Kenyan startup takes on Facebook, Google in their own domain

Kenyan innovator Owen Sakawa. PHOTO | POOL

Owen Sakawa innovativeness began long time when he was still young. At the age of 14 years, he invented DigiPass, a tech solution that secured paper documents through a visual digital stamp.

Inspired by a high school project, the solution would allow school officials to easily verify documents online.

"In this way, it can be said with certainty whether the content of the document is unchanged from the original document,” Mr Sakawa tells Digital Business.

He successfully globalised DigiPass into Africa's leading document verification company, enabling him to secure Sh64.5 million ($550,000) in investments, grants, and awards.

After 10 years of building the platform, it was acquired by a Dutch cybersecurity firm.

"With my help, we transformed the application to something I could never have imagined and introduced many verification checks not just in school documents but any official document, from identification cards to birth certificates,” he says.

"That was my first taste of startup success.”

Mr Sakawa's innovativeness did not stop there. Later, he invented RepairNet Inc, an online marketplace that connects vehicle owners with genuine mechanics in Kenya.

“Our mission was to leverage technology to build the most convenient and trusted car repair service,” Mr Sakawa says.

"We built the mobility platform of the future to replace shops’ physical infrastructure – allowing our consumers to save time, money and get quality services, at the same time attract top-tier mechanics,” says the graduate of the University of Cambridge Master of Philosophy in Machine Learning and Machine Intelligence.

The platform is operational in Kenya, South Africa, and the United States of America.

With great innovations in Kenya, Mr Sakawa's mission was to develop a startup that would compete on the global stage.

His wishes were answered when he moved to the US.

In San Francisco, California; he co-founded, a conversational commerce platform that helps small businesses build strong customer relationships through the world's most popular messaging apps such as Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram, together with Abhijay Rao and Aaron Madolora.

“When we started working on the product, a year ago, we called the platform Hyperbite and focused on enabling restaurant and business owners to create a web page with an interactive digital menu, and to start accepting the delivery, takeaway, dine-in orders, and table bookings via the social media apps,” Mr Sakawa says.

Since they changed their name to Elloe, the company evolved into an all-around customer friendship platform, enabling businesses to build artificial intelligence (AI) powered chatbots, an academy that teaches how to build amazing bots in practice, among others.

Through Elloe, businesses can build different kinds of chatbots such as an FAQ bot to outsource frequently asked questions, an appointment bot to streamline booking systems, and a lead generation bot to collect customers' contact information.

Others are a survey bot that can gather feedback from your customers. An after-hours bot that can give a new lease of life to your out-of-office form and a sales bot that boosts repeat sales and attract more new loyal customers!

“I personally believe that the future of commerce is a strong bond between companies and their customers – much like the connection between friends.

"In the past decade, companies who have succeeded at creating exceptional customer experiences, in particular when talking to customers directly, are the ones who have excelled. I believe this trend will continue, but I also believe businesses could do much better. The next decade will see people and technology working together in new and better ways. Elloe is the start of that.”

California is renowned for its high concentration of established tech companies such as Facebook, Apple, Google, Intel, among others.

Its startup success rate has attracted a myriad of innovators seeking to replicate successes.

“There are a variety of reasons why startups move to Silicon Valley, such as the legislation, laws, and policies that safeguard business interests. Secondly, success breeds success. It goes without saying that you have more chances of success where others like yourself have succeeded.

“Thirdly, as you have said, the Valley is technological heaven, a hotbed for investors and financiers,” the Forbes Technology Council Member, a network of CEOs, CTOs, and technology executives keen on tech, explains.

Once a merchant is onboarded onto the platform, they study the client's challenges and needs while looking into brand strategy before moving into conceptualization and design of a tailor-made solution, in this case, an AI-powered chatbot with a keen interest in user experience (UX).

"Once this is done, we move into the integration of our bots. After that, we develop creative content for your brand through the use of graphics and storyboards to communicate with your clients in your brand’s voice.

"After all the steps are completed, we move into testing and finally launch the bots," he adds.

Currently, they operate in the US, Kenya, Philippines, and Southeast Asia.

Recently, the firm raised over Sh100 million ($1 million) pre-seed funding round led by the Philippines’ Mad Ventures Inc to support Micro-SMEs in Kenya and emerging countries across Africa as well as expand into the Philippines and Southeast Asian markets.

Some of the Big brands that the company is working with include Coca-Cola, Equity Bank, among others.

One of the biggest challenges that they faced was hitting a sharp learning curve quite early as they shifted from thinking of themselves as being a tool to being a platform.

“There were some growing pains involved in making a shift like that, and we experienced a lot of struggles, but looking back I would encourage companies to try to reach the highest level of maturity as early as possible.

"This really refined our go-to-market process early on, and ultimately it’s also how we were able to raise our pre-seed just 6 months after we launched this one of the largest investment firms in the Philippines.”

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