Stephanie Gaku never thought she would be an entrepreneur. Growing up the mantra instilled in her was work hard in school, get good grades and get a good job.
“I believe it was a matter of self actualisation that brought me to this path and so far I love the excitement and challenges that come with it,” she said.
The 24-year-old computer science graduate is the only woman in a group of five that set up an enterprise last year intent on enhancing network interoperability within the country.
Ms Gaku, together with Samuel Njuguna, Jack Kinga, Njogu Kinyanjui and Byron Sitawa have a one-stop mobile service shop — Chura Limited — which helps ease difficulties that consumers face in accessing services across different mobile service providers.
Their web and mobile-based service allows mobile users to switch functions between network operators, like buying airtime or exchange of vouchers between operators and to switch airtime vouchers for cash.
“The idea was developed when we realised most Kenyan mobile subscribers use different networks for different purposes. A subscriber has one line for calls, another for texts and another for the Internet.
“We thought it would be convenient to be able to serve all these lines from a single point in a fast and convenient way,” said Mr Sitawa.
Mr Njogu says the group realised that each network operator has unique strengths and challenges, resulting in many individuals acquiring more than one SIM card. The Chura platform helps mobile users to maximise the benefits.
“Chura for us signifies transition in leaping from one mobile network to another. We give mobile users access to all mobile networks,” he added.
With their startup, customers can switch airtime across networks, use the mobile money service of one operator to buy airtime for another network as well as convert the airtime voucher one has into cash on their mobile money service.
A simple form is filled on the company’s website for each transaction and an auto calculator deducts the cost of the transaction.
It is also possible for a person to buy bulk airtime for various phones at the click of a button.
“The culture of closing up technologies by network operators has presented technological and logistical challenges when developing our product but we have found a way to work around them,” Ms Gaku added.
The enterprise makes its money from the tariffs it charges for making the switch for airtime vouchers and those levied when one redeems cash in exchange for their airtime voucher.
It also get profits from retailing airtime bought wholesale from dealers. While they have received positive interest and several offers from investors, the group is yet to take up any because they want to further build their enterprise.
“Chura is a bootstrapped project meaning it has been funded out of money from our own pockets and we have experienced financial challenges surviving on bare minimums, but every great company has to start from somewhere,” Mr Kinga said.
The enterprise is currently working on avenues that will enhance product accessibility and user experience and is hoping to launch new products before the end of next year.
“We hope to promote a culture where people create relevant solutions to problems that Kenyans face and this will be enhanced once network operators fully open up their technologies and platforms for use by developers of value-added services,” said Mr Njuguna.