Two computer geeks who dared to dream big and went for it
By Caroline Mwendwa
While in his final year of study at Maseno University, Joseph Gatheru alongside his college mate and friend Edwin Mwaniki were hypnotisedby the technological gap in the Kenyan market. Their acquired skills and knowledge in their discipline of study; Computer Science opened them to the existing need for organisations to harness on the advancing technology to make their work easier and multiply their profits. They eyed this gap with every intention to reap from it and after graduating from school, they founded Wisedigits Ltd. “This was a time when social media was gaining traction, and not many companies had a website to their name let alone an automated system.”
Wisedigits was founded in 2009 and focused on developing and designing software. Another impetus for the duo’s idea of running a software company was that the few organisations that had attempted to automate their systems were importing the services and this was a motivation for them to provide services that cater for the local market. Unlike many start-ups which require financing to actualize an idea, Gatheru says that developing software requires skill and know-how as the basic capital. The rest he says, become pressing needs as the business slowly picks. He quickly adds that even though this kind of business has this advantage, entrepreneurs opting to venture in it in ways that require financing face a huge challenge because there is barely any collateral to offer the financial institutions against which they can hold for a loan.
Eight years down the line, Wisedigits Ltd has cut its niche and is stepping up the ladder as more clients discover it.
“Our major product is ERP, Enterprise Resource Planning, a business process management software that allows an organization to use a system of integrated applications to manage the business and automate many back office functions related to technology, services and human resources.” Wisedigits has continued to build on this software giving clients an end to end automation.
Through referrals mostly, they have created a strong customer base of over a hundred clients in almost all sectors of the economy. “We have served customers in the hospitality industry, the construction industry, property management, research institutions and social organisations among others.”
Gatheru explains that Wisedigits offers customised services, depending on the nature and level of business. The business has gradually grown and the duo have now employed staff members in various departments. They however lament one major hitch; the unavailability of skill and talent. “It’s not easy to find the right skill for this kind of work. Graduates leave school armed with theoretical know-how but that is not enough. It takes extra efforts for young people to be fully equipped for this occupation.” They have however learnt this and now focus on potential talent. “We recruit people who are trained and have potential to perfect their skill through our training,” he says further emphasizing on the need for offering onsite training.
The other challenge that comes with recruiting the right staff as Gatheru points out, is the unreliability of the present day youths, who barely retain a job for long enough.
Even though the growing customer base bespeaks of the quality of services Wisedigits offer, this comes with a cost and calls for collaboration with the client. “Whenever a client is expecting top of the range service, they must be ready to provide the necessary facilitation. It becomes a tall order when we set out to do an end to end automation but the client fails to allocate a commensurate budget.”
Even though Wisedigits is yet to establish partnerships with other corporations, the relationship they enjoy with their customers is quite satisfying and contributes a great deal to the expanding clientele due to word of mouth referrals. “We however look forward to having partnerships with organizations as this would be highly influential to our business.”
The local outlook
“The local scene is promising as the need for these services becomes apparent. People already know the importance of automating their systems but lack the aggressiveness to make it happen. Others just don’t know who to approach.”
To reach out to potential clients, Wisedigits has adopted the approach of taking the business to the customers. “We visit businesses and tell them about our services. This way, we have been able to reach many clients who would like our services.” He goes on to say that they are lucky to have come to the market when people already know the need for the services they are offering. “Software development is a huge business not only in Kenya but globally. Africa in specific is really embracing technology advancement and this makes the environment conducive for us.”
What does it take?
Gatheru explains that it takes a strong character to succeed in this business. “One has to be impassioned by it first then ask themselves, what they can do to make economic sense out of the passion.” That way, Gatheru says, it is easier to define the necessary action and go through whatever comes along the way in pursuit of the set goal. He recalls his start up days when the mere pleasure of having started on the journey of software development kept him going. “In the beginning, I drove satisfaction from the fact that I was doing what I’m passionate about. It was not about the money.” This he says kept him focused. “Unless you believe in your business idea, he says, you cannot surmount the many red lights that pose the threat of failure along the way. Gatheru also admits that he has had to sacrifice a number of things especially in his social life in order to achieve his goals. “Sometimes as an entrepreneur I have to work extra hard and miss out on certain social activities, but it is worth it,” he says.
Mwaniki his co-founder also recalls the start-up phase as having been more exciting than challenging particularly because they were delving into something they were passionate about. His interest in technology has seen him further his studies to acquire more skill especially in his new area of interest; Research in Android devices and their security. “The technological world is ever evolving and just as it is advancing, so are more challenges coming up. Cyber-security is one of the major issues in this field today and that is why I have decided to extend my arm that direction,” he says.
Despite facing challenges as young people, the duo have managed to lift the establishment on is feet and even offer employment to many other young people in the field of technology. Diana Mugo is one such youth who has benefitted from the Wisedigits enterprise. “After completing studies at Mt Kenya University I came to Wisedigits for internship, and after my internship period, I was taken in,” says the enthusiastic geek. Diana is in charge of system implementation and support and also caters for finance management as well as human resource.
Her journey in the technology industry has been tough more so because she is a lady. Diana has howeverlearnt that good things don’t come easy and challenging the retrogressive stereotypes is one of the hurdles she has jump. She encourages other girls who feel intimidated by STEM careers to feel encouraged and not cower because they have all it takes. Her continual presence at Wisedigits has contributed highly in honing her skills in software development. Her secret is being confident and hanging out with the right people, who keep fanning her flame.
For Mwaniki and Gatheru, staying afloat in the technology industry requires constant research and keeping tabs on the advancements happening all over the world. That is why they intend to establish a research development lab in order to keep pace with technology. They project a highly growing Wisedigits company serving the East African markets and the entire Africa. “We have already developed skills, and hope to have partnerships in future which will help us acquire what may be lacking.” However, the duo says so far so good, and while they aim higher, they do not take for granted the milestones they have made in the seven years they have beenin business.