These Kenyan Entrepreneurs Are ‘The Real Ghostbusters!’
Paul Kimani and Jackson Kung’u are both alumni of the prestigious University of Nairobi. Both individuals were colleagues in the Faculty of Engineering – from where they obtained degrees in Electrical and Information Engineering back in 2013 – when they made their first foray into the entrepreneurial scene.
Although they were undergraduates at the time, it did little to deter both individuals from launching their first startup, The Aspirant Enterprise, within the walls of the educational institution. The timing of their debut enterprise was strategic in that the 2013 Kenyan general elections were just around the corner and the brand they were selling at the time was called ‘The Kenya Aspirant.’
The online platform created by Paul and Jackson back in college was dedicated to profiling politicians, highlighting their achievements, and x-raying their potential to deliver on future projects. And even though a number of factors eventually threw spanners in their works which resulted in the business grinding to a halt, both entrepreneurs had undoubtedly assimilated a crash course in ‘How Not To Run A Business 101.’
Never ones to stay down for too long, both individuals remained resolute in their drive to succeed, and they soon had their proverbial second coming. Paul and Jackson may have gone their separate ways after graduating from the University of Nairobi, secured jobs in the private sector, and even started their own families, but the undying entrepreneurial desire that was common to both men – however flickering in the embers of their hearts – was always going to ignite and link them up for the second time. And it did not take long before they regrouped and launched AfriSoft Africa Limited, their second startup, which is a firm that consults for IT services (mostly software development), as well as mobile app development.
Both entrepreneurs were not to be caught up in the infamous Sophomore Syndrome, though, as they got it mostly right at the second time of asking. Their second creation, AfriSoft Africa Limited, came good – so much so that Paul considers it the source of the inspiration for their present venture.
Bumpy, topsy-turvy, roller-coaster ride? Well, that is usually the case. Hardly is the entrepreneurial journey ever a smooth and cosy cruise in some million-dollar yacht on the French Riviera. True entrepreneurship is a test of mental strength, resolve, and mettle – and only those who dare to dream, dare to do and eventually succeed. Nobody really ever has it all figured out from the off, and there will most certainly be challenges. It might also involve false-starts, false dawns, multiple attempts, and perhaps a series of trimming, chopping and changing. And this is the area where drive, persistence, and focus on the end-game proves very essential.
Paul Kimani and Jackson Kung’u appear to have gotten to grips with the requirements of running a startup and steadied the ship with their third startup together – with the former overseeing affairs as CEO, and the latter running operations as COO.
Their creation, TozzaPlus, is a B2B end-to-end payroll solution that is cloud-based, which assists businesses in the area of managing their workforce – from tracking to payroll processing and all the way to payouts. The three-pronged approach of the platform offers a workforce management solution that is one of the first of its kind in Kenya.
The business is tailored to meet the needs of businesses and companies that have to deal with the prospect of managing a large workforce, with particular emphasis on those businesses with more hands on the field than behind desks.
The workforce management solution offered by TozzaPlus incorporates the use of mobile biometric devices which enables the tracking of workers, and this comes in handy for such establishments as construction firms, NGOs, consultancy firms, security firms, and a number of other organizations that have a sizeable population of field workers on their payroll.
As revealed to WeeTracker by Paul Kimani, CEO of TozzaPlus, the startup has landed something of a cutting-edge innovation in the form a novel device that enables employees to keep track of workers’ location, as well as keep tabs on the timing. This device does a good job of taking accurate records of where a company’s personnel is working from and the amount of time that the individual has spent on a given job.
The location and time data obtained by the device is subsequently transferred to the Kenyan startup’s cloud servers where the payroll is then prepared on the basis of the data received, with attention to such details as advances, deductions, and bonuses. This process which is entirely automated ultimately culminates in the triggering of payouts – straight into the accounts of workers. “This is why we call it an end-to-end solution. It helps to track employees, record the amount of time that they have worked, and pay them in the end,” the CEO stated.
Paul revealed that work on the TozzaPlus solution kicked off in 2017 and beta testing was concluded early this year, which could be regarded as the time of the platform’s official launch. He also highlighted the role of their previous venture, AfriSoft, in serving up the idea behind the creation of TozzaPlus. “Most of our clients at AfriSoft were SMEs. We developed software for SMEs in different sectors, including banking, construction, MFIs, and consultancy firms. In trying to make our operations more efficient while improving the bottom line, we identified problems with the status quo. And one of such was employee management, which revolved around difficulties in tracking, managing, and paying employees.”
By virtue of their collective engineering backgrounds and the fact that both individuals had stints in engineering-related jobs post-college, creating a business management solution which connected the engineering with the IT was their first move. What Paul and Jackson created initially was a platform that incorporated CRM, payroll, and accounting, but they soon shifted gears when they realized that turning the venture into a profitable one with that model was something of a long shot.
They soon tweaked their offering on the backs of the results of tests and feedbacks they got from early-adopters and served up an all-in-one solution that has now come to be known as TozzaPlus. “We were inspired by the clients we were working with at AfriSoft and our experiences in our previous jobs. Being an engineer, I have done some project management myself, and I have experienced firsthand the difficulties in trying to manage people working under you the traditional way,” Paul offered.
The CEO also pointed out some of the initial challenges which threatened to derail the business during those early stages. According to him, the technical aspect of the solution posed one of the biggest challenges as trying to incorporate three aspects into one simple working solution involved intensive design thinking, which was no easy feat.
He also cited difficulties in snapping up those first few clients as another problem they faced when they started out. Since the business was coming to change the norm by eliminating things like time-punching and ghost-workers, it was first greeted with the usual skepticism and uncertainty as people tend to want to maintain the status quo whenever change looms. Paul recalls that the business had to do some work in the area of selling the solution and not the technology. Instead of playing up the technology that has come to rock the establishment and disrupt the old ways, they recognized areas of most need and helped potential clients see how their solution could solve their problems. This approach proved very instrumental in landing those first clients who are vital to the survival of any business.
The employee management solution on offer from TozzaPlus is unique in that it is connected with time, attendance and payouts. Its product is best suited to businesses that have the need for all ends of the system. This comes in handy for such firms as construction companies who need time-tracking and corresponding payout services. In the same regard, the CEO revealed that big companies in the construction industry are currently some of the biggest clients on the platform.
Paul highlighted the successful development and stabilization of the solution as one of the biggest accomplishments of the business. Signing on a good number of clients also represents another milestone. He also talked up the importance of the startup’s participation in the 2018 edition of the Pangea Accelerator Program, as it served to provide TozzaPlus (alongside two other Kenyan startups) with funding (believed to be around USD 50 K each), as well as mentorship, during those early stages. “We were able to learn so much from experienced people, and we made good contacts too. Most importantly, we got some funding to help boost our business.”
On the subject of further investments, Paul reiterated that the immediate goal is to keep building and running the business, but the startup will be looking to raise funds in the coming year. This, he believes, will serve to strengthen the establishment, buoy its expansion plans, and transform it into something of the go-to payroll solution for the construction industry. He also gave indications that plans are in the pipeline to extend the company’s reach to four other African countries by 2020.
One the lessons gathered from his entrepreneurial journey thus far, Paul drummed up the importance of collaborations and delegation, as regardless of how brilliant the idea is, no one can really pull it off entirely on their own. He also hinted at determination, belief, resilience, and perseverance as essential ingredients.
The Kenyan entrepreneur also believes in the importance of the fundamental concept of entrepreneurship which is solving a problem or meeting an identified need. “Yes, you can start with an idea or a gut feeling, but there is a need for you to go out there and talk to your potential customers,” he said. “They are the ones you will be selling your products to, and they can afford you invaluable insight as per what product is needed and how best to go about designing that product.” According to him, the world has moved on from what used to be the norm as it is now best to first get a market, and then build solutions around the needs of the identified market – instead of the other way round.
There is something of a long-standing ghost-worker problem in parts of Africa, with Kenya, in particular, being at the center of some major fallouts in recent times. The Kenyan public sector appears to be worst hit by the spate of ghost-workers – as is evident in a recent publication on Standard Media which revealed that an aggressive campaign launched by the country’s President, Uhuru Kenyatta, to rid Kenya’s inflated wage bill (about USD 3.2 Bn in salaries and allowances in the 2016/17 financial year) of ghost-workers in 2014 resulted in the discovery of around 12,500 fictitious names on the government’s payroll.
It might seem the unpleasant trend has been somewhat checked in the private sector but it certainly still poses a problem in some quarters as insurance companies have particularly taken the hit on account of the compensation of non-existent policyholders who plunge these companies into underwriting losses – another sorry case of ghosts reaping where they have not sown and a ripoff on the finances of these institutions. The infamous tea growers saga where over 50,000 ghost tea growers are reported to have been siphoning around USD 54 Mn from tea factories annually also makes for gloomy reading – too many people getting paid for work they never did and in the process, wreaking havoc on the finances of institutions.
This stresses the need to curb the menace. And with Paul and the rest of the team at TozzaPlus looking to keep track of these things, it appears it is no longer business as usual for ghost-workers as ‘The Real Ghostbusters’ are officially here!