IT man finds peace of mind with own company
Thirty-year-old Kariuki Gathitu is not new in business circles. When he was in second year at university, he would create and develop websites and applications for a fee.
Upon graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree in computer science from Kenyatta University in 2006, Kariuki secured a job with a local bank, a job he describes as boring.
“I was in charge of the alternative business channels department, which is very different from the mainstream banking. I was put in charge of ATMs logic programming and graphic display. I managed e-banking among other systems. After sometime, it became a little bit too monotonous for me,” he says.
Yearning for a challenge, Kariuki was moved to the projects department, which was responsible for innovations.
At that time, mobile banking was still a fairly new concept, and he seized the opportunity to cut his teeth in innovation.
It was here that Kariuki developed the M-Kesho integration technology that the bank uses to transfer money from accounts to phones.
“It wasn’t exactly my idea. The idea was always there but the problem was its implementation. Nobody had done it before but when we cracked it, we opened up the field for businesses to accept mobile money as a mode of payment,” says Kariuki.
It wasn’t long before the business bug bit Kariuki once again. He got tired of the bank job and quit in July 2010 to try his hand in business.
A few weeks, later, Kariuki and a partner founded Zege Technologies; an IT company whose main objective was to deliver solutions in the emerging market of mobile money and related services in the finance sector.
“We provide financial services by building applications for mobile money and finance. For instance, recently, we partnered with Safaricom to facilitate the Lipa na M-Pesa service,” he says.
Without a physical address or office furniture, Kariuki and his partner pitched tent at the iHub and m:lab offices on Ngong Road and would hold their meetings with clients at a café across the road.
“I have no idea how much capital we started with,” he says with a chuckle. “You know tech is not your traditional brick and mortar kind of business, particularly in our case which was a digital pioneering business with a lot of grey areas. What I know, however, is that my saving culture came in handy as I had some money stashed away. It sustained me greatly when I started the business,” he says.
But things did not work out well as he expected.
The first year was riddled with teething problems.
Being a start-up, he faced a lot of scepticism in the market. Potential clients were not as excited as he was about the mobile banking project.
“We did not have any customers. It was only after a few months that we started attracting a few. The first year was especially difficult as we had to sweet-talk people in order to find common ground. It is all part of the business cycle, finding who you are and your niche,” says Kariuki.
The hard work and persistence paid off. Today, Kariuki is the lead system architect and software developer.
The company has gone ahead to develop mobile payment management systems for use by banks, micro-finance institutions and other organisations that manage collection and disbursements of money via mobile money providers (M-Pesa, Zap, Orange, YuCash and others).
His clients include small and medium sized enterprises, churches, restaurants, dry cleaners, general retail shops and any business that accepts mobile payments.
The company also offers solutions for businesses that want to track their clients, stocks, and inventory and receive money via mobile payments.
So exactly how much is Zege Technologies valued at? “I don’t know,” says Kariuki.
“What I know is that we have made and lost money in equal measure. Valuing a small company like this one is a bit premature as we have not had any formal investments that would make us know exactly how much we are valued.”