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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 how I could recreate the video game using local material. My wait however was not to be long. One year later I started my first computer class on an Apple Macintosh; and in barely less than one year I was already into BASIC programming. It didn't take long to discover that with BASIC I had the material to create video games. It was like a door had been opened to a whole new world for me. I stepped into this world and saw endless opportunity to create. Even at that age, I realised that the only thing that could hold me back was my creativity.

BRAKES....Now I'm getting excited so allow me to stop here and save 'My Life with a Computer' (soon to be written post) for another day; let me get back to topic. I find my love for start-ups and programming intricately linked; in fact most of the new products I have come up with involve some level of computer programming i.e. SoftLaw Citator,, Genius Executive Centre.

One area of netpreneurship however has always eluded me and that is selling stuff over the Internet to Kenyans. The problem as I've seen it as been two-fold: settlement and delivery. However with the abundant variety of courier firms that have sprung up recently and with a new and easy way to transfer money I see a light at the end of the tunnel.

At the risk of giving away a perfectly good business idea let me say now that online purchases/settlement (Kenyanised for mobile phone use) is the next big thing. The next E-bay or Amazon or even Google is just waiting to be launched; and the platform will be driven by M-PESA, Safaricom's rapidly growing money-transfer service (note to self: remember to write post on how Safaricom is transforming into a financial services company).

I tried Sambaza for online purchases on with some moderate success but its problem was always convertibility of airtime into cash. With M-PESA however, this is not a problem and I've already started experimenting by selling an e-book online. The response so far has been encouraging and I'm now working on tweaks to improve the buyers experience.

M-PESA is a runaway hit, and when a smart entrepreneur starts selling a basic commodity through M-PESA it will be the beginning of a revolution. So popular is M-PESA that it has totally eclipsed its rivals from Celtel and Telkom ($1,000 for anyone who knows what the competing products are called!) and I plan to be in smack in the middle of the gravy train.


Anonymous said…
Google has 'Google Checkout' and has already opened an office in Kenya. It will be interesting going forward to see how this space shakes out.

Convenient payment settlement is one of the fastest growing segments of Web 2.0.
Wilfredw said…
How do you cope with or prevent someone buying one copy and emailing it to their friends?
Harry Karanja said…

Right now there is no technological way to prevent people from sharing one copy, but since the cost is very low I think such incidences will be few and/or insignificant.

Plus at the moment its not about the money but seeing whether the idea is workable.
Anonymous said…
Well at least kenya is soon beingh known for more than it's wildlife and the wildebeest migration in masai mara. Kenya is also a leading economic power house in East Africa.
Kobby Owusu said…
Harry, I have been closely watching the mobile payment solutions space especially MPESA, WIZZIT (SA) and I do agree that with a good bsuiness model an Ebay or Amazon might emerge.

In Ghana, we do not have any widely used payments systems although progress is being made with the introduction of a major component to the national payment system which will interconnect all banks on one national switch.

There is one notably start up in Ghana, which is trying to open up this space. I will update you on what happens with it. Keep us posted, when you move your idea from 'Ninja mode' to near launch.
Anonymous said…
hi contact me kenyabizideas@gmail
Mebbz said…
The Mpesa from safaricom like you said is opening up a lot of avenues...personally i feel its about time that people used that idea... thanks start up kenya. you opened my eyes to some new way of looking at things. soon you'll read an article by me about how the idea has transformed me...
Anonymous said…
come on guys paypal was started by a guy with a 40 dollar script.

yes there are ways to prevent people from sharing and I can show you.


I think we had talked last year. If you remember alex.

I have the platforms you might need and I'm coming back to Kenya next month.

let's talk.

you can go to my new site and if you wish I could help you out. I know online, you know Kenya.
camerakenya said…
There is this site i think you guys should pay a visit Its a great idea that I feel has quite some potential.
matere lusitche said…
may i apologive for going to your forum
i have an idea that i hope to share with as many people as possible i am not very conversant with internet so i havent boeen able to create a blog please go to to have a look at it password is mwanainchi
2kaf said…
Can anyone help me get a job. I have CPA(K), IMIS Higher Diploma, and Currently taking Cisco Certified Netwrok Associate Course. I have 2 years experince as accounts and IT assistant.
Brainiac said…
The proponents of mcommerce have it all wrong.The next revolution is not going to be in fancy gizmos running on java or any web 2.0 platform (heaven knows what the next acronym after AJAX will be). Its in a simple idea that i suspect revolves around Mpesa and Edge / Gprs / HSDPA. somthing everyone else has been overlooking. Remeber the guy that sold a 1000 pixel by 1000 pixel homepage at USD 1 per pixel to make a million?
Anonymous said…
To the owner of this blog, how far youve come?
Anonymous said…
Harry I was trying to contact you but your contact links not working.
I have anidea that i wanted to discuss with you.
Anonymous said…
my emails
Unknown said…
Hey man,

Good to see someone one profiling Kenyan start ups. I just launched my start up in Nairobi and i want to get your feedback so far. its the beta version is still working on final kinds.
Anonymous said…
What of a simpler solution for Kenyans and other Africans wishing to buy and sell online : classifieds.
Classifieds like permit you to post your ad for free.
Pete R Njenga said…
Guys are afraid of having their identites stolen online. I used to only credit my VISA debit card with the exact amount I'm just about to use to make online payments. I Outgrew that obviously, but I'm still very careful online.
If M-PESA can be used to make online payments, that would be great.
Look at what BooksFirst is trying with their online bookstore.
Another nice innovation is how Barclaycard holders can buy shares at NSE with their creadit cards.
We need to make bold steps to facilitate online trading. Look at my beef with Telecommunications providers and their never-updated and always down or under construction web sites at
Great idea! its time we to take advantage of the new technology n move on. online selling great!
Anonymous said…
I was reading this blog and the comments with interest and having read about the million pixel idea AND Ebay I felt compelled to share with you my payment processor at

Accounts are charged via Safaricom Pay Bill. Credits can then be spent at a growing number of websites, including the Ebay-like and

There is also a freelance site, an ebook download site, with 2 more in the pipeline, as well as ideas for more.
indianist said…
Thanks for the solution which you gave. long back i thinking about the selling stuff online idea but now only i understood the process and procedure. thanks for the information

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