Kenyan IT start-up plots global takeover


Rodgers Muhadi (left) and Samuel Masinde pose at the entrance of the 500 Startups office in San Francisco California. The two were admitted to the Silicon Valley- based incubation programme where they have developed their latest product, Paykind, which allows one to send electronic vouchers for purchase of goods and services through mobile phones. PHOTO | COURTESY

As the country tries to overcome teething problems of constructing its own Silicon Valley, a little known startup, Card Planet is living the dream.

The IT startup was in November last year admitted into the 500 startups accelerator programme located at the American technopolis.

500 Startups is a venture capital seed fund and startup accelerator. It searches for five hundred top startups globally and takes them through a four-month programme.

Card Planet becomes the first Kenyan startup to be accepted into the prestigious programme and the second company in the region after Ghana’s Dropifi which was accepted in 2013.

Founders Rodgers Muhadi and Samuel Masinde have since moved to California to participate in the programme.

Giving the history of the company via email, Mr Muhadi noted that while their initial business concept was to enable them put food on the table, the Silicon Valley experience had opened their minds and now their solutions have a global focus.

Equally gifted

“It feels great being here. We have come to appreciate that there is talent everywhere and that being from Africa, are not disadvantaged in any way. We are equally gifted as other people from world over,” he said

Mr Muhadi an electrical engineer by training, handles the core technology involving smartcards and biometrics while Mr Masinde a computer science major handles the higher-end technologies.

Card Planet Solution Ltd was incorporated in May 2013 although they had been ‘trying things out’ without incorporation from mid-2012. The company has now been reincorporated in the US as Card Planet Solutions Inc which fully owns the Kenyan entity.

He explained their name choice saying they had from the onset been optimistic that they could influence the world through their smartcard- based solutions.

From a young age Mr Muhadi said he always believed he could make money by providing solutions to problems and his educational background in electrical engineering only enhanced his desire to solve problems with technology.

“Initially it was just me. From my training I had learnt how microchip cards were applicable in various ways like payments or identification and I was lucky to work with a payments company which enriched my experience. When I shared my dream with my longtime friend Samuel, we decided to setup Card Planet,” he said.

Unlike many startups which wither within the first five years of inception, Card Planet was able to thrive on the Kenyan startup ecosystem drawing strength from incubation programmes at Nailab, 88mph- a startups focused investment firm and the Savannah Fund. Like others they faced several challenges which they said helped them better transform their business.

“We did not have experience in running a company before and we had to learn a lot of things on our own. Raising money to fund our operations was a great challenge and for over a year we relied on the small savings we had, but being incubated at Nailab provided the comfort of office space, Internet and mentors hip,” he admits.

It is the belief in the company that saw them through the trying times until they received their first corporate clients and later additional funding from the Savannah Fund.

Improved efficiency

Card Planet provides identity, payments and loyalty solutions through smartcard technology integrated with web and mobile platforms to enable organisations improve efficiency.

Most of their revenue is made from subscription charges and a percentage of the money that is transacted through their systems.

One of their products, PesaCard, connects mobile money to the web using smartcards and Internet enabled point of sale terminals ensuring that people without phones benefit from mobile money.

Their CampoCard serves as an identification and access card to students, faculty and staff members providing a security solution and a truancy check for academic institutions.

While raising capital from Savannah Fund and being selected for 500 Startups programme have been good milestones, the two are adamant that building their latest platform, is their greatest achievement.

Mr Muhadi said that the platform, to be launched soon in Kenya will be the company’s flagship product.

“For some time we have offered closed loop payments solutions using contactless NFC smartcards, USSD, SMS, Mobile Application and Web-applications. But we believe Paykind is the new way for distributing non-monetary benefits through the mobile phone,” Mr Muhadi said.

He added that enables individuals and organisations send highly specified remittance packages using e-vouchers through mobile phone technology enabling aid organisations and corporates in need to distribute their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) benefits.

The two entrepreneurs are committed to see their little startup blossom into a renowned global IT firm.

“We have come this far by learning to take calculated risks. When you risk nothing you become nothing,” Mr Muhadi said.