DONALD KARIUKI: MAKING STAYCATIONS A CLICK AWAY

Donald Kariuki, founder, Sanbnb.com
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Sanbnb.com blends high tech and luxury to link guests with premium staycations

By Joseph Macharia

Born a hardcore techie, agile and ambitious, Donald Kariuki the founder of Sanbnb.com bubbles with enthusiasm whenever two words are mentioned:  technology and staycation. His passion for technology is on another level. In high school, he took computer studies as a subject and ended falling in love with it. After high school, he immediately set up a cyber café in his local shopping centre for a year before joining KCA university to pursue a diploma in information and communication technology (ICT) in 2009. This move disappointed some of his family members who had expected him to pursue a health care course. Undeterred, he advanced his studies in the same university, taking a bachelor’s degree in business information technology.

Upon graduation, he took a ten year stint in the corporate world serving in various capacities related to ICT. He worked at Kenya Nut Company as a network administrator, then as a junior developer for a software company and later joinedExpress DDB Kenya (a worldwide marketing and advertising company) as an ICT manager before Covid-19 pandemic reared its ugly head. With over ten-year experience under his belt, Kariuki has mastered the soft rare art of combining high tech with business needs to produce and manage digital products. While employed, he would moonlight as an ICT consultant for big time clients including corporations across the country. After the outbreak of Covid-19, he switched to full time ICT consultancy.

The plunge

All along, Kariuki felt that there was more to life than employment. An avid traveller himself, Kariuki had always wanted to ease the tedious process of searching for a suitable place for a holiday or a staycation in Kenya given the numerous tourist attractions in the country. He was frustrated that there was no platform offering verified spaces where individuals or teams and business executives can have meetings and work from in privacy away from expensive hotels and conference facilities.

However, having a full time job could not let him focus on his overpowering desire.  As fate would have it, Covid-19 struck imposing a total lockdown in the country. With much free time on his hands coupled with the existing need for people searching for online bookings, he decided to bite the bullet and created a platform that would link guests and hosts. To him it was: Now or never!

Leveraging his deep expertise in ICT,  he has created a platform that connects guests or tourists  with  hosts who are property owners. Sanbnb.com is the platform. It is an online platform for bookings byguests or travellers looking for short and long-term staycations, experiences or work stations hosted by locals in Kenya and beyond.

Donald Kariuki, founder, Sanbnb.com at work.

What is in a name?

Anyone who has ever coded will tell you that it is not a walk in the park. You have to put in long hours of intense concentration to create something that clicks. It took straight six months for Kariuki, tucked behind his computer, to work on his website single handedly. On completion, he named the platform Sanbnb. It is said that if you want to really know a man, find out what he has   named what he holds dear.

‘San’ is borrowed from an indigenous South African ethnic group representing Pan-Africanism. It is the oldest native ethnic group of hunters and gatherers rich in indigenous knowledge who lived in the Southern part of Africa about 20,000 years ago. Their prowess in tracking and hunting was formidable. They could track any animal effortlessly on any terrain, whether bare or plant-covered.“I wanted to embrace the Pan-Africanism in us. I wanted the website to crop out that it is from Africa. We have a lot of potential especially when it comes to hospitality; hosting guests and travellers but it’s not well captured and exploited. That’s why I wanted to link our Africanism with the San tribe,” Kariuki passionately explains.On the other hand, bnb is a common abbreviation in the hotel industry referring to staycations that offer short and long-term accommodation. It is shorthand for bed and breakfirst (bnb).

The website went live in August2022 with listings of over two hundred and forty studios and apartments in Mombasa, Nairobi, Kisumu, Nanyuki and Nakuru. The number of visitors signing up for bookings has grown exponentially. December recorded the highest bookings as foreign tourists flocked the country after the ban on international travel was lifted. Currently, Sanbnb has covered sixty percent of Kenya and still growing. Notably, it has embarked on an audacious plan to list hosts in the Northern Eastern regions.

Competitive advantage

To begin with, Sanbnb.com has the African touch. Being African made, the website has been created to offer tourists a local experience. What’s more, you don’t need to be a nerd to navigate the platform. Its ease of use is remarkable. “I’ve tried to make the website sleek, user-friendly and attractive while at the same time providing a useful service,” Kariuki notes. As a guest you can filter staycations by locations, prices and even number of guests that can be accommodated.

What’s even more unique about Sanbnb is that it’s the only platform where users can earn redeemable loyalty points while they enjoy their staycations. Guests are awarded ten loyalty points equivalent to Kshs. 100 every time they book a staycation through the platform. “Loyalty points are rewarded to guests once they sign up and whenever they make bookings. They can redeem the points when booking their next staycation. That makes the guests to come back again and again,” he explains noting that the loyalty programme is proving to be worth it. Guests can pay using Visa, Mastercard or M-Pesa’s ( a  mobile financial services provider).

Sanbnb.com goes to great lengths to ensure that all listed staycations are safe and secure for guests. Once hosts are verified,  they get a tag on the platform indicating  that. By the same token, hosts are given the option to accept or decline to host a guest request. “The host signs up on the platform where their details are verified interms of their identity and staycation (both paperwork and physically visiting the studios) before they are listed,” Kariuki explains. In upholding the  privacy of guests, they are required to only provide details on their identity cards and telephone numbers so that incase of anything they can be reached easily.

Travellers without access to the internet can reserve their bookings via a call. The platform has a feature that allows guests to chat directly with their hosts. In addition, there is a stand-by support team that guests can reach out for inquiries. Sanbnb also offers staycation management to hosts who don’t have time to manage the check ins and check outs.

Donald Kariuki posing for a photo.

Future plans

Kariuki plans to expand accessibility to quality staycations and make Sanbnb not only an African leader in bookings, but also a global brand. “My future plans are to ease movement of people especially those looking for affordable holiday and business places to stay. I am anticipating Sanbnb will emerge the best in bookings in Africa,” he says adding that to realize that goal he invites like-minded investors to partner with him.

While acknowledging presence of competitors, he is resolute that Sanbnb has a bright future. “Everything starts somewhere, I have undying hope and belief that oneday, Sanbnb will be ranked among the giants,” he avers.

The other side of Kariuki

Typical day:Wakes up at 6 am, prepares for the day, then checks emails and makes  a few calls before heading to work. Attends to clients then goes home at 6 pm.

Hobbies: Travelling, reading novels and watching movies.

Favourite cuisine: Pork chops

Marital status: Happily married

Favourite book: Gifted Hands by Ben Carson

Favourite Destination: Casablanca, Morocco

Parting shot: “Live your life by the compass, not a clock.”

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