of culture,ecosystems and learning

When you look at some of the world’s most innovative companies, you witness a trend of creating forums and channels for upcoming talents to improve their knowledge and skills. Thriving Startups and established companies  for example have yearly forums, platforms where industry leaders get to share their views about the future, what the companies are working on and giving a chance for upcoming innovators to showcase their creations. Here I am talking about developer conferences, annual letters, prototypes, trends, experimenting and stuff. This creates a culture of continuous learning, expanding the market and creating future talent.

Innovation-Learning-Logo-small

image source: Google images

Examples:
Facebook F8: This is an event held mostly annually for entrepreneurs and developers who build things around the website. Over the years, the sessions begin with a keynote speech from founder, Mark Zuckerberg and then followed by various breakout sessions. New products are also announced in such events.

SpeceX Hyperloop competition: It gives students and no-students a chance to showcase different designs of scalable prototypes of a new mode of transportation. To facilitate the platform, SpaceX built a 1.6 km test track where the competition took place.

Other trends such as one by Jeff Bezos yearly shareholder letters shed light into what the leader thinks about the industry. Founders of Facebook, Y Combinator among countless others also write the annual letters. The annual letters are mainly available in the public domain and serve as important pointers on opportunities that industry enthusiasts should be working on. I think these serve as a good reference point to where the industry is going and therefore propels growth both in customers and talent.
Furthermore, to establish more university-industry linkages, established founders give lectures in universities. Peter Thiel has lectured a whole unit on startups at Stanford University. Y Combinator is also doing the same and now has an online startup school.
I think the above examples show why Silicon valley and USA continues to innovate. There is a whole ecosystem of linkages which continuously builds talent and a learning culture. I am particularly concerned with the industry-university linkage. When established founders teach some courses in universities, students interested in the startup world get real-time information about what the industry is about and use that knowledge to better enhance their classroom understanding. Also when SpaceX  organised a hyperloop competition early this year, it attracted submissions from students in USA and outside the US. They competed in what could be the future of transportation. These are a bunch of probably 18-22 year olds already getting real world experience about future engineering prospects while still studying.

I think Kenyan startups and companies should aim to establish more of such platforms.  They would be good grounds to nurture future talent, influence the direction of innovation and create room more opportunities. Young talents get a glimpse of what is going on the industry and then try to come up with new inventions, ideas about solving some of our day to day challenges. Also such platforms would probably solve some of the current challenge whereby corporates are complaining that graduates have book knowledge but no industry experience. I am not talking about internships, but probably different kind of engagements that bring together industry players, students, enthusiasts on a day of building prototypes, ideas, concepts and getting a glimpse of what these companies are focusing on. Currently, there are platforms such as Nairobi Innovation Week by University of Nairobi among others. Also, ihub has hosted various conferences ranging from developers and blockchain conferences. I think this would apply to any industry as a way of passing out knowledge they have accumulated while at the same time learning of trends and creating an innovation culture. Eg Cytonn creating a platform for sharing new real estate models, linking up interested parties etc. How about MPESA organising annual forums for showcasing new trends, innovations in mobile money or Twiga foods undertaking class in Egerton University about food ecosystems in Kenya.
Maybe it is because some of major organisations in Kenya have not developed capacity to manage such things. Nonetheless, i think it would be a good idea that would ensure creating a fertile ground for more ideas, innovations and knowledge which would end up benefiting them too in the long run. This could apply to any other company, Cellulant, Safaricom, etc. In Nigeria,  Hotels.ng is currently training software developers in order to ensure Nigeria has more competent developers to drive the technology revolution. Mark Essien of Hotels.ng says in a tweet that “providing a training ground for software developers is not charity but a way of ensuring the company survival”. The Arena kenya has also been organising series of events called MatchMentor that aims at building mentorship platforms and learning from other thriving professionals in various industries. It is exciting to see how this concept evolves with time. Therefore long term strategies are necessary because industry leaders should contribute more to what they would like to see in the future. By doing so, they ensure their own companies’ survival through available of future talent, more customer and new frontiers while keeping the culture of innovation and learning alive.

Advertisements

Movies

There are movies I have watched that I think have a somewhat correlation with abc’s of life, work and anything in between. In this post I list some of these I have watched over time.

5

The Godfather: the movie came out in 1972 but it chronicles mafia groups led by The Don, Corleone. It’s a packed with themes of leadership, family, and the nitty-gritties of running a business, a drug related business or not. Based on how you view it, it is not very entertaining, it takes time.  It teaches some subtle lessons about making tough decisions and always thinking like a winner.

Shawshank redemption: Now this is one is one of my best ever. A story about how a banker is sentenced to life imprisonment , unfairly, and then crafts a mega escape, prison break style. In between, It is packed with jewels such as to always keeping calm in the midst of trouble, shit happens, importance of friendships, taking chances, always treat others with respect and power of focusing on a goal no matter how un-achievable It might seem be. One of my best quotes from the movie ‘get busy living or get busy dying’.

Field of dreams: one of the biggest questions that a founder asks themselves is ‘if i build will they come?

3 Idiots: First time i watched this movie, I was in campus. It was like a campus theme back then-school is boring, nobody understands what the lectures are teaching, and booze. But I re-watched it later on and I now understand why I related to it: importance of curving your own path and not the one everyone thinks is good for you and having fun along the way.

Big Short: Based largely on the events of 2008 financial crisis. It is reflection of how financial markets are mainly driven by emotions and greed and little to do with facts. In a world where everyone is blind and lacks oversight, four guys predicted the collapse of housing market and they were right, billions of dollars right. And it throws in some concepts about definition of financial instruments like credit default swaps, subprime mortgages and others in a cool way.

Startup: This is a recent one about guys who try to make a new form of currency, GenCoin. It showcases the ups and downs of starting a startup. Even the episodes are named like stages of a startup: seed money, ground floor, proof of concept, angel investor, bootstrapped, buyout, hostile takeover. Also, if you are a startup enthusiast, another series called ‘Silicon Valley’ show is equally good.

The Founder: This is a somewhat controversial tale of how McDonald’s came to be. Ray Croc visited the then small fast food restaurant and was impressed by its efficiency. He then engineered the franchise model that would see McDonald’s expand to one of the largest fast food restaurants in the world amidst the controversy that he underhanded the McDonald brothers.

I would love to see  your recommendations too.

 

Views on origin and evolution of SACCOs

SACCOs are classified as the cornerstone of vision 2030 in mobilizing savings from current 16% to the desired 30%. SACCO movement started as social in nature and it operated for decades this way. I believe it is possible to maintain the social nature of SACCOs while positioning them to evolve in the new age of disruption. Is it not time SACCOs seek ways to evolve in order to survive in the modern age of financial technology companies that are introducing new and innovative models of saving and lending?

Changing landscape. One is the nature of jobs nowadays are changing. The SACCO movement was mainly formed in order to pool funds for advancing affordable credit to people with a similar common bond. This led to formation of SACCOs with members being predominantly employees of one corporation or entity. For example Stima SACCO was formed by employees of Kenya Power, Mwalimu SACCO by teachers, Afya SACCO, Kenya Police SACCO and so on. However in the last decade or so there has been evolution in the nature of jobs. More and more people are doing freelance work; informal sector is becoming more and more vibrant, creative economy, entrepreneurship culture and so on. These new crop of workers are going to have different characteristics than their predecessors. Differences in terms of work culture, nature of jobs, employment terms, earnings etc. These people also need financial services in terms of savings and credit that reflect their unique situation. SACCOs could be in the forefront to harness this opportunity.

tanzania-informal-credit-reporting

Alternative credit scoring?: In the current state, SACCOs loan to members based on two major aspects: the amount of savings and guarantor-ship. For smaller loans, savings and guarantee from other members is enough to secure a loan. However, for larger amount there needs to be some form of collateral, in most cases it is land, car or any other physical assets. Now this is where I think improvements should come in. Younger people in job settings that I have highlighted above may not have physical assets such as land and cars. Furthermore, they may not have regular paychecks that would enable them to access credit. However, they have income, though irregular. The challenge and opportunity is aggregating useful data about them that can be used as credit score and it’s already happening. For example farmers that rely on approved warehouses to store their produce such as maize, sorghum, wheat and barley can use warehouse receipts to access credit. see more here. Farmers with cows are able to access loans based on amount of milk produced that they take to the dairy. With correct data capture about the amount of milk produced, the health of the cow, feeding etc, the data can be aggregated and used to assess credit worthiness. Imagine if this is extrapolated to other areas that there are people with irregular incomes? Huge opportunity.

Grameen 2.0: The current developments are what i would call Grameen 2.0. Professor Muhammad Yunus conceptualized the idea of group lending whereby members of a group are used as collateral for a loan. The micro-credit system was devised to enable the poor in Bangladesh to access credit and it led to formation of Grameen Bank in 1980s. This has been one of the great pillars that has made chamas, investment groups ,merry go-rounds and SACCOs to thrive. Could we now be entering into Grameen 2.0 whereby instead of using other members support, your own digital footprint is used to aggregated data as a basis of lending? The use of digital traits has been conceptualized since 2011 and growing. Some startups are currently experimenting with non-traditional forms of data for assessing credit worthiness of a potential borrower. Algorithm and big data analytics are allowing companies to use social media activity, location, and mobile phone usage to identify, score and underwrite credit to low and middle income consumers that lack formal credit history. Using data processing facilities, it is possible to analyze a person’s digital footprint in a new way that is not captured in the traditional ways. Some other new startups are using metrics such as amount of credit in your phone, frequency of topping up credit, number of people you call, length of each call to evaluate credit worthiness. The examples are many. A good example would be: https://www.lenddo.com/.  These are mainly being used to lend for smaller denominations.

Another area that I think is going to witness changes is the repayment models. Majority of the above borrowers are not likely to have stable, consistent income to enable them make rigid loan repayments. This results to missed payments and defaults. There is probability of new and flexible ways of repaying that could be favorable to both the lending institution and the borrower. I think SACCOs have a grand opportunity to offer even better products than even banks and other financial technology companies. They have a pool of members, they have data, they know their trends. However, all the data silos is rarely used to inform credit scores that would see evolution of financial services offered. You can get more details on this concept here and here.

All these alternative ways of lending are in their early stages and there are risks involved just like in any innovation. The default rates are still high as they work to improve the models. Embracing a long term view is crucial in order to work out the best model. It remains to be seen which of these models will be robust enough to ultimately move the needle and disrupt the credit scoring model especially for informal markets. Ultimately, these credit scoring alternatives will reduce costs of borrowing and therefore interest rates on loans will also reduce. I remember the way equity was among the first banks to cuts costs of opening a bank account to attract low income earners. The current battleground is on use of alternative data to rate credit worthiness of a borrower as well as structuring repayment schedules.

Investments 

Another area is the nature of investments that SACCOs undertake. Established SACCOs command sizable amount funds that are channeled mainly into safer investments like real estate and stock market. There is also other opportunity for SACCOs, and chamas to diversify their investments. If a chama or SACCO is well endowed financially, it can diversify its investment portfolio,  say invest in a pool: real estate, stocks and venture capital, particularly, venture capital. Understandably, VC investments are long term oriented, 5-10 years and are not very attractive in Kenya at the moment. However, channeling some funds so that they are invested through holding companies could be attractive. The SACCO then holds majority shares in the holding company and invite other participants, say 2 or 3 investors. The pool of funds can be used for venture capital investing. To resonate well with members, the funding can go towards projects within the community at first and then expand thereafter. For example investing in areas such as light processing industries in the area etc. This model was proposed by Stephen Gugu and Wilfred Mworia in Chapter 14 of the ‘Digital Kenya Publication’ titled ” Venture Capital in East Africa, is There a Right Model?

This could work well because it becomes part of larger social fabric that cements the SACCO as being part of the larger community because of job creation in the area and uplifting the living standards of local people. This approach could benefit in improving funding for local SMEs to bridge the funding gap. The long term effect would be that the SACCOs would morph to be multi-faceted investment vehicles that serve many functions within the community and the country at large: improve savings culture, low lending rates, increase the banking reach, improve access to capital for SMEs in the local area, promote creation of job opportunities, more taxation and others. The wealth creation cycle therefore grows even further and becomes a fabric that shapes communities and a country at large.

Majority of innovations boils down to the fundamental laws. Innovation could be improvement of an existing product or service. The first mobile phone that was made is not the same as one today, although the fundamentals that make it a phone  remain: communication. Even in SACCOs, the fundamentals laws should always remain, savings and lending, pooling of funds, affordable credit etc. but other things should evolve in order to transform it to be ready for disruptive 21st century. I believe what is true is that people will continue to demand affordable credit. Saving in order to advance affordable credit is the basic principle. Now we should build on that and see how we can improve on it going forward.

If you are interested in further reading you can check out some of the links i have provided below in text. Just click the links and read away…

 

In the next post, I will explore more in VC funding in Kenya. check out soon…

 

 

of plans and mega plans

Majority of the countries in the developing world, including Kenya, have established long term blueprints that guide their social, political and economic agenda. Kenya has Vision 2030 blueprint which aims at ‘transforming Kenya into a newly industrializing middle income country providing high quality of life to all its citizens by 2030’. Rwanda has ‘vision 2040 master plan’. Uganda has ‘vision 2040’. Saudi Arabia has ‘vision 2030 plan’. Nigeria has ‘vision 2020′. China is now on ’13th long term development plan’ (2016-2020), and there are other five year plans that have been established since 1950s; these plans are linked with one another despite the changes in political regimes. These plans have played a role in mobilizing a country’s resources and focus to a more promising future that everyone can look forward to. What has been the progress of Kenya’s vision 2030 so far? Maybe that’s totally different blog post. The essence of these economic master plans is to guide a country despite the changes in political regimes. This is because  politicians have a tendency of making short term decisions that only seek to make them re-elected while leading a country to nowhere. There must be someone willing to sacrifice short term gain for long term gain as in the case of Singapore with Lee Kuan Yew.

what-to-do-when-you-feel-stuck

We can borrow a lot from such especially in startups. When a startup is on mission, then it does not stop until achievement of the results. I think this is something that is overlooked and could help us a lot. In 2006, Facebook turned down $ 1 billion acquisition  offer from Yahoo the reason being as Mark put it   “They (Yahoo) did not properly value things that did not yet exist so they were therefore undervaluing the business”. In this case, it turned out to be the right decision because the market value of Facebook now is the region of $300 billion. There are other many startups that turned down acquisition offers from other established companies but the explanation given by Zuckerberg stood out for me. It seems he had a longer term view of what Facebook could grow out to be and did not want to sell out for short term gain.

Another example I saw is from Marvel Movie Studios. I’m a superhero movie junkie and I like both  Marvel and DC Comics franchises. When Marvel was making the first Iron Man in 2008, they tried to imagine how the story would play out in future. The directors say in this video that  they look at the big picture and see how things can relate between movies. For example, they are now making Avenger Infinity War, Part 1 coming out in 2018 and it is a culmination of Avengers franchise which they have been setting up since Avengers 1. The Avengers Infinity war will see the avengers meet the guardians of the galaxy and it’s a story that has been building up since the start of Avengers franchise. We’ll see how this plays out. What I see them doing here is that one event is a set up for the next and building the possibilities that could happen in future even if these possibilities are not clear at the present. I know that these examples seem far fetched, these guys were not struggling to quickly make money from their creations in order to sustain themselves. But maybe we can learn a thing or two from them. “We tend to overestimate what we can achieve in one year and underestimate what we can achieve in 10 years”. -Bill Gates.

vibrant Kenyan startup scene

Since the dawn of M-PESA, Kenya has attracted international attention as a hotbed of innovation. In this post I briefly highlight some of the startups that are tackling big challenges in Kenya in an innovative way. For me this represents the possibilities that we can still acheive if we became innovative and proactive.

Twiga Foods: a business to business supplier of fresh farm produce

Twiga has two main aspects: the supply side (farmers) and the demand side (vendors). In the supply side,as explained by the founder, Grant Brooke Twiga collects data from farmers and creates value for a certain commodity at a certain time in future. Farmers are able to get better prices and have some certainty about what their produce will cost even before it is ready. On the demand side, the vendors are able to get constant supply of produce from Twiga which is delivered to them directly.With oversupply, vendors are able to sell at fair prices and Twiga also is able to advance short term credit to reduce instances of inflation which is brought about low supply of products. Currently, Twiga has a portfolio of bananas, tomatoes, onions and potatoes.The company’s aim is to increase the product range.

Website: Twigafoods.com

twiga

Sendy. Founded 2014. 

This is a provider of on demand, door to door delivery and transportation services in Kenya.
As explained in the Digital Kenya Book It’s ‘An Uber-style motorbike delivery service providing  mobile phone platform that aggregates and distributes demand for deliveries by matching requests from customers with the company’s network of crowd sourced delivery couriers’. With the dawn of eCommerce and online purchases, Sendy has developed an innovative model of undertaking last-mile delivery services to customers after they have bought products online, think companies like OLX and Jumia, they depend on Sendy to make last mile delivery to customers.

website: https://sendyit.com/.

sendy

 

BitPesa: Founded 2013.

Bitpesa is one stop platform for sending and receiving international payments to and from Africa. Everyone agrees that the international payments systems are tiring, complicated and expensive. Bitpesa is leveraging on the new era of digital currency to enable seamless transactions from anywhere across the globe. Currently, Bitpesa does not only buy and sell bitcoin but also enables small business to make international payments directly to local bank accounts. Bitcoin is a form of digital currency which is held only electronically and can also be used to facilitate international payments.Bitcoin is currently being used mainly to facilitate payments but there is also the debate whether it can fully replace the existing currencies such as the dollar, shilling, or Yen to become it’s own form. But the technology behind it is even more fascinating, the block chain which allows for creation of digital ledger. There are ongoing developments on this front and I think there are a lot of possibilities.

Website: Bitpesa.co

bitpesa

 

iCow

ICow is a mobile phone based agricultural information platform for small holder farmers. Farmers receive information through SMS on how to improve their farming methods. What I liked about this platform is that when you read about them, you have a feeling that they have an understanding of farming dynamics in Kenya: small-scale farming where farmers undertake multiple activities-planting maize, beans, cattle farming, goats and chicken.  If farmers are able to receive better and relevant information about their farming methods, then I think they can increase yields. What I am not sure of  is their pricing model.

website: icow.co.ke

icow.PNG

 

BRCK. Founded in 2013.

Builds connectivity devices that can be used where electricity and internet connectivity are problematic. One of its main devices in The BRCK which as they say in their website is “a rugged, self-powered, mobile WIFI device which connects people and things to the internet even in areas of the world with poor infrastructure”.  It is a modem made for harsh environments not just in Africa but other parts of the world and it can connect upto 20 devices and seamlessly switch between WiFi, 3G,4G and Ethernet automatically. Even during blackouts, it comes with device that provides up to 8 hours of use. Check more information on their website : https://www.brck.com.

brck.PNG

 

By any measure, this is list is not conclusive. There are many other startups doing well in Kenya. For example, there is M- KOPA solar and Straus energy.  According to its website(http://solar.m-kopa.com) says it has connected over 400,000 customers with solar power. The alternative form of energy company says it has its eyes on 1 million customers and it’s target market is off-the grid customers mainly from poor households.

On the other hand, Strauss energy aims at ‘integrating energy generating technology into the basic building materials’. This is a modern alternative to installation of solar panels. It entails fitting energy producing cells into the parts of a construction. These building materials capture sun rays and convert it into solar energy. This eliminates the need to install a roof and then a solar panel. What is even better is that different surfaces can be fitted with energy generating materials, pavements, windows etc. Check out http://www.straussenergy.com.  I think this is very innovative considering that in Kenya we have more months of sunshine every year than say, USA, where we have another similar company, Solar City, spearheaded by Elon Musk.

strauss energy.PNG

 

Going forward, I think the startup landscape in Kenya is poised for even further growth. Weza Tela was  recently acquired by AFB for $1.7 million becoming one of the main startup exits in Kenya. Toyota   also recently  invested $3m in  another Kenya startup, Seven Seas technologies with 9.5% stake in the company. Such developments continue to make the industry robust. With more equity funding as well as exists either in terms of IPO or acquisitions, the Kenyan startup scene is poised to continue to grow. It’s just a matter of time before Kenya produces a unicorn (billion dollar startup).

 

self education

Joi Lto in an all famous Ted talk advocates for learning over education. He says “education is what they do to you, learning is what you do to yourself”.  In the modern world we have seen time and again a group of armatures making something completely different and change the way things are done. Furthermore, nowadays we don’t need a lot of resources to make something meaningful. We just need the drive and a general idea about what we want to achieve. “Compass over maps” meaning it is better to have your true north or an idea about what you want to achieve rather than a detailed plan of how to achieve it. You can figure it on the way. Joi Lto concludes his talk by saying that instead of stressing about trying to predict the future, we can just focus on now, build and improve constantly, instead of waiting to have all the resources or to have everything figured out. Use of simple tools and focusing on being connected, always learning and super present. You can find the full talk here.

In this post I share some of the people that have embraced the essence of self-education. All they have is curiosity, urge to learn and keep improving constantly. These kinds of people are called autodidacts and they are all over us today. There are famous people in history who did magnificent things through self-learning.  Leonardo da Vinci and Charles Darwin are some of the most famous examples. In the current times, it is almost a necessity to constantly undertake self-education if you want to be excellent in your craft.

Julius Yego: Yego is referred to as the YouTube athlete. He learnt how to throw javelin by watching YouTube videos. In 2015, he became the first Kenyan to win a gold medal in a championship event and went on to win silver medal in Rio Olympics in 2016. The guy shares his amazing story with  Go Pro.


Sean Parker: Sean co-founded Napster,a peer to peer file sharing internet service that mainly focused on sharing music online. The company was however shut down for copyright infringement. He went in to found Plaxo, an early social media platform and he was later pushed out. He then joined Facebook in its early days and became the founding president. He made his fortune here and is now focused on his foundation which aims to find cure for cancer. Sean Parker did not go to college but spends time gaining knowledge about his areas of interest.

Meet 15 year old kevin Doe from Sierra Leone who made a community radio generator.

In Kenya,  we seen on TV young people making unconventional airplanes, cars etc. Take John and Benjamin,  two 21 year olds who made a limousine out of an old car. They say in this article that, they found online material showing that a limousine could actually be made by stretching a normal car. Armed with information from online sources and curiosity, the two who are students from Nairobi Technical Training Institute have made a functional limousine from a Nissan B14.
Serena and Venus Williams at 12 and 14 already knew that somehow they would end up playing Tennis.

Nassim Taleb says that “Knowledge gives you a bit of an edge, BUT tinkering (trial and error) is the equivalent of 1,000 IQ points. It is tinkering that allowed the industrial revolution”.  More and more universities are undertaking massive open online courses (MOOCs) and therefore the trend towards self-education is set to grow. The area of computer science is registering high level of self-learning. Nowadays there are open courses from MIT open courseware and other online learning platforms such as Udemy, Khan Academy, Code Academy, Coursera. If you want to start a children’s school, Peter Diamandis suggests that you should aim to instill more curiosity, imagination and help them to become more confident in their abilities and when they are more confident,they are wiling to work harder and be more creative. Education should instill more curiosity.I hope as a country we forge this path.