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Showing posts from 2008

One more stab at online business

I first discovered Microsoft Encarta in 1997, and what a joy that was. A digital repository with seemingly endless ways to satisfy my hunger for knowledge. Being a rap obsessed teenager it did not take me long to check what Encarta said about hip-hop. I found an article on Grandmaster Flash considered the grandaddy of hip-hop (at least by Encarta). In the article there was an audio clip of one of his most popular tunes 'The Message' which was later popularly resampled in 'Can't nobody hold me down' by Puff Daddy and Mase. One line of that great song in particular comes to mind right now "can't nobody hold me down... ohh no I got to keep on movin" And so it is with me, I have continued with my dream of promoting online business in Kenya. My latest effort is Incorporator , an online company formation service I have helped design, create, market and manage for a business services company. I consider this one of my most comprehensive works in e-commerc

Jobs in Kenya

Recently I checked my google analytics page and with shock discovered that the most popular pages on my blog were those of job vacancies. So if you've come to this page expecting to see a job vacancy, I apologise. You are one of my guinea pigs in my research to see whether indeed this is a recurrent theme

Of Circumcision and Taxes

With Barack Obama's successful election and the hope and inspiration it ignited in Africa, it was only inevitable that forgotten conversations would be remembered, radical arguments would be renewed, and people would have more enthusiasm in proposing and debating ideas. It is with this background that I recently found myself in a hearty discussion about the greatly flawed (italics mine) notion of black inferiority. And by black I mean people of African descent. As conversations go, ebbing and rising with the passion of each speaker, changing course rapidly as new insights or defeated rationale are encountered, so did this one. Eventually we ended up on the very delicate topic of female circumcision. Now, I was having this discussion with a very smart, very liberated lawyer who also happens to be a woman. Needless to say, such discussions can very quickly and very easily go off track unless the words that are coming out of one's mouth are considered carefully and sensitively

Kibaki is a joker!

What? A national holiday to celebrate the election of a US president ? Am I the only one who sees this for the asinine decision it is? So what if Barack Obama's father is from Kenya? Is it justification to lose KSh. 3.8 Billion (on an economy of KSh. 1.4 trillion)? You don't see the US making tomorrow a holiday, even though the election of Barack Obama is much more historic and relevant to them. This Kibaki government is a bunch of lazy, work-phobic, selfish, politics-first fellas who are totally unsuited to meet the challenges of Kenya's economic growth. That's what you get when you elect a bunch of doddering old men! Disgusting.

An entrepreneur's adventure: Part I

I frantically clawed at the dirt with my free arm, hoping for a jagged rock I could hold, a branch, a tuft of grass ... anything. My left arm hanging from a protruding tree root was weakening and hot from lactic acid. The warm blood sliding down the inside of my elbow felt almost cool to the strained muscles. I could still feel the frames of my glasses on my face, "at least I haven't lost those" I thought. But the glasses were of no use now, it was dusk, for me the hardest time to see. "Shika hio mti, Harry", a voice fell from above. I strained and turned my head up. Although I couldn't see him, I knew Collin was there. He must have been petrified, already feeling the unbearable guilt he would have to bear for putting his nephew in a life and death situation. "Heh heh", I managed a chuckle, imagining the comic expression on his face right now, his face wasn't suited to tragedy. "What" I scolded myself back to reality. I was making f

Thinking in Black and White

I recently joined a group called toastmasters, whose objective is to help its members improve their speech-making abilities. Here is my first speech called the icebreaker, that is supposed to introduce me to the other members. Thinking in Black and White Madame toast master, fellow toastmasters and guests. My form two English teacher was Ms. Koch, an American with a Belgian ancestry. She asked us to call her Ms. K as her name did not lend itself easily to pronunciation by an African tongue. During one group session where we could move around the class interacting with other students and the teacher she asked me what kind of writing I liked most. Wanting to give an impressive answer I furrowed my brow a while and replied “creative writing”. Ms. K reflected on my response, and I smugly awaited praise for my clever answer. “But Harry” she replied “all writing is creative.” I stood there feeling dumb, my smugness worn down by her simple logic. I half-grunted, half-mumbled to acknowledg

Literary Hacks at Business Daily

First of all, I would like to thank all those who I meet on the street, in the office, on the road, who are readers and followers of my blog. You give me the motivation to keep at this. Now, some of you have mentioned that I seem to have deviated from writing "startup" posts, like the rural cyber chronicles in my recent postings. Heck, I guess that's true somewhat, but the mind of an entrepreneur is fickle and unrestrained. Whatever catches my fancy at that time is what I would blog about, so today I am putting on a critique's hat and aim my sights at what I feel is woefully bad journalism. My target of vitriol is the headline story on the Business Daily of October 7, 2008, titled "Internet theft hits a new high" Naturally I was attracted to this story because I am an avid Internet user and a promoter of its potential as a business tool. Considering the very serious nature of the paper's allegation, I expected a fact-laden article with detailed testim

Closet Zain Users and the Vuka Phenomenon

What are the three most common things you expect to find in a Kenyan's wallet? National ID ATM Card Cash (if it's between 28th of previous month and 5th of new month). I think that we can now add a fourth... a Zain sim card. The pink card from the Mombasa road fellows is now a must-have for any sophisticated mobile phone user (who probably are in the millions), even if it spendgs most time in the wallet. For too long we have watched the rapid release of products from Celtel/Zain with the frustration of a teacher having to severally repeat a point to a dunderhead student. Uhuru tariff, Pamoja tariff, 6pm-6am 3 bob tariff, Unlimited talk time tariff, have all been excellent products in their own right, but not good enough to get a mass exodus from green to pink. However things may now be changing with the new Vuka tariff . Vuka represents a brutal price war tactic on the part of Zain, intended to convert greens to pinks by making Zain the cheapest network to use, regardless o

Products I want to see from Safaricom, Zain, Orange

Ah, the uninhibited joy of wishful thinking. After Safaricom introduced Voice SMS - a product that I had dreamed of since I first used a mobile phone - I started thinking "hey, perhaps I can voice some of my other fanciful mobile phone product ideas, and someone may just take notice"? Well, here goes ... the following list are some of the next products I'd like to see from the trio of Safaricom, Zain and Orange. An SMS autoresponder. Everytime you get an SMS you can optionally send back a response like "Thanks for your SMS I'll get back to you", or "Sorry I'm not able to respond to your SMS right now but I'll do so as soon as I'm able" It would be quite useful, especially when your phone is off/out of reach/on divert. The ability to convert unused airtime back to cash (although I know this makes absolutely no financial sense to these companies, it would be really cool!) Free voicemail depositing. Mobile Number Porting, just let me use

Stepping out of the closet... for Barack Obama

My first title was just "Stepping out of the closet" which I thought would be catchy and provocative. On further thought however, I decided to add the latter part, as there was also a danger that some might not read further than the title and proverbially judge a book by its cover. No offence intended to those who are in/out of the closet in the narrower sense of the word. I'm quite open-minded and I don't judge any one by how they like their eggs. So back to the topic, yes, Barack Obama.  Finally writing that makes me question whether I shouldn't just retreat back into the closet. You see Obama is undeniably the biggest news story of 2008, a historic candidate for POTUS, an inspirational story of achievement, and a potential 'leader of the free world'. Let's not forget that as a Kenyan I share some heritage with him ( sarcastically: heck I could be his cousin!). These circumstances should require... no ... demand that I spend a respectable amount of

...I can't complain

Back in 2001 when I was still in college, had one pair of overworn jeans and was hustling this Nairobi for web design jobs I had the good fortune to be introduced to a senior executive of a leading Kenyan company who is now its very powerful CEO.  Needless to say, I was intimidated, and not just because of 'Bob' my erstwhile pair of trousers (which with its worn denim looked more of an attempt at covering my nudity rather than a rebelious 'geek culture' fashion statement); but because I didn't have a clue what I'd say and this executive was widely travelled and widely knowledgeable.  Fortunately I realised that I really had nothing to lose and with that confidence I pitched my services as I walked with him (and his entourage of assistants) from his office to the basement car park. It wasn't easy; we met three different people (colleagues and building-mates) along the way each of whom wanted to 'seek his counsel' or just make pleasantaries. This mean

You read it here first

Well well well... once again here I am, the self-appointed critic and fan of the m-commerce industry in our beautiful Kenya. My fly on the wall has been working very hard and I have gotten further confirmation about the burial of Sokotole, but wait there's a surprise.... Yes, sokotele is as dead as a dodo but it is to be resurrected with a new name, new features who aims to become a formidable competitor to M-pesa. Very keen to see what those Zain Kuwaiti oil dollars are going to crank out.  Watch this space for details.

Sokotele is DEAD!

A reliable fly on the wall says that this venture from Kencell/Celtel/Whatever is drawing its last breath. I guess they had it coming considering the business model they took.  One of my favourite business books "An Innovator's Solution" says that the key to successful products is to find out what job consumers are trying to get done, and develop a product that gets that job done. Hate them or love them, thats what M-PESA did, and what Sokotele failed to do, and now they will be punished for it. I believe Sokoteles biggest mistake was tying-in the service to K-Rep (although I hear that this was because the service was actually a K-Rep idea!), and making the service simply about money transfer instead of the more job-I'm-trying-to-get-done 'liquid money storage' service that M-PESA is. Oh well, lets see if a rejuvenated Telkom can create some waves with their own moribund money-transfer service (any body know what its called) under an Orange brand.

Cheers and Jeers for M-PESA

What a juggernaut this Safaricom has become that I find myself unable to get myself excited to blog about anything else but Safaricom. I'll keep this short though: First the cheers. Anyone with a new Safaricom sim card would have noticed two additional menus under the M-PESA section: 'Buy Goods' and 'ATM Withdrawal'. Very exciting stuff, I can already see myself buying groceries at Tusky's with my phone and withdrawing cash from my M-PESA account at the ATM (24 hour availability of cash, the last frontier for M-PESA withdrawals!) Now the Jeers There is a service known as 'Pay Bill' that has been on the M-PESA section for a long time but is grossly under-exploited. The Pay Bill service is the key to e-commerce in Kenya and can operate similar to PayPal, but Safaricom are being a real pain in the a** in opening this service to merchants. I applied for this back in April and was asked for nearly 10 documents (company certificate of incorporation, pin do

Safaricom Bank

As one of the new owners of Safaricom (granted that I get at least some 100 shares after the massively oversubscribed IPO) I take a keen interest in its (Safaricom's) financial future. I'll try not to repeat what has probably been written, blogged, sms'ed, posted etc. a thousand times over in other fora and instead give my own two sumunis on what I believe lies in wait for this behemoth. I'll warn you first that most of what I write here is speculative and should not form the basis of your investment decisions. In my last post I mentioned I would talk about how Safaricom is transforming itself into a financial company. It seems that now everyone else is sitting up and taking notice. For anyone who followed the release of S'coms spectacular financial results released a couple of days ago you would have noted how their trumpted their M-PESA product yet at the same time tried to assuage banks that they were not in competition with them. Give me a break! Now that I

Selling stuff online to Kenyans

You might not know this but my love of entrepreneurship is fuelled majorly by my love of computer programming. My first exposure to computers was in 1988 when I played shuffleboard on an Atari. Having been raised in the boondocks I was utterly spellbound with the concept of a video game. In 'shags' we hardly ever got toys from the shops; instead we would create our own toys using locally available material. For toy cars we twisted and shaped wire coat hangers and cut out rubber tires from old (and sometimes mom's new) bathroom slippers. For planes, we stuck a stalk of grass through a dried maize leaf and made our 'propellers' rotate by holding them out in front and running into the wind (incidentally this was my all-time favourite). For marbles we hunted for used and discarded bottle-tops (beer bottle-tops were coveted). In fact we had so many toys that our game time never felt inadequate. That was until I discovered video games. Hard as I thought I didn't see

A solution for hawkers in Nairobi

Congratulations to the new Nairobi mayor and deputy mayor whoever they are. Let's hope they make something of their office over the next two or so years. However unless there is a radical overhaul of the Local Government Act , the man(woman) with the power to change the face of Nairobi remains the Town Clerk, currently one John Gakuo. Today I have some unsolicited advice for Mr. Gakuo. I'm sure he is quite excited about the new Muthurwa market for hawkers recently setup by the Government at a cost of Sh. 1 billion plus ($14.3M). But I doubt that the market will achieve its primary goal, removing hawkers from the street. There are many reasons for this: Hawkers go where the market goes, and many buyers who give life to the street hawkers will not go to Muthurwa market Muthurwa market with its limited spaces is already grossly insufficient for the swelling numbers of hawkers The KSh. 100 daily entrance fee will appear prohibitively high for some hawkers vis-a-vis the expected f

Genius Heal Kenya Initiative

Yesterday was a proud day for me. Our business incubator Genius Executive Centre launched the Genius Heal Kenya Initiative. This initiative's main objective is to assist families displaced by the Kenyan crisis through prayer and material donation (foodstuffs, clothes, blankets, toys etc.). With over seventy entrepreneurs as members of the Centre we are confident that this initiative shall make a real and positive difference in the lives of fellow Kenyans. We have partnered with the Karen branch of the Red Cross to distribute the donations to the displaced families. Any contribution you can make towards this initiative is welcome.

Because I love Kenya...

Because I love Kenya, because I love Kenyans and all its peoples, because I love peace, because I believe in dialogue, democracy, fairness, and justice, I am setting up a new blog http://amanikenya.blogspot.com as a platform for practical and peaceful solutions to our situation. A blog to capture the goodness and neighbourliness of Kenyans even in these times of turmoil. A blog that champions the cause of only one party - the party of the Kenyan people. This is a blog about restoring peace, harmony and unity in Kenya during these times of unrest. While there are other important issues in Kenya arising from the December elections of 2007, peace remains the most important, most urgent, and most universal issue to all Kenyans. Let us reject tribalism, hatred, bigotry, intolerance, intransigence, and incitement. Let us embrace peace, dialogue, unity, prayer, compromise, and neighbourliness. I know I cannot make this initiative a success on my own and I appeal to all who share my cause

Is Compromise a Four Letter Word?

It saddens me that my absence from blogging has not been broken by innovation or entrepreneurship - those things that I love so much to write about. But today I am forced to I write about something I love even more, and that is my country Kenya. On December 26th 2007 I broke my vacation upcountry and drove two hundred kilometres in order to get to my polling station early the next morning to cast my vote. My enthusiasm to exercise my civic duty ensured that by 7:30 am on voting day I was done and was only to wait for the results. Confident that my subscription to SMS election updates would keep me adequately informed of the results and with my phone on roaming I accepted an invitation to spend one week abroad at a friend's house. My vacation has since turned into an unplanned exile from my country as I watch in disbelief as Kenya disintegrates at an alarming pace. I cannot stand by and watch as my beautiful Kenya is destroyed by the pride of two men. Kenya is bigger than both ac