In February this year, prominent US accelerator Techstars selected Kenyan Startup Bamba Group as the first East African company, they would invest in. The announcement would see Bamba Group taken through intensive training in Austin, Texas, as well as given a cash investment to fast-track their growth.
Founded in 3 years ago, the company has developed a data collection software that can run in any country. When it was selected, Techstars said they believe “Bamba Group could be the next Airbnb or Dropbox within the next five years”. Currently, it is also the only company that can send a mobile airtime payment directly to your phone when you submit data in as many as 122 countries.
I did a follow up and had a chat with Bamba Group founders. Who exactly are they? What have they been up to after being selected as the first East African Country by Techstars? Where did they Start? Below is what they had to say
- Give us a brief background of Bamba Group?
Al Ismaili and Shehzad Tejani met in Kenya when Al was travelling for a project his ex company worked on with Safaricom. Al was best friends with Shez’s cousin from Toronto so when introduced they clicked. They kept in touch for a few years and toyed with a few business ideas eventually identifying a need that they could tackle in the Kenyan market. Al put some resources together in Canada including our CTO Faiz Hirani who leads the product development. Al then moved to Kenya and invited Shez to run sales and marketing, which was the beginning of Bamba.
2. In February 2016, Bamba Group became the first East African Country to get backing from TechStars, prominent US accelerator. Are you in a position to mention how much they invested and how you plan to use the investment to scale up?
Our participation in the Techstars incubator came with an investment of USD 100k. We were lucky to get into the Techstars incubator which provides access to mentors and investors. The mentors we have worked with are an incredible group of people who have founded and grown companies themselves. The advice they offer is invaluable and has helped us avoid typical startup pitfalls. In addition, Techstars gives us access to the pool of investors looking to fund promising businesses. Bamba’s near future plan is to open up offices across the globe and become the leading provider of the SMS based services. We plan to expand into South America followed by South East Asia.
4. You run an SMS Based Solutions and data collection software targeting companies and organisations in any country. Who are the major users of your solutions?
The cloud-based system is used by major not-for-profit and for-profit companies in Kenya including Aga Khan Foundation, Nairobi Airport Services, and Diamond Trust Bank.
5. SMEs are the largest contributors to the Kenyan GDP and across other countries. Do you have solutions tailored for SMEs?
Our solutions is already used by both SMEs and large organisations and companies.
6. Bamba Group also has a focus on Cloud-Based application, which is a tough area, basing it on the fall of Angani last year, a local company that also dealt with cloud based applications. How do you plan to sail through this successfully?
We cannot comment on the Angani case. Bamba has used cloud-based solutions to develop its products. We plan to continue using cloud-based solutions.
7. Having been in tech start-up scene in the last three years. How would you term the tech start-up landscape?
One of the great things about the tech landscape in Nairobi is the diversity of the problems local tech startups are tackling. From data collection to the Google Maps based address system and GPS-tracked boda-boda rides. It is a fantastic environment to work in. The key opportunity is the sheer scale of unaddressed needs in all the sectors of human activity – education, transportation, communications, finance, to name but a few. Running a startup in an African country comes with challenges such as the lack of funding, which is available for the Silicon Valley based startups, for example. Another challenge every tech startup faces in Nairobi is the relatively small size of the pool of highly skilled developers.
8. What are some of the challenges you experience as a start up and how have you been able to sail through?
The market not ready or we are being too early in the market with the product. A market that was interested in the product but not ready to use it. This is a big challenge. In addition, as a start up, we are being compared to larger competitors.
9. And still what are some of the major milestones achieved so far in the last three years?
Bamba was started with the aim to develop a data collection solution to help solve the problem every organisation faces – how to increase efficiency while using less time and resources to deliver the organisation’s objectives. Bamba deploys technology to help organisations increase their efficiency through data collected accurately and within the timeframes they specify. Bamba’s solution helps our customers track their teams’ progress against set objectives and to reduce their costs. Bamba’s SMS, app and web data collection software enables our clients to communicate, survey and obtain feedback from their beneficiaries, clients, suppliers and the public. As founders we saw the need to create a robust data collection tool. And we are now addressing this need.
10. You deal with Data Collection which may involve both sensitive and not so sensitive data, yet you operate in a land that lacks data protection laws. Has this affected your business in any way? (In terms of client resistance)
Bamba has not dealt with sensitive data yet. During the contract negotiation phase Bamba agrees with the client how the collected data will be used and stored, which must be in line with current laws. This issue has not affected our business but we are acutely aware of the sensitivities which surround certain types of data.
11. With the wave of technology in the past few years great innovations have been born, disruptive technologies have emerged, leading to more generation of data and more opportunities for companies like Bamba. But for any company in the IT Space a major threat would be Cyber Attack or a data breach, siting it from the recent attack in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that saw a data breach of over a terabyte, of data and many other similar attacks even globally. How are you able to ensure that your clients will be safer in the near future through your solutions?
Reviewing the latest trends in cyber attacks one will notice that they typically focus on financial and government institutions such as banks, spy agencies and ministries. Bamba has taken steps such as firewall protection to make sure its product and data are secure.
12. What is in the pipeline for Bamba Group in the coming few years? Any expansion strategies out of Kenya?
The future of Bamba is bright with plans to continue delivering data collection services and to introduce interactive voice response services so that we can engage the illiterate and the visually challenged.