How a young entrepreneur has built a highly successful ICT company with a continental footprint through sheer determination and resilience
By George Gichuki
victor Hugo, a renowned French poet and writer once remarked: “An invasion of army can be resisted, but not an idea whose time has come.” Compelling ideas keep individuals on their toes as they yearn to actualize them. That is the story of Danson Muchemi. Ten years ago, while working tirelessly on a desktop computer he had hired from the owners of a cybercafé ( his pockets at that time were too shallow) , Muchemipossibly never thought that the ideas he was toying around with would blossom into a highly successful enterprise. The young telecommunications engineer was only formally employed for four months in a Turkish firm because as he puts it, he wanted to learn how big corporations are run, before becoming an entrepreneur. If the systems and structures that he has put in place at JamboPay are anything to go by, then the few months spent in formal employment were not wasted.
“That is where the cybercafé was located,” he tells me as he points at one corner of his spacious and well furnished office. “With time, my idea outgrew the cybercafé, forced the owners to relocate their business, before demolishing the walls of all the neighbouring offices,” he recalls with a sense of accomplishment. Yes, from the desktop computer in the tiny cybercafé, JamboPay now occupies two floors at View Park Towers in Nairobi’s central business district. “The fact that I did not have money to purchase a computer or let a tiny office did not stop me from pursuing my dream since deep down my heart, I held a very strong conviction that my idea was powerful and it would yield results,” he adds.
The innovative company provides digital and payment automation solutions. Early this month, it celebrated its tenth anniversary with pomp and splendour. “It has been a very fulfilling journey for me but over the next ten years, I am looking forward to building a more challenging business,” he says. Muchemi graduated from Kenyatta University in 2008.
Many people hold the erroneous view that before starting a business, one must have tons of cash for letting spacious working premises, hiring employees and purchasing the necessary working tools. Listening to Muchemi’s story clearly shatters this myth.
“From the word go, I wanted to venture into information communication technology (ICT) business and I therefore figured out that the tools I needed first were a computer, desk and internet connection,” he shares. Armed with only Kshs. 4,500 as monthly rent, he was able to access these facilities at the cybercafé, saving the headache of a huge overhead during the challenging start-up stage of the business.
The cybercafe’s management allowed him to lock the computer he had hired with his password. He also changed its operatingsystem and opened an open source because he could not afford software licences. After hustling for a few months, Muchemi was joined in the business by a close friend who took a second computer. Lady luck further smiled on him when the management allowed him to partition the little space he was using in order to have some privacy.
“It is at the cyber that I developed my first vision and mission statements, besides setting the audacious goal of establishing a leading Pan African payment service provider company,” he vividly recalls.
After coming up with a couple of objectives, he worked on the company’s branding by developing its logo and corporate colours with the assistance of a close friend; Harrison Munene. Ever since, JamboPay has grown steadily and it has several offices in Kenya, with its headquarters being Nairobi.
In addition, it has a presence in Uganda, Rwanda and Ghana. “We have religiously been weaving the company’s basket on a daily basis with a lot of dedication, passion, persistence and discipline,” Muchemi emphasizes. To realize that growth, he has assembled a team of highly talented and resourceful software engineers, data analysts, lawyers, business developers and accountants.
Currently, the company has over 5,000clients in both the private and public sectors. One of those clients is the Nairobi County government which rides on the Ejijipay platform to collect revenue from its residents including parking fees, land rates and business permits. “In 2018, we collected 96% of Nairobi County government’s revenue,” says Muchemi adding that Nairobi was the first city in East and Central Africa to automate its revenue collection.
Muchemi says he has very fond memories of the decision he took to quit formal employment and venture into business. “Entrepreneurs outlive comfort zones and gather the courage to swim in waters full of crocodiles and sharks until they achieve their goals,” he avers. “I will never forget the bright morning when I walked into the cybercafé armed only with faith and courage to succeed as an entrepreneur,” he observes. This spirit according to him is common among entrepreneurs in all fields of business.
To obtain approvals from the Central Bank of Kenya ( CBK) for the provision of online payment solutions, Muchemi was required to form a partnership with at least one commercial bank in the country. After knocking countless doors, I&M Bank accepted his proposal and his business therefore took off. Over the years, JamboPay has forged successful partnerships with other commercial banks. “I will forever be grateful to the national payment division of CBK for listening to me and offering me the necessary guidance when I was seeking for licensing,” says Muchemi. He was only aged twenty four years at that time. From its initial days as an e-commerce payments processor, the company now does enterprise, retail and government payments and that has been one of its major milestones.
A very focused and ambitious entrepreneur, he believes in surmounting the challenges he encounters in his day to day endeavour of growing and expanding his business. The company also offers bill payment services for utility companies, cash disbursement, enterprise automation as well as an e-donation platform which enables people to raise funds online. “Our unique value proposition is our ability to customize various solutions in respect to our clients’ needs,” Muchemi avers. In order to serve its clients effectively and efficiently, JamboPay has partnered with over 15,000 agents at various strategic locations countrywide.
Just like many businesses offering online solutions, cybercrime is the biggest threat to JamboPay. In that regard, the thriving company has put in place sound policies on data, system and network security. It has also invested heavily in infrastructure for detecting and mitigating threats. “We have also complied with the local and international security standards,” Muchemi observes adding that the company has partnered with some local universities in fighting the cybercrime menace. Internally, JamboPay has established a network and system security department whose role is to ensure that the business is operating in a safe environment.
According to Muchemi, detecting and mitigating against the threats that are associated with cybercrime is not a one-off activity given the dynamism of the online business. “We are continuously working to ensure that we have active platforms and mechanisms of fighting the cybercrime threat so that we are on top of the game in that area,” he avers.
As the fast growing company marks its tenth anniversary, it is keen on deepening its product offering and making the same relevant to its target market. In addition, it is striving to expand its continentalfootprint by having a presence in at least twenty two countries from the current five.
Having invested heavily in a robust payment platform, Muchemi says JamboPay is willing and able to open the same to other financial technology (fintech) companies. Currently, there are four companies riding on the said platform. “These companies are saving a lot of money since they do not have to establish data and call centres or hire software engineers,” he emphasizes.
Jambopay clinched the All Africa Business Leadership award in 2017 for being the most innovative company in East and Central Africa. “My dream is to build JamboPay until it becomes an international brand which will make the rest of the world appreciate that Africa is an ICT powerhouse,” Muchemi ends optimistically.
MEET THE BOSS
- Muchemi loves travelling, farming and mentoring young people;
- His favourite cuisine is ugali and fermented milk ( maziwa mala);
- He loves cycling and playing chess;
- He advises young entrepreneurs to be focused, disciplined and courageous;
- His best moment as an entrepreneur is when he touches people’s lives through community service.
- He wakes up at 5 am and after praying, he goes through all the business reports online;
- He reports in the office at 7.30 am, reads the dailies before meeting with members of his team.