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Small startups can solve Africa’s big problems

When Uber came into the taxis market, they must have been acutely aware that their innovation will never go unchallenged.

Like every innovator, they must have been aware of 1962 studies by Everett Rogers, a professor of communication who came up with the theory known as diffusion of innovations and published a book under the same title to explain how, why, and at what rate new ideas and technology spread.

He noted that as the technology matures, more players emerge. In Kenya, like David, Little is standing up to Uber, the Goliath of online transportation network.

Little’s entry is not a replication of Uber. It comes with contextual innovation that has thrown foreign owned online transport apps into confusion and forced Uber into an aggressive ad campaign.

Like its partner, Safaricom, which has greatly benefited from context innovation, Little has great potential ahead.

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There is this unwritten law to support local brands. Little can learn from the triumph of Equity in the face of large multinational banks, Bidco over global giant Uniliver, and Kariobangi’s manufacturers of weighing machines over the global brand, Avery.

A brain child of Craft Silicon, Little is not little. It is going to take the war of taxi apps into the doorstep of Uber.

As a consequence, Uber, which is the most valuable startup in the world, needs to rethink their strategy in Africa, if it has to succeed.

And if Little succeeds against Uber in Africa, it can only win if they exploit the benefits of context innovation and begin to scale little by little into the complex market in Africa.

Africa has its own unique ways of operating. Little understands Africa much better because of their inherited knowledge from Craft Silicon, which operates in more than 30 countries in Africa.

Little has been smart enough to realise early that if they have to compete with the global giant Uber, they can only win on the features.

Price war is not going to give them any leverage against cash-rich Uber. Their unique offering like Live Fare enables the rider to monitor their fare live as the cab moves.

Taxi hailing

Kenya, and to an extent all across Africa, smart phone penetration is still relatively low, necessitating use of USSD widely as in mobile money.
They have extended the Taxi Hailing right on USSD, which can work on any mobile phone, however old it is.

Smartly, they have created a unique logic of getting the location of the customer via cell towers.

I have not seen such an extension to any of the taxi hailing apps globally. Kenya is once again first in the world.

In addition, Little is pushing their drivers to be entrepreneurs. All Little drivers, for example, are agents, and can sell other value-add services. A classic case is that they can sell airtime and gain some extra commissions.

Because Craft Silicon is one of the biggest mobile banking providers in the region, they have extended taxi booking right inside the mobile banking apps of their banks who are using their app.

Only way

The most unique benefit is the option for women riders to have women drivers. By taking on well-funded global giants, African start-ups are coming of age.

It is perhaps time we moved from the rhetoric of having potential to actually beginning to solve the big problems of Africa.

It is the only way that many African start-ups can begin to exploit the potential.

We have seen many start-ups from outside reap the said potential and leave Africans where we they have always been — at the bottom.

Africa must bring out their own products that can join the billion dollar unicorn club. Little has led the way. There are a dozen others coming.

For these start-ups to succeed, the local market is critical. Competition, too, is essential gauge as to where we stand in the world.

That is how we can sustain Kenya at the helm of Technology and innovation.

The writer is an associate professor at University of Nairobi’s School of Business.

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