt also has a piki piki mechanic in it.

Enter the Kibo

Henk Veldman is the Managing Director at Kibo Africa, and he’s part of the parent company Koneksie out of the Netherlands that came up with the idea to design and create a motorcycle for Africa. Their focus was for a bike that could be better and safer than the lower quality bikes that had been spreading across the continent, while at the same time making sure they were as good as the Japanese imports (Yamaha, Suzuki, Honda), while still being cheaper than them. It’s an interesting middle ground to choose, and the question the market will answer is if there is a customer base at that range.

A couple years ago they started to design what would become the Kibo motorcycle. Kibo is short for “kiboko” in Swahili, which means “hippo”. We saw this from the very beginning, as they used the iHub UX Lab to do some of their initial work with people – and they’ve done a lot of user studies as can be seen on this video.

“This was done in close cooperation with motorcycle experts and the local end-user. The motorcycle would have to be sturdy enough to deal with many hours of usage in addition to the poor, often unpaved road surface. At the same time, it would have to be affordable.”

“Our solution to the existing mobility problem in Kenya is a sturdy, safe and affordable motorcycle. We offer this motorcycle as part of a complete package, consisting of financing, training, a maintenance program and insurance.”


Basic information on the Kibo 150cc (K150):
Price: 395,000ksh ($4,000)
Includes: Insurance, advanced rider training, maintenance
Engine size: 150cc (made in Japan)
Fuel economy: 42 kilometres per litre
Weight loading: 250 kilos

Taking it out for a ride, talking to boda boda guys

Henk and team were kind enough to let me take out one of the prototypes this weekend. I spent time stopping and talking to a lot of boda boda drivers as well as taking it seeing how fast it went on tarmac and then how it handled on dirt roads.


First impressions
My daily rider is a Suzuki DR 650, so it’s hard to get used to something so small. However, it’s really not that small – it’s a much larger 150cc frame and bike than almost any other I’ve been on.

It rides smooth. Balance is great. Little vibration.

Since it has 5 gears, on a wide open road I was able to get it to 110km/hr. On a windy road past Gachie, I found it handled well on corners.

I took it on a few dirt roads. The ones that had been recently graded were fine, due to the nice tires, I could move quickly and had great traction. On the really rough dirt roads, I was surprised at how well the suspension handled the ruts and potholes. It really did do a good job and handled well.

My only beef on the test drive was being on one very steep hill, with big ruts and deep powder. After I slowed down, the bike just didn’t have the power to take me up and I had to help it out with my feet. Now, I’m not a small guy, but I certainly am not anywhere near the 250 kilo weigh limit of the bike either. I’m checking with Henk, but I might have gotten one of the bikes geared for Nairobi (high), and not for rural areas (low).

Talking to Boda Boda Guys
As I mentioned earlier, I stopped and talked to over a dozen motorcycle taxi riders and a courier to see what they thought of the bike. I let four of them take the bike out for a spin as well.

Before they left, they were all a bit leery, mostly due to the price. Once they got back, they were excited about how smooth and nice it was compared to their bike, exclaiming “Iko sawa, iko poa” (“it’s good, it’s cool”) to their counterparts.

Boda Boda riders pose on the new Kibo K150

Boda Boda riders pose on the new Kibo K150


  • Sturdy frame was greatly appreciated by everyone, for carrying loads and for laying it over
  • The double lights were a big hit
  • Tires are strong and will do well on rough roads
  • Digital display
  • Suspension


  • Passenger footrest needs rubber due to vibration
  • Move the muffler mid-pipe inwards so the driver doesn’t burn their leg
  • A windshield or fairing
  • Tires are too big and expensive (10,000ksh [$100] as opposed to the 3,000ksh [$30] normally spent)
  • A larger tank would be nice
  • It’s too expensive, no one sees this as something that they could buy individually, it’s only good for businesses.









Final Thoughts

Overall I like the Kibo K150, enough that BRCK will purchase one to see if we can use it for delivery into some hard-to-reach schools for our Kio Kit. I’d like to see it geared for a bit more power (though again, it might have been the test unit I had was geared for city).

The price seems to be an issue. Individual motorcycle riders will have a hard time affording it, so as far as I can tell it will largely be purchased by companies. I like that Kibo is bundling the rider training, insurance and maintenance with the price.

Testing the load of the Kibo K150 with the Kio Kits designed for schools in Africa

Testing the load of the Kibo K150 with the Kio Kits designed for schools in Africa

A busy week for tech entrepreneurs in Kenya

A photo posted by Ciril Jazbec (@ciriljazbec) on

National Geographic photographer Ciril Jazbec was in town capturing the tech entrepreneur feel of Nairobi and surrounds.

I’m about a week late on my post, but thought I’d round up some of the news from the crazy week that ended with the Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) in Nairobi. With US President Barrack Obama in town, bringing some of the biggest names in tech and business with him, it was bound to be a circus.

We embraced the madness at the iHub and there were a great many events.

One of the highlights for the week was seeing our very own Judith Owigar, co-founder of Akirachix and long-time iHub member, up on stage seated between President's Uhuru and Obama on the main GES stage.

One of the highlights for the week was seeing our very own Judith Owigar, co-founder of Akirachix and long-time iHub member, up on stage seated between President’s Uhuru and Obama on the main GES stage.

Big things that happened:

Bloomberg came by and did a photo walkthrough of the iHub, featuring Ushahidi and BRCK as well.

There was a good piece in TIME magazine about Obama’s visit and BRCK’s work around education, titled, “Obama Sees Kenya as a Hotbed of Innovation — Not Terror

A timely piece on TechCrunch titled, “The Rise Of Silicon Savannah And Africa’s Tech Movement” came out.

VC funding in African Tech Startups chart

The Next Africa bookThe Next Africa book launched, written by Aubrey Hruby and Jake Bright, we had a session at the iHub to talk through it with some of the subjects, like Just A Band, Dr. Bitange Ndemo and IBM.

We did a Fireside Chat with Brian Chesky, co-founder and CEO of AirBnB, that was one of the best we’ve had.

A piece in Forbes, “Why Kenyan Tech Entrepreneurs Deserve All Obama’s Praise“.

IBM partnered with the iHub to launch the innovation @ iHub space, so we’ll be working a lot closer with them going forward and that means members of the iHub community will get a lot more access to IBM, its partners and its resources.

Jean and Steve Case at the iHub
Jean and Steve Case, AOL Founders and investors, came to the iHub and ran a social impact tech pitching competition. They brought with them other investors, including Jim Sorenson, and Nina Tellegen CEO of the DOEN Foundation. Here’s Jean’s writeup on the week.

Finally, the US Gov’t made a lot of commitments to African entrepreneurs.

While it was a big week, and it served to remind us how far we’ve come and a chance to celebrate it with the world, we still have a long way to go.

BRCK: Also designed in Kenya and made in the USA. We had a little fun at BRCK with the Obama activity... :)

BRCK: Also designed in Kenya and made in the USA. We had a little fun at BRCK with the Obama activity… :)

The iHub at 5

Celebrating the Community - iHub's 5 Year Tech Bash

Celebrating the Community – iHub’s 5 Year Tech Bash

43 companies in the Kenyan tech scene have come together to put on an event for 3,000+ people in the tech community, the #5yrTechBash at the Arboretum. The iHub is turning 5 and it’s a testament to the people and companies who make up this space that we’re thriving and have a chance to celebrate.

It’s a community event by all of us, for all of us!


Community as our Legacy

There has been a long history of the tech community in Kenya coming together, from Skunkworks and Barcamps to the iHub itself. I tend to think of community connectedness as one of Kenya’s key competitive advantages. Read this blog post by the founders of Angani, a company made up of some of the pioneers in the space, to understand some of the background on how this has come together.

If you read this post I wrote on “What makes the iHub Work” from 4 years ago, you’ll see that it’s a combination of many people that ultimately makes it different and why it still makes such an impact on people’s lives. Also take a moment to read Josiah Mugambi’s piece on the last 5 years.

The iHub community over 5 years

The iHub community over 5 years

Tracking the Numbers

One of the great strengths of the iHub is the serendipity that you have by coming in and running into people. However, that’s an inherently difficult thing to measure. I wrote a blog post 1.5 years ago about “what has the iHub done“, and it’s time for an update.

If you’re a place like the iHub with your own Research arm, then you measure other things, this from Leo Mutuku and the team at iHub Research:

iHub Startup Numbers over 5 years

iHub Startup Numbers over 5 years

In the second year of the iHub, we started the iHub Research arm and the m:lab, both of which have excelled. iHub Research’s job is to shares stories about the vibrant East African technology community by conducting ICT research on technology innovation within the community. Here’s what they’ve done:

iHub Research over 5 years

iHub Research over 5 years

To the next 5!

As much as the big bash today is a celebration of the past 5+ years, it’s also a time to get ready for the NEXT 5 years. While we’ve made a lot of progress as a whole, we’ve gotten much further than many thought we could in this time, we still have a long way to go.

A timeline of events in Tech in Kenya over 5 years

A timeline of events in Tech in Kenya over 5 years

A Gallery of Pics

EDIT: Wanted to add some pictures that bring me the memories of the faces and events of the past few years.

















2010-02-26 18.50.36

Screen shot 2010-03-04 at 6.53.24 PM













$100m For African Entrepreneurs

TEEP goals

The Tony Elumelu Foundation has set an ambitious goal, “…to create 1 million jobs and $10 billion in annual revenue in Africa.”

They are choosing 1,000 entrepreneurs from across Africa to be a part of the new TEEP program, and they plan to do 1,000 more each year for 10 years – that’s 10,000 entrepreneurs total. Not a small number. If you do the math, this works out to $10,000 per entrepreneur, so it can’t be about funding as much as it is about learning.

Applications open today (Jan 1, 2015), it’s 87 questions long so make sure to read up and apply right away. (Hint: read their TEEP blog to know how they think)

Not enough successful African entrepreneurs are using their money to invest in other younger entrepreneurs. Those that do tend to be greedy with the percentage they ask for, so many entrepreneurs look to capital from the US and EU to use to grow their companies.

However, this could all be changing, if this program works and sends a message to other African high net worth individuals. This is one of the strongest moves by any African to invest back into other newer/younger African entrepreneurs, if not the strongest. Tony Elumelu has always been at the forefront of giving to the next generation, so it’s not a surprise that he leads on this as well.

The Rules

(full terms and conditions):

  • Open to citizens and legal residents of all 54 African countries, 18 years and above.
  • Applications can be made by any for-profit business based in Africa in existence for less than three years, including new business ideas.
  • Applicants can only submit one business.

Selection Criteria

Since most people won’t actually read the full terms and conditions, I’ve done some scanning and pulled out some important elements. Here’s how you will be scored by the selection committee:

  • Feasibility: content of the business idea. A good business model that has clear and compelling mission to grow a sustainable, commercially viable business and is effectively communicated (25 points);
  • Market Potential: knowledge and understanding of the market, customers and competitors for their idea/business (20 points);
  • Financial Model: understanding of the basic financial requirements of running a business, costs and revenues. (20 points);
  • Scalability: Demonstrates potential for replication and growth of their product or service to create jobs and wealth (10 points);
  • Leadership Potential and Entrepreneurial Skills: Applicant has demonstrated leadership potential, capable of attracting people, customers and resources. Also exhibits strong passion and commitment for the business (25 points).

The Program

The TEEP program

Digging a little deeper into the terms and conditions doc (see Section 9), and the program unfolds a bit more. It looks like there is $5000 set aside for each entrepreneurs part in the program, and another $5000 as a direct amount injected into their business. Finally, if you do your 3 reports and take part in all of your mentorship sessions, then another returnable $5000 can be given to you.

There seems to be three main parts to the program:

  1. Online – 12-week online skills learning assignments.
  2. Mentoring, where we are assured, “The Mentors are required to sign a non-disclosure agreement as it relates to personal information which may come into their possession during the Programe and are committed to maintaining the highest ethical standards when mentoring.”
  3. 3-day boot camp and Elumelu Entrepreneurship Forum – where you are physically in Nigeria (costs for travel/lodging are covered by the program, which is where that initial $5000 goes).

In Conclusion

My thinking is that they’re going a bit broad on this. After what I’ve seen within the iHub community and as a partner in the Savannah Fund, I’m not sure that $10k is enough. It would have made more sense for me to see them go with 100 entrepreneurs a year, where each has a chance at $100,000. However, if any organization is going to make it work, I believe the Tony Elumelu Foundation can.

My guess is that they are going to focus on smaller, very early stage startups that largely aren’t tech related. A leg-up of $5,000 to a single guy trying to start a small business outside of a major city can go far with that amount.

Kenya: Who Got Funded in 2014?

Which tech companies were funded in Kenya in 2014? I thought I’d compile a list of the ones I know of.

Send me any that I might have missed.

Early stage capital

Angani – Public cloud computing provider
BRCK – Rugged, wireless WiFi device
CardPlanet – Mobile money payment system aimed at business and NGOs
iProcure – Software for optimizing rural supply chains
OkHi – Physical addressing system for logistics solutions
Sendy – Motorcycle delivery service
Tumakaro – Diaspora driven education funding
Umati Capital – Factoring for farmer cooperatives, traders and processors
GoFinance – Working capital finance to distributors of FMCGs
BuyMore – Electronic student discount card
TotoHealth – SMS technology for children’s health
BitPesa – Bitcoin for African remittances
Sokonect – Mobile agriculture tool to eliminate brokers
BookNow – Buy bus tickets online in East Africa
Mdundo – African music on your phone
Futaa – Source for football news in Kenya
Movas – Global provider of B2B/B2C m-Commerce solutions
Hivisasa – A free, county-level online newspaper
Yum – Online ordering and food delivery service in Kenya
Akengo – Learning management system
EcoZoom – Hardware. Clean burning, portable wood and charcoal powered cookstoves
Jooist – A gaming network for mobile phones – A platform to connect hotels and distributors for bookings

Growth capital

MKopa – solar power financing using mobile money
BuyRentKenya – Real estate classifieds
Wave – US-to-Kenya remittance provider
Eneza Education – Mobile tutor and teacher’s assistant
Sanergy – hardware tech, building solutions for urban toilets and composting
Bridge International – Education in low-income environments, uses tech to send teaching content
Soko – Handmade jewelry and accessories shopping from East Africa
EatOut – Find and book seats in East African restaurants


M-Ledger (by Safaricom) – Monitor your Mpesa transactions
Wezatele – Mobility solutions in commerce, supply chain, distribution and mobile payment integration

A special thanks to John Kieti, Rebecca Wanjiku, Nikolai Barnwell, and Ben Lyon for refreshing my memory!


I’m (finally) playing around with updating my blog theme and layout for easier posting of images and asides. Standby today as this goes through some iterations.


It’s the People you go With

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I just wrote a post on the BRCK blog upon returning from our 9,000km jaunt from Nairobi to Johannesburg and back. What I didn’t cover there is that most of the fun in these trips is mixed in with the people you go with, and the list of characters who were a part of this trip was amazing.

The expedition team at Makuzi, Malawi

The expedition team at Makuzi, Malawi

When 500km becomes an Easy Day

Before we left Nairobi, 2 weeks ago, I though that a 500km day on a motorcycle was a long time. Now I just ask, “well, what will we do in the afternoon then?”

BRCK truck top

BRCK truck top

Our setup of BRCK plus Amp plus Car antenna

Our setup of BRCK plus Amp plus Car antenna

We left Harare, where the Arensen’s had hosted us for two nights in their lovely home, for a bit of a long day. We were gambling that we could make it through the Zimbabwe-Mozambique border AND then the Mozambique-Malawi border in good enough time to get to a campsite by the end of the day. A quick breakfast of chai, coffee and pre-boiled eggs underneath a baobab tree saw us to the first border in good time.

The Douane border crossing is less busy than it’s Beit Bridge counterpart. Leaving Zimbabwe, the customs and immigration officials are efficient and helpful. Getting into Mozambique was equally problem-free, especially since we had all gone to get our visas already.

A rickety wooden bridge in Malawi

A rickety wooden bridge in Malawi

Philip, solving problems in Kenya, while on the road in Malawi

Philip, solving problems in Kenya, while on the road in Malawi

Kurt with Lobo in the vehicle

Kurt with Lobo in the vehicle

My Suzuki DR650

My Suzuki DR650

Now, Mozambique, this part of it anyway where you shoot across the Tete corridor towards Malawi, is a hot, dry and barren land. The only thing of any note is the nice bridge you cross over the Limpopo river passing through the city of Tete. Besides that, I’d suggest it’s not a place you want to spend any time.

Two interesting things happen as you run to the Malawi border. First, you realize that you cross back and forth between the two countries a couple times on the way. Second, when you pass through the Mozambique side of the border you’re still 5km from the Malawi border crossing. Strange… but, again border crossings are not about security, they’re about revenue generation.

The Mozambique customs officials had clearly never seen a Carnet de Passage (it’s like a passport for your vehicle), so they acted like it was something they couldn’t stamp. We were able to convince them that it was something normal, and that their colleague at the previous border had stamped it, so they could as well. Stamped and moving, we shot off for the campground, as we saw a storm rolling in.

It was at this time that our small team mascot, Lobo the Australian cattle dog puppy, decided to have an explosive experience inside of the vehicle. Many curses were heard as people sprayed themselves down, and cleaned out the dog’s carrier. Praying for a dry night, we took off a bit behind schedule, and still managed to roll into Bushman’s Baobabs (great place), and had a warm still night of sleep.

500km up Lake Malawi

Off early, as always, we were half-way to our destination by 9:30am and got to camp by just after noon. As an aside, I think the word “Malawi”, and the flag symbol, all are pointed at the meaning of “land of the bicycle”. We saw so many people on bicycles today, more than in any other country we’ve been to.

The bicycles of Malawi

The bicycles of Malawi

Makuzi Beach area of Lake Malawi is beautiful, and having a full afternoon ahead of us was something we didn’t know quite what to do with. So, of course we broke out the drone and OpenROV to have some fun.

We got some shots.

The OpenROV set to try Lake Malawi

The OpenROV set to try Lake Malawi

Philip getting ready with the drone

Philip getting ready with the drone

Lobo checking out a shell

Lobo checking out a shell

Matt Schoenhold of Teague playing with the OpenROV

Matt Schoenhold of Teague playing with the OpenROV

Philip managed to crash the drone into the lake, so we’re trying to see if we can resurrect it. (Update: we dried it out all night and now it’s working again. DJI makes an amazingly hardy device)

We had a grand idea of Paul driving the OpenROV underwater vehicle under a rock and taking a video of someone jumping into the water. We kind of did that, the problem was the cable was a bit short. The other problem was that it cut my toe with a blade as it came up directly underneath me. The good thing is that we had a lot of fun trying and leaned some of the limits of the vehicle.

There is now a beautiful, slow moonrise happening at 9pm, over Lake Malawi. We’re all well, fat and happy. The bikes and Land Rover have been behaving well. We’re set for our early AM departure as we have 750 kilometers and a border crossing to go through.