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!

The Rested, the Slow and the Robbed

TL;DR – We’re chilling by Victoria Falls today, a 5-hour drive took us 11-hours yesterday, and someone stole our med kit, a vest and 300m Nikon lens in Livingstone today.

Reg and Philip giving a BRCK demo at Bongohive

Reg and Philip giving a BRCK demo at Bongohive

Friday was amazing. We had gotten in the night before to Lusaka, and this meant we got to spend the whole day with the BongoHive team and the rest of the tech community here. They were some of the most hospitable people, and we gave demos/talks on the BRCK, as well as Mark giving a talk on User Experience (UX), which was one of the best talks I’ve heard in a long time. Later, I gave a talk on Savannah Fund and raising investment money for startups, and the whole evening was finished by Juliana and myself giving a joint keynote to get the local Startup Weekend going. Busy, and fun!

It’s interesting, with Lusaka being a smaller, though major African city, they have the ambitions of larger things. However, their issues become more challenging than people who live in some of the larger cities like Lagos, Cape Town or Nairobi, since there isn’t the critical mass of things like investors, customers or talent. It seems like the strategy to build a big company is that you have to move across borders and anchor off of a larger region more quickly.

A Day Off on the at Vic Falls

Today I’m sitting in a camp on the edge of a tributary to the Zambezi river, a couple kilometers from Victoria Falls. The rains have been late here, so everything is dry, including the falls themselves – they’re still epic, but not nearly the same as the real falls. We went out there this morning to get a few pictures, and were able to get the BRCK connected from “Danger Point”.

The BRCK Expedition at Victoria Falls

The BRCK Expedition at Victoria Falls

Mark Kamau of the iHub UX Lab at Victoria Falls, Danger Point

Mark Kamau of the iHub UX Lab at Victoria Falls, Danger Point

BRCK at Vic Falls

BRCK at Vic Falls

Today is mostly about rest. We’re doing a bit of testing, connecting the BRCK to the vehicle mounted Poynting antenna, and then amplifying that with a Wilson booster, which successfully turns a non-existent signal on a mobile phone into a 19 (with antenna) and then a 61 (with amp + antenna). It’s great to have a device like this where we can get such great connectivity wherever we go.

Mark has begun his lessons on how to ride a motorcycle today. He’s been busy putting around the campsite this afternoon with a big fat grin on his face. :)

Mark Kamau learns to ride a bike at Victoria Falls from WhiteAfrican on Vimeo.

The Road to Livingston

We had an interesting day yesterday, with a plan for a 5-6 hour ride from Lusaka to Livingstone. It turned into an 11-hour drive though, since the Land Rover had some issues with air in the fuel line. For a while, we could only go 20km at a time before it would stop and we’d have to bleed it. Luckily Philip really knows his way around a diesel engine, we worked through all the obvious issues and finally got it to go 100km before we had to bleed it again.

Fixing the Land Rover

Fixing the Land Rover

Trying to figure out the source of the air in the fuel

Trying to figure out the source of the air in the fuel

Last night Reg spent some time on it and though we think the fuel lift pump is the culprit (and weak), it’s working well enough to make the 500km run to Francistown, Botswana tomorrow.

Stinking Thieves

We thought Zambia was different. Mark accidentally left Juliana’s big Nikon camera at a restaurant in Lusaka. Mark wanted to go by and see if it was there, I was skeptical, it was lost forever. However, the next day our friend and TED Africa Fellow, Mulumba went by and they had found and kept it for us. Where were we? This doesn’t usually happen in a big African city…

Today, we had to run to pick up some food at the local Shoprite grocery store in Livingstone. We locked up the Land Rover and went in for 30 minutes or so. When we cam out we found everything sitting in the back seat was stolen, including a nice 300mm Nikon Lens, a riding vest, and most importantly of all, our amazing Med Kit. This med kit is put together by my wife, a nurse practitioner, and has some of the best expedition stuff you can find.

Oh, just found out that they got our Mozilla Firefox phone… this is a 3-SIM phone, and it’s what we used to top-up credit on SIM cards and figure things out along the way. What a shame.

We’re more than a bit pissed off about this, if I found the thieves there might be violence.

Pushing On and a Jua Kali hack

With the vehicle acting well all day today, the bikes tightened up and a chance to rest ourselves, we’re all set to hit the Botswana border in the morning and do a run down to Francistown. Reg had to head back to Kenya, so Mark will take over on the Land Rover, though we will miss having an engineer with us.

With Joel’s riding vest gone, we had no water for him. Fortunately, I carried an extra bladder. We put together a jua kali water pack for him using this, along with one of those small Alite chair bags, and a couple Rok straps (see below).

A 2 liter water pouch, a small chair bag, and two Rok straps make a new backpack for water.

A 2 liter water pouch, a small chair bag, and two Rok straps make a new backpack for water.

Sendy: Digitizing Motorcycle Deliveries

Motorcycle couriers in Timau, Kenya

Motorcycle couriers in Timau, Kenya

This year at Pivot East I had my first look at Sendy, which does for motorcycle courier deliveries and customers in Nairobi, what Uber did for taxis and passengers in San Francisco. At its heart, Sendy is about bringing the vast and growing motorcycle courier and delivery network in Africa into the digital and networked world.

Motorcycles in downtown Monrovia, Liberia

Motorcycles in downtown Monrovia, Liberia

This is a big deal, because those of us who live in large African cities know just how inefficient driving a car around the traffic-plagued metropolises can be. With the bad roads, traffic and high cost of fuel, motorcycle deliveries are a natural path.

Indeed, in almost every city, from primary to tertiary throughout the continent, you’ll find thousands of motorcycle guys sitting by the side of the road, ready to courier a package or serve as a taxi. They ride inexpensive $800-$1200 Chinese and Indian motorcycle brands, are generally not trained very well, have little safety equipment and are some of the most reckless riders I know.

When Alloys Meshack, Sendy’s CEO, stepped onto stage for his 7-minute pitch, I was hooked. It sounded like the right team, a good business plan, and one that could scale well beyond Nairobi. I met with him again this month, and got into a lot more details around the business, and this encouraged my thoughts on both him and his team, as well as the broader scope of the business that they are building. It is truly impressive.

How it Works

Sendy delivery - Android app screenshot

Sendy delivery – Android app screenshot

I also signed up for the service, and then used it.

It’s as simple as this:

  1. Download the Android app, or sign-in to the web app at
  2. Click the button that you have a delivery (or pickup) to be made.
  3. You can see the map for where the rider is – my wait was approx 5 minutes for the courier to arrive
  4. Give him the package and directions

There is a GPS transponder on the motorcycle, and you get an SMS update when the delivery rider gets withing 50m of the delivery zone. Once the package is delivered, there is another confirmation that the rider sends to Sendy, that comes to you as well. Payment is then made automatically by either credit card or Mpesa.

My delivery took about 25 minutes, from first Android app entry, to delivery about 5km away. At the end, you can rate your delivery rider, so that the best are known and get more business. I found my particular rider courteous and patient. He also told me that he makes about 5-6 deliveries a day with Sendy, and loves the service.

Challenges and Opportunities

The Sendy opportunity in eCommerce

The Sendy opportunity in eCommerce

With Africa’s growing need for logistics around eCommerce, Sendy presents a natural option for everyone from Jumia to your local supermarket. Motorcycles are already an accepted means of delivery for non-traditional business and large enterprises alike. The idea of capturing a large portion of this, without all the baggage of a normal courier company setup, is good for both Sendy and the everyday bodaboda/courier guy.

There are a couple hurdles to overcome to make this a simple process to onboard new customers, receive payment and then send payment to the courier riders. Unlike the US or EU, not everyone has a credit card, and the mobile payment options don’t allow for “pull” billing (instead, the customer has to “push” a payment to your service), which is clunky.

Sendy has corporate accounts (which is now used by both BRCK and Ushahidi), and for businesses, finding a good payment process isn’t a problem. However, there will need to be some creative thinking for individuals and small businesses in order to make Sendy as painless as it promises to be.

The service verifies the courier riders, keeping their records on file, and providing the necessary technology for both tracking of motorcycle and communications with the rider. This means that qualified riders are picked, lessening the chance of getting robbed, and the ability to rate a courier creates a system that builds trust over time.

The opportunities that Sendy represents are staggering. I encouraged Meshack to get Nairobi right quickly, then scale up and move beyond into other major cities in the region.

Sendy is raising a seed round of investment. If this opportunity is interesting to you, you should reach out to them.

Kazi ya Mkono

Entrepreneurs who succeed are hungrier, and they get their hands dirty. A couple stories:

The Coffee Man

Pete Owiti is a coffee connoisseur, he learned the trade back in the late 90’s as one of Java House Nairobi’s earliest baristas, became one of the best in Kenya, winning global barista competitions and then went to the US and Canada to do even more coffee training and serving. When I moved back to Kenya in 2009 to get the iHub going, we wanted a coffee bar in the space. I put out a call for proposals, and he was one of three that responded. By that time he had moved on from just serving coffee, to a business where he trained all of the baristas for both Java House and Dormans (the top two coffee houses in Kenya at the time).

There was no doubt who was the most qualified to run the iHub coffee bar, he was far and away the winner. Since then, Pete’s Coffee has gone from strength-to-strength, culminating in the Pete’s Cafe on the ground floor of the building that does an amazing amount of business.

Still today, you can find Pete doing the hard work, cleaning up, taking orders, making coffee – alongside his wife Christabel (who works harder than anyone else I know). Yes, there are employees now, but he still gets his hands dirty.

Read more about him on this profile piece (with video).

From the Village to the City

One of my favorite entrepreneurs in Kenya is also another good friend, she sits on the iHub Advisory Board, and is someone I go to for advice all the time. Rebecca Wanjiku started life in a village on the outskirts of Nairobi, with little to her name beyond a work ethic and drive to succeed. She worked her way into journalism, realized there was a gap in tech journalism in the region, educated herself by reading everything she could on every topic around the internet, and became the go-to tech journalist for many years. She’s flown around the world to cover major internet and tech events to bring an African perspective to the news. Still, today, she writes hard-hitting pieces for different magazines and on her own blog.

Rebecca Wanjiku

Becky didn’t make it because of a benefactor, she made it because of her own hard work and drive. Today she has a networking company that wires up buildings and people’s homes with internet connectivity, Fireside Communications, that has seen great success and continues to hire, and has even built a retail outlet in Westlands.

“Kazi ya Mkono” as a culture

I recently had someone who works with me complain about being given “Kazi ya Mkono” (aka, KYM) jobs (which is a term for “work of the hands” and is often used as a derogatory term for manual labor). I was stunned. Did this person not understand that I still get my hands dirty and build stuff? That I still run errands myself? That nothing gets built if you aren’t also willing to get down to do the hard work yourself?

It reminded me of a conversation I had with Becky Wanjiku earlier in the year, where she was complaining about graduates with university degrees and how unemployable they are in Kenya. They come out thinking that they’re “management material” and won’t do hard things. She tried to hire someone straight out of university for a networking job, and he refused to climb a ladder to install a WiMax solution.

Simply put, most of Kenya’s university graduates are not hungry enough. I see it when I look at the people we interview for positions at my companies. I see it when I mentor startups, where the CEO wants a business card that says that, and a desk, but won’t leave that desk to get his feet dirty knocking on doors. They don’t know that hustling isn’t just what you say to get work, business or jobs, but doing the actual work too.

Some of the best people I’ve had the honor to work with come with no degrees. They’re hungry. They hustle. They make up for their lack of training by educating themselves, watching, learning – but most importantly, trying. They will do whatever it takes to get that job done.

This attitude towards Kazi ya Mkono is a cancer in our system. It’s an unearned, entitlement mentality that is disturbing to see in anyone, but especially in 23-year old recent grads.

Hard work is something that shouldn’t be looked down upon, whether in a kiosk owner, a road sweeper, a barista or a coder. Yes, try to do it “smarter, not harder”, but still dig in and get your hands in there.

Not all jobs are manual. However, all companies are built on hard work. I hope that we’re not losing this thread in our community.

Bonus Content

Emeka Okafor just pointed me toward this great article, “Kenya’s Over-educated and Unemployable youth“.

No one says it better that Mike Rowe of “Dirty Jobs” fame. Besides the video below, read his response to a fan.