About a month ago, I discovered a gold mine of information from a business blog; the best thing about this blog was that it was a Kenyan blog. Now it’s not that I didn’t exactly know about this site, I’ve heard of it and seen some links online about it – but I had never really checked it out. I’m always on the look out for information I can always share about business start-ups these days, so I decided to really see what information the site offers. I meant to spend about five minutes on the blog but I ended up reading different blog posts for almost an hour! The content was just amazing and insightful – both the blog posts and the videos. Which site you wonder? Kuza Biashara blog.
Fast forwarding to my main point; I was able to win VIP tickets to the AITEC Mobile Money conference from them and it was a very unbelievable opportunity that I am very grateful to have had thanks to the great team at Kuza Biashara. I met them and they are awesome! (yup – that’s the best word that can describe this team of amazing individuals that work there.) Their founder and chief mentor Mr. Sriram Bharatam is an amazing individual as well as a great speaker and listener. Mr. Karthi Raj, the vice president is easy to talk to and very engaging; it was an honor to meet them.
The theme of AITEC mobile money conference held at the Kenya School of Monetary Studies in Kenya this year was – ‘Finance SMEs and fire up the economy’. AITEC is the region’s leading banking forum and this is its eighth year in existence. Now you may wonder what a small business owner such as myself would benefit from attending such a conference; however, it was an invaluable experience that led to a lot of great insight on my part. I can honestly say that true to Kuza Biashara’s motto; I learned, connected and will grow after attending the conference. I want to share five very important lessons I learned at the conference and I hope it will give you insight into your business start-up as well.
1. Small businesses should start using mobile money payment platforms for their businesses if they don’t already
A major point of discussion in the conference was the adaptation and success of mobile money in Kenya. Banks in the region have realized the potential of the mobile money platform in the region and have started using the platform to offer more solutions for their customers. They are also continuing to discover ways in which they can start serving SMEs better using the same platforms in the near future. A very interesting way that one particular company, G-analytix based in Zimbabwe, is using mobile money usage & other small business analytics input to benefit small business owners is by creating a ratings programme or if you may – credit history. The point that Mr. Alan Goodrich the company’s MD was making, is to be able to build a credit history that can be used in lending money to small business owners based on their mobile money history and other small business operations inputs.
A perfect example of a company that is putting the mobile money credit history usage to great use is Kopo Kopo Inc who created the ‘Lipa na MPESA’ platform used by businesses in Kenya.
It’s a great platform especially for small business owners like myself; I can say that with great confidence since my bakery uses it to receive payments. Kopo Kopo has now introduced Grow, which is an alternative lending option for their already existing customers. They use the mobile money history in the business account to determine the amount of money they can lend to the business. Another great feature of their payment system is that they recently added a feature where an account holder can make payments to other accounts – bank or MPESA lines. This is a great feature because it gives a small business owner the convenience of being able to pay an employee or vendor directly from their Kopo Kopo account. This in time will build a history of business transactions in and out of the business – which is literally a more detailed credit history of the business.
Bottom line: If your small business does not already have a mobile money payment system; you need to get one right away. Not only is it convenient for your customers; but very useful to your business as well and possibly for future bank lending purposes.
2. You should have a strong and solid social media strategy in place for your business
An interesting point that was made in the conference by Mr. Amarnath Chowdary, CEO of ModeFinServer, India; was that social media banking is the next big thing after mobile money. Most banks have recognized the fact that a very high percentage of their customers are constantly on social media. Banks therefore want to provide even more convenience by tapping into social media just like most businesses have done and start providing banking services to their customers. I believe that this integration of banking into social media will benefit businesses as well; therefore, businesses should ensure they are also on social media. If your business has a strong social media presence; it will make it easy to benefit from the social media banking experience and in turn your customers as well. This may turn out to be another payment platform for businesses to take advantage of.
Bottom line: Make sure your small business has an effective social media strategy in place so that when banking hits the social media platform; you’re ready to integrate it into your payment systems efficiently.
3. Market research is very important for your small business
At the conference, Ms. Debbie Watkins – MD Africa and Asia Regions of Fern Software; shared her experience of doing market research in different parts of the world on how small business owners run their daily financial operations. Banks in the past believed that small business payment operations are simple; however, due to the nature of a small business, it has been discovered that their operations are even more complex than believed. As banks research the habits of small business owners even more, they discover that in order to survive; business owners have to apply complex strategies due to their limited financial resources. This kind of discovery through market research should apply to every small business out there. No matter how simple; small businesses should always conduct market research in their specific industries in order to find out what their customers really need and serve them better.
Bottom line: If you’re not constantly researching what your customer needs to better understand them and innovating your products & services to suite them; someone else will start solving their problems and you will lose your customers.
4. Small business start-ups don’t always need funding, they need capacity building.
A point that was made by Mr. Habil Olaka, CEO of the Kenya Bankers’ Association was that start-ups don’t always need debt finance which banks offer. Start-ups may actually be in need of capacity building instead of financing. They may also be in need of a different kind of funding instead of bank loans; funding such as angel or venture capital funding. It is necessary to point out that Kenya does not have a lot of options when it comes to angel or venture capital investors; most of the ones available are not even Kenyan-based but foreign investors.
Bottom line: If your start-up is constantly having cash flow issues and you keep looking for different ways to get funding; you may not necessarily require debt financing since your small business may not be able to handle it. It may be a lack of information and a need for resources that will help you to run your small business better.
5. Small business owners in Kenya need to use capacity building resources available such as Kuza Biashara in order to learn.
In reference to the point made above; start-ups don’t always require funding, sometimes they need capacity building. This is true of a lot of small business owners in Kenya, including myself. Like the founder of Kuza Biashara, Mr. Sriram Bharatam, says: “A lot of small business owners don’t know what they don’t know.” That was true for me especially last year as my business went through a challenging time. I realized that I required knowledge in order to deal with the challenges the business was facing and not necessarily funding; since that was not really solving my problems. I have been learning since and have gained a lot of insight on how to focus and run my small business better through the methods that I have learned. I am continuously finding more resources that help me learn and grow as a business owner and Kuza Biashara is one of those resources that I believe will help in that journey.
Bottom line: If you are a small business owner in Kenya, you need to make sure you tap into the resources that Kuza Biashara offers and you will learn, connect and grow as an entrepreneur.
It was a privilege to be able to attend the AITEC mobile money conference and it was a great to meet the Kuza Biashara team; they should keep up the great work they are doing.
Keep learning, work hard and most importantly work smart.