Reducing pain of setting up tech start-up


Reducing pain of setting up tech start-up

Allan Otieno, the chief product officer, Juma Phelix, the chief technical officer and Michael Sindani
Kuza Lab founders L-R: Allan Otieno, the chief product officer, Juma Phelix, the chief technical officer and Michael Sindani, the chief executive officer at Kuza Lab offices. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG 

As students, Sidney Rema and Phelix Juma, who first met in 2013, registered little success even with some of their ground-breaking applications and software.

Long before Uber Eats and Jumia Food, there was Mealtime, an application that they developed but were unable to push into the market successfully.

“We did not have financial strength,” says Mr Juma.

The Mealtime app earned them some money to keep them going, but it soon failed.

After a string of failures, they embarked on a new path.

With financial backing from Michael Sindani, a former operations manager carrier software services at Huawei Kenya, they started Kuza Lab.

“The idea of Kuza Lab is supported by three aspects: supporting start-ups which cannot afford to hire developers, building platforms that offer solutions to common problems and nurturing young developers who we absorb into our workforce,” says Mr Rema, who studied neurosurgery.

The four partners, including Allan Otieno, all have different career backgrounds, but are driven by their passion for application and software development.

From just four people as managers and employees at the beginning of 2018, the company has grown to employ 16 fresh graduates and currently has five more enrolled in Kuza’s training programme.

“Kenya’s technology training is less practical hence Kuza Lab is nurturing the next generation of innovators and creators,” says Mr Otieno, who studied information technology.

They have partnered with US Silicon Valley-backed start-ups, iBUILD, a marketplace application for construction services and materials in Kenya and Asia.

Locally, they have launched systems such as EzzyParty, an event management platform, Patika that helps users connect to service providers and E-Wash, among others.

“Most of the platforms we have built are marketplaces like iBUILD is a market for construction services and materials,” says Mr Rema.

Even with capital injection, business was tough in the first quarter and they went for months without pay, sacrificing the little money they had for office rent.

“Tech start-ups are expensive because you need to pay people, rent and support services like servers. We have survived because we had interest in technology and so could afford not to pay ourselves,” says Mr Juma, an electrical engineer by training.

Most start-ups in Kenya cannot afford to hire software developers while established companies pick expatriates from countries like India, edging out locals.

It is because of these challenges that Kuza Lab created a model in which they give start-ups technical support, and come up with cost-and-profit sharing agreements.

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