These Kenyan Entrepreneurs Are ‘The Real Ghostbusters!’

Nzekwe Henry August 30

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.

PAUL KIMANI

Paul Kimani – CEO TozzaPlus

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.”

Image result for paul kimani and jackson kung'u tozzaplus images

Jackson Kung’u – COO TozzaPlus

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!

What You Should Know About Google Hangouts’ Rumored Shutdown

Andrew Christian December 9

Sources familiar with the tech giant’s product’s internal roadmap have reported that 2019 will be the last year for Google Hangouts, as the company plans to shut it down by the year 2020. The development, to nearly no one’s surprise, is a reiteration which accompanies the company’s apparent decision to hold off on further developments on the app more than a year ago.

Google had previously announced its pivot for the Hangouts brand for enterprise use scenarios with Hangout Chat and Hangout Meet, so it has been telling for a while that the consumer app would soon cease to exist. With the abandonment of Google Hangouts concerning development and its presumed final extinction, many entrepreneurs have begun charting a course away from the app, even though it will remain a prominent official chat option in Gmail on the web – continuing on the Google Play Store even now. In line with recent reviews, the app has shown signs of ageing which are evident in its display of bugs and performance glitches.

Hangout as a brand will remain with G Suite’s Hangout Chat and Hangouts Meet, with the former tailored for Slack app-comparable team communication and the latter as a video meetings platform. In the same line, Google Voice calling, which was initially independent and then integrated into Hangouts, was restored to its own redesigned app earlier this year.

Worthy of interest is that in spite of its inevitable axing, Hangouts was one of the few apps to receive early support for Android Auto’s new MMS and RCS functionality, alongside Whatsapp and Android Messages.

Nonetheless, Google’s Scott Johnson has chimed in on this development and denied any decision being made about the timeline of legacy Hangouts’ shutdown. He did confirm that users of consumer Hangouts will somehow be upgraded to Hangouts Chat and Hangouts Meet, both of which have been presented as enterprise-focused products that fill different needs. Scott also confirmed rather explicitly that Hangouts Classic, which is the subject of this development, will eventually be “shutting down’. Meanwhile, there are sources which corroborate the initial report, informing that decisions have been made for the depreciation of legacy Hangouts.

Most of us consider the Chat and Meet to be more business-focused products, and these plans make the situation seem as though they could have more of a consumer-facing component in the future. For entrepreneurs who have continued to use Hangouts, and who are now coming to rely on Slack or Discord style at-mentions, having such features in Hangouts may be somewhat snazzy. If the rumour of Hangouts’ death or transition are true or have been exaggerated, it wouldn’t matter so much if the new upgrades come with those new features.

Meanwhile, another source reports that Google provided an update on its current efforts, and now focuses moving towards a simpler communication experience. Starting on the consumer front, Google has “decided to stop supporting Allo to focus on Messages.” In April this year, Google only noted that it was “holding off investment” on Allo, but the tech giant confirmed that the service is about to get the sunset. Allo will be available until March 2019, with the service continuing to work until then; disregarding today’s downtime. Google has furnished us with details on how users can export existing conversation history from the app.

Google Hangouts, for as long as it has been in use, hasn’t disappointed entrepreneurs, as it can be a great asset to a company of any size – even more ideal for smaller businesses and startups. The app allows you to connect with employees easily, business colleagues and clients via calls and video chat making it seamless for those who travel or work from home. Hangouts also afford companies the flexibility of connection form virtually any smart device. Users can also, during chats, share files via Google Drive, stream live broadcast, participate in webinars and hold staff meetings amongst many more.

As customers will be able to review your business as an accessible one that cares about customer satisfaction, using Google Hangouts is a marketing strategy with all the makings of greatness. With weekly/monthly question and answer sessions, customer chats and feedback reception, you can not only appeal to customers but receive immediate interactions that can help you develop a more robust marketing strategy. Taylor Swift hosted a Google+ Hangout to announce her new album, and with the medium, she was able to reach fans from all over the world – making her song hit number one right after its release.

This goes to say that Hangouts is a great way to make business announcements such as funding rounds, product launches, expansion or any other news that customers may be interested in. The app is also useful in holding online staff meetings, and conference calls with important clients even while you are in transit.

We are yet to find out the actual features that will come with the storied Hangouts Chat and Hangouts Meet as replacements to the authority-building, customer-gathering, engaging, and collaborative Google Hangouts. 2020 is more than a year from now, so while Sundar Pichai and his team of techies decide the fate of this G Suite member, we still have no less than 12 months to enjoy the existing chat room app.

Nigeria’s Logistics Startup Kobo360 Raises USD 6 Mn From World Bank’s IFC

Andrew Christian December 7

Nigeria’s Uber-like trucking logistics startup Kobo360 has raised USD 6 Mn in its second investment round this year. The equity financing which was gained from World Bank ’s sister organization IFC, will help the company upgrade its e-logistics platform and spread its tentacles to Ghana, Togo and Ivory Coast.

This recent investment for Kobo360, which also involved efforts from other platforms such as TLom Capital and Y Combinator, will be used by the startup to become more than just a transit app. The founder, Obi Ozor, told Techcrunch that the company broke into the logistics market as an app that connects truckers and companies with freight needs, but now looks to build a global logistics operating system and become a full-fledged platform.

While bridging the gap between truckers, producers and distributors, Kobo360 is now chomping at bit to build the platform that will offer supply chain management tools for enterprise customers. In a statement, Ozor revealed that large firms are now demanding for movement, tracking and sales-related specific features, which is why the startup is looking to leverage two options – integrate other services such as SAP into Kobo or building the solutions directly into the e-logistics platform.

With this new investment round, the startup will sally forth with the said upgrade by developing its API and opening it up to for the use to large enterprise customers. With the intent for clients to use Kobo360’s dashboard for everything from moving goods, tracking, sales and accounting, the platform wishes to tackle the challenges faced by its customers.

It is also reported that the company will forge a more physical Nigerian presence in order to serve its customers better. Concerned about truck movements and monitoring, helping operation’s collect proof of delivery and accessing trucker owners more closely for inspection and training purposes, Kobo360 is poised to launch 100 hubs before the end of 2019, according to its founder.

The startup, remaining “aggressively” focused on reducing logistics friction for large enterprises and SMEs alike, alongside connecting new markets and unlock better community wellbeing, will add more warehousing capabilities to support its reverse logistics business. By matching trucks with return freight after they drop their loads, Kobo360 will bring down prices and eliminate the return-empty challenge facing its customers.

In a statement, the IFC enthused that the company currently has over 5000 trucks empanelled on its platform, from more than 600 small fleet owners, serving some of the largest enterprises in Nigeria. Kobo360 told Techcrunch in January that it is looking to add 20,000 trucks to its platform and latch on to the expansion which is now made possible by its USD 6 Mn raise. According to the founder, the expansion, which is scheduled to take off in 2019, will be with existing customers – one in the port operations business, another in FMCG and the last in agriculture.

As a matter of strategic priority, the funding, which was announced by both parties on the eve of the opening of the IFC’s Next 100 African Startups Initiative, will be used by the startup to also expand programs and services for its driver members. Along this line, Ozor remarked that neglecting drivers would crumble the company to a pile of issues while iterating that the same loophole hinders ride-hailing companies from becoming trillion-dollar enterprises.

Because owning trucks may be too cumbersome to handle, Ozor opines that the best scalable model is to aggregate trucks, while handling more volume at cheaper prices to leverage the startup’s asset-free digital platform and business model to outpace traditional long-haul 3PL providers in Nigeria.

According to a Weetracker report, Kobo360 raised USD 1.2 Mn in June this year from U.S venture capital firm Western Technology Investment and became a Y-Combinator cohort, while receiving USD 120 K equity investment from the seed fund. The logistics startup, which has served 900 businesses, aggregated a fleet of 8000 drivers and moved 155 million kilograms, is welcoming IFC’s regional head for Africa, Wale Ayeni and TLcom’s senior partner Omobola Johnson to take seats at its board.

Kobo360 also offers training and programs on insurance, discount petrol and vehicle financing to its drivers. The startup has also created an HMO for drivers, alongside an incentive-based program to afford education, which is monikered as KoboCare. The company’s top clients include Honeywell, Dangote, Unilever, Olam and DHL.

 

Featured Image Courtesy: Macktrucks

South Africa’s Naked Insurance Scores Additional USD 2 Mn Investment

Nzekwe Henry December 6

Johannesburg-based artificial intelligence-driven car insurance provider, Naked Insurance has secured additional USD 2.2 Mn K to grow its team, ramp up customer acquisitions and expand into new short-term insurance product categories.

After the company’s success at meeting key milestones, two venture capitalists; Yellowwoods and Hollard, have invested additional funding in the startup to enable the company to accelerate its growth and expand into new product lines.

“We are proud to receive this vote in confidence from our investors and look forward to rolling out new products in response to customer demand,” says Naked co-founder, Alex Thomson.

The contrivance by actuaries Thomson, Sumarie Greybe, and Ernest North, Naked leverages AI and automation to lower costs, puts customers in the cockpit of their insurance experience, reduces fraud and enhances insurance as a social good. Customers can afford to go online and get a final insurance quote for their vehicles in less than 90 seconds without having to fuss with a center agent.

“We’re delighted by the response our insurance offering has received from the market. Our proposition of putting the customer in control, value for money and customer fairness is resonating with connected customers who are looking for a better car insurance experience”, Thompson enthused.

Naked’s offering is built on the latest technology, free from legacy costs. Innovations in how Naked reaches its customers mean that it has lower sales and servicing costs, enabling it to offer lower premiums to the customer.

In dissimilarity to traditional insurers, Naked takes a fixed portion of premiums to run the business, with the balance going into a pool to cover claims. Naked’s income doesn’t depend on whether claims are paid or not. This business model resolves the inherent conflict of interest in traditional insurance: that paying fewer claims results in higher profits for the insurer. Money left over in the claims pool goes to charities nominated by customers rather than towards company profits.

Instead of filling in forms and phoning call centres, customers can use the Naked mobile app – available for Apple iOS and Android – to manage their policies and claim after an incident. The app includes functionality such as Naked CoverPause™, an innovation which gives customers the ability to pause their accident cover if the car won’t be used for a day or more – instantly reducing the premium for that time. Naked uses AI to pay valid claims quickly and repudiate fraudulent or invalid claims to the benefit of its customers.

According to Nic Kohler, Head of Insurance at Yellowwoods, “We are proud investors in Naked because we embrace innovation that delivers an improved customer experience and enhances fairness for policyholders. Its strong performance over the past six months validates its business model, giving us confidence in its ability to drive further growth and innovation in the months to come.”

 

Here’s How To Craft A Winning Startup Business Plan

Nzekwe Henry December 5

A kickass business plan can be to a startup what a winning game plan is to a soccer team. Starting a business is serious business and you don’t want to go in blindsided or unprepared. Much like a game of soccer, it is important to do your homework with regards to what you are up against and collect all the information available on how to develop a winning strategy. This will give up you a heads-up, as well as brace you up against the pitfalls.

Business plans of existing companies are heavy on such aspects as setting overall goals, evaluating new products, assessing new technology in the industry, reviewing specific operations, and a number of other equally important details. For a startup, however, it’s kind of a slightly different ball game.

The business plan of a startup is essentially the schematic for its formation, operation, and success. And this is why startups are advised to not circumvent this process by taking the shorter but dangerous route that is devoid of this critical aspect. That is to say, nothing less than adequate attention ought to be given to this detail.

Here’s what a business plan does for a new company; it serves up a good idea of its strengths and weaknesses. It also exposes ways through which the strengths of the business can be built upon and the weaknesses eroded. A startup business plan lifts the lid on every aspect of the business that can be developed and highlights the best ways to bring about those developments. In your quest for the winners’ medal, you need nothing short of a well thought-out and laid-out plan.

It’s easy to lose sight of the true magnitude of the quest ahead, it’s even much easier to be bursting at the seams to hit the ground running already. But a Kamikaze approach won’t do you much good in business. If anything, it sure is one way to plunge into the deep end. And you don’t want to be there, trust me.

Sure, putting together a solid business plan does require a lot of time, thought and effort – there’s no getting around that. At some point, it may even seem like the albatross that is keeping you from going big, but you must realize that this is a vital ingredient that is on the menu of success for today’s businesses.

In today’s ultra-competitive world, a premium is placed on gathering all the related information and evaluating them before throwing your doors open. You are in much better stead to compete, thrive, and succeed in the current business climate with a business plan that checks all the boxes. This is not one of those times when you get to cross the bridge as you reach it, you may never even get as far as the bridge without the well-oiled machine that is a well-constructed business plan.

I get it; most entrepreneurs are practical, hands-on people with very little tolerance theoretical planning but you can’t afford to take a pass on this one because it may well prove the difference between success and failure in the grandest scheme of things. Fair enough, researching and putting together a business plan is quite the task but you can make it that bit easier for yourself with some preparation. Here’s a perk; walking through the process can help you better understand your business, boost your chances of success, and whittle down the risk of failure as a startup owner.

There are several issues that ought to be taken care of before going ahead with putting together a business plan that can hold its own. While it may not exactly be possible to cover all those details within the scope of this text, there exists a basic checklist with which you can cross-reference as a way of setting yourself on the right course.

As an aspiring startup founder, you may have already had run-ins, however briefly, with such aspects as vesting, business objectives, mission statement, keys to success, industry analysis, market analysis, competitor analysis, strategies, marketing plans, management, organizational structure, operations, financial pro formas, break-even analysis, and financial requirement.

But no worries if most of them sound them like abstract terms to you. Writing a business plan for your startup is no rocket science, it’s largely a straightforward process that you can walk yourself through step-by-step, all the way to the finish line. Depending on the scope of your business, the entire process can take between a few weeks to a couple of months. Just pay attention to the following details.

Professionalism In Presentation Is Key

There is hardly any single standardized and adopted format for writing a business plan. In most cases, the format of a business plan is dictated by the nature of the business, and this implies that certain details are given more attention than others in some business plans.

It is also common for business owners to be the main architects (though not necessarily the only ones) of their business plans since they have better grips on the operations of the business and its management, as well as having learnt what elements to include to make the best possible impressions.

What is ideal for a startup is a business plan that highlights its best features and as such, it is best to organize the business plan with the logical development of the business plan in mind. And in view of that, there are at least a dozen basic components – namely;

  1. Executive Summary: A summary of the key elements of your business.
  2. Company Description: An introduction of your company and your business concept to your readers.
  3. Industry analysis: A insight into your industry and the position of your business within the larger mechanism.
  4. Market and Competition: Basically an evaluation of what you are getting into. While it is not uncommon to have some business plan proponents place market and competition in separate categories, you can’t come to an accurate conclusion on a vital component: your market share, without studying both together. Hence, best practices entail examining and presenting them together.
  5. Strategies and Goals: An analysis of the market and your competition so as to determine how and where your company or products or services fit, as well as broaden your position with your target market.
  6. Products or Services: A description of your products or services and how they match the findings of your strategies and goals.
  7. Marketing and Sales: A statement of how you will market your products or services with the best positioning, as well as an attempt to forecast your sales based on the results obtained from categories four, five, and six, in that order.
  8. Management and Organization: This entails highlighting the management and personnel that will be calling the shots.
  9. Operations: An explanation of how the business will be run.
  10. Financial Pro Formas: This is essentially a forecast for successful financial performance for all activities. A projection or estimation of the financial implications for when things go mostly right.
  11. Financial Requirement: This is an elucidation on the type and amount of financing needed, based on the previous sections, to bring the whole plan into fruition.
  12. Exhibits: This marks the conclusion of the plan. This is where supporting materials that would otherwise make the “story” disjointed and incoherent are featured.

A startup business plan that is written by an individual who knows his onions will feature the lot of these basic sections systematically laid out in the order of the outline. Most of the segments highlighted will also be outlined in the same order of presentation, with slight variations to be expected depending on the nature of the business.

If you have set out to put together an attractive business plan for your startup with the aim of scoring capital investments, you may need to tweak the financial requirement section somewhat so as to include a loan request or an investment offering proposal.

Don’t let the business plan process scare you out of your wits, embrace it! Armed with preparation, knowledge and these insider tips, you are well on your way to creating a flawless and foolproof business plan that has all it takes to hit pay dirt. And planning shouldn’t be such a big ask anyway – you know what they say; failing to plan is planning to fail.

 

 

Image Credit: Shutterstock

No Power? No Problem! This Nigerian Engineer Is Making Ironing Possible Without Electricity

Andrew Christian December 5

Have you ever wanted to look dandy and gilt-edged for an occasion, looking to rock your hairsplitting and genteel piece of fabric, only to be done a number by a faulty iron, mind-of-its-own fuse box, or iffy house wiring?

You have envisioned that wedding ceremony for so long, and your role as best man or chief bridesmaid is to be the apogee of your friendship with the ‘to-wed’. You barked up the wrong tree by placing all your certitude in the dry cleaner just around the corner, and now you have your tail between your legs as you don’t want to bring your lifelong bestie to naught with your shabby, uneven and squeezed looks.

You sure don’t want to attend that ‘press’ conference looking like you haven’t gone out in months, and that big presentation with potential investors needs a good-look first impression else your pitch is toast and parch. Well-ironed clothes speak volumes of coordination, dress sense, regard, exposure, personality, and mindset.

But when the electric iron disenchants that premise and stands you up, what do you do? When the power grid inadvertently or accidentally shuts down to everyone’s vilification, does it mean you will grace that big occasion with oddly-scrunched clothes or casual alternatives?

Ayokunle Adeniran was in the same dilemma when he was to meet his father at a Nigerian Airport back in 2012. Certainly, beeline to not keep him waiting, the young Nigerian engineer got frustrated when he couldn’t get to iron the perfect shirt he thought to attire in because of the unexpected and, in fact, disturbing power outage in his neighborhood. Long story short; he had to change his choice of clothes that day because there was no way to remove all the creases and get the shirt straightened as he would have liked – that really upset him by the way.

As necessity is the mother of all inventions, rather than letting the muddle get the very best of him, Adeniran summoned his thoughts and asked himself how he could make an impact in the Engineering field with respect to the rumpled shirt crisis that annoyed him. Instead of sulking over the frustration brought about by the inconvenience caused by ruining the big day with his Dad, he decided to take some steps to invent a kind of pressing-iron that could work without electricity.

There is no gainsaying that constant power supply is yet a mirage to many parts of Africa. This Nigerian engineer who schooled at Covenant University, where he studied Mechanical Engineering, started seeking the best ways he could innovatively come up with a kind of iron that would run without grid electricity. And thus was the provenance of what we today know as Nepaless Iron.

Breaking away from the reliance of volts and bolts, the young graduate built the iron to run on cooking gas – also called butane. A gas canister provides the needed energy to power the device. There are actually six canisters in each gas cartridge, each of which can last for about a fortnight worth of daily ironing. That means, all things being equal, this invention by ‘Sean’ (as he is fondly called by his friends) can render 40 clothes into well-pressed outfits in a row.

The moniker ‘Nepaless’ given to this invention is coined from two words; NEPA – which is a lodged-in-the-brain acronym for the National Electric Power Authority in Nigeria despite being rebranded to Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) – and ‘less’ – an English suffix that announces ‘without.’ The Nepaless Iron surely doesn’t need the go-ahead of the power authorities and can press clothes efficiently, making the name no short of a significant and accurate description.

Image result for ayokunle adeniran

The Nepaless Iron (Courtesy: Techuniport)

In Nigeria, the butane canisters this invention uses go for NGN 120.00 (about USD 0.30) – which is a no-brainer for corporate workers and gentlemen and women living in areas struggling with power challenges. The iron, whose first prototype took about two years to complete, is a user-friendly product because the design is centered around user ergonomics while being tailored to function in most habitable environmental conditions – making it very reliable.

The said canisters are being manufactured by a company in China, but at the same time, provisions are being made to facilitate its local production in Nigeria. The projected calculation rate is judged to serve all functioning irons to a fault, along with a recycling process that makes it possible for users to get discounts on recycled canisters.

This breakthrough invention didn’t come without its own set of hurdles and red-faced moments, as Adeniran revealed that time came when he grew tuckered out and drained at the feet of the invention, almost deciding to discontinue the process.

Due to how demanding the project was and the stress it burdened on him, he once decided to put it all aside and continue with his life. But later on, he picked back up and checkered his pace, learning on what has so far been an adventurous journey that interest is critical to any accomplishment in life.

In a conversation with Outpreneurs, he revealed that there are times when being an inventor will involve your many failures, but you should be able to persevere and keep track of your work. In his words; “It is like you are working on a research document; anything you find out is something you can always build on to climb up the ladder.”

Adeniran’s wayfaring to become a globally recognized inventor took a hit back in 2015. That year, he sought funding support for the Nepaless Iron and put up an online crowdfunding campaign to raise NGN 20 Mn (USD 55 K). Unfortunately, all his efforts yielded was a meager NGN 30 K (USD 82.00). He replicated the campaign in the United States and was able to raise USD 1500 K.

At some point, he was labeled a financial desperado who wanted to rip people off in the name of crowdfunding, and that was a saber in the heart of his project. He also cited that the U.S. campaign would have been more successful had the country been hamstrung by power problems of its own. It appears the invention would be a lot more useful in Nigeria and other parts of Africa that are bedeviled by electricity challenges.

Even after being called names and dismissed as a fraud, he went on to create prototypes of the Nepaless Iron as a way of contributing to Nigerian technology. Better parts of the project were done in Lagos, after which he journeyed to the United States to get materials from tech firms to complete it.

“It is a great move for Nigerians to help people who need surgery abroad, but we also need to support technology. If we support inventors, Nigeria will be a better place”, Ayokunle remarked.

Despite living and working in the United States where there is hardly any power problem, Sean uses this gas-powered pressing iron in his home. Some modifications and iterations have been made to the earlier prototype, making the gas canister last fifteen times longer than the initial prototype. The innovation has not undergone mass production, not because of the lack of funds, but because the Nigerian is a stickler for the right strategy.

Not chomping at the bit and bursting at the seams to just latch on to the idea and blast off into the African market with what appears to be a breakthrough, he’d rather put in more work and wade through more processes to make the invention superb and near-perfect.

“It is easy to blame the problem on the fact that I don’t have sufficient money to mass-produce the Nepaless Iron, but sometimes it’s all about having the right strategy.”, said Adeniran.

He is, nonetheless, putting two and two together to rope in angel investors not just for the Nepaless Iron, but for other inventions still in his engineering stables. “Inventions are potential solutions to specific problems faced by Nigerians,” he enthused.

The device, with the present cost and volume of production, goes for NGN 5 K apiece. But the inventor is convinced that the price will drop in future based on economies of scale.

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Courtesy: Techuniport

Ayokunle Adeniran lived the early parts of his life in Ekiti and Ondo; two states in western Nigeria. He moved to Lagos in his teens to attend secondary school. A soccer lover, video game fan, and people person, Sean likes to network, learn and play. He gained admission into the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Covenant University in 2004 and became a baccalaureate in 2009, with no less of the vehemence and spirit for Engineering as when he began his tertiary education.

As a kid with an on-fire passion for innovation, he made his own toys from parts around the house which he sold to kids in his neighborhoods – an entrepreneurial prodigy to say the least. After his studies, due to his experience in the design of elevator components and consumer products, he got hired as a Mechanical Engineer by New York-based packaged-consumer product firm.

Forming part of some of the most important moments for his invention, Adeniran remains grateful to all those who warmly received his idea and posted to create awareness about the Nepaless Iron. Although the Nepaless Iron is yet to gain widespread acceptance and entrepreneurial breakthrough yet remains a pursuit of this young Nigerian innovator, he can certainly be given credit for his innovative spirit.

 

Featured Image Credit: Africanloving.com

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