Innovation helps ‘mama mboga’ make orders on SMS

March 7, 2014
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Gudka( L), who grew up in Kericho, is not looking for formal employment.  SokoText, his new start-up, is his focus. The company is about on an online application which intends to leverage on the power of Short Message Service (SMS) in Kenya and help entrepreneurs in the slums/MARGARET WAHITO
Gudka( L), who grew up in Kericho, is not looking for formal employment. SokoText, his new start-up, is his focus. The company is about on an online application which intends to leverage on the power of Short Message Service (SMS) in Kenya and help entrepreneurs in the slums/MARGARET WAHITO
NAIROBI, Kenya, Mar 7 – “Having an idea is one thing. But having an idea that solves a problem is another thing. You have to also study whether your idea is the best solution to that problem. If it’s not, change it,” says 21 year old Suraj Gudka who just graduated from London School of Economics with a Bachelors of Science Degree in Accounting and Finance.

Gudka, who grew up in Kericho, is not looking for formal employment. SokoText, his new start-up, is his focus. The company is about on an online application which intends to leverage on the power of Short Message Service (SMS) in Kenya and help entrepreneurs in the slums.

“At the time I graduated, I already had a job offer at one of the top accounting firm there (UK). I would perhaps be earning close to 25,000 pounds (Sh3.6 million) a year. But when I thought of this idea, I asked the company to defer my job for one year. As soon I came back to Kenya and we started working on the pilot, I knew this is what I wanted to do for the foreseeable future. So I called those guys and told them that I was not going back for the job anymore,” he says during an interview.

“SokoText is a social enterprise based in Mathare slums, Nairobi and we work with ‘mama mbogas’ who are based in the slums. We help them to order their daily stock of fresh produce using an SMS based system which aggregates all their orders and turns them into one big order. We then source the goods in bulk prices and sell them from a central place in the area. All these, at a small fee. This means that they don’t have to go to the market everyday hence saving a lot of time, money and energy. They take their order at a lower cost because we get the goods in wholesale,” Gudka says.

So far he has been able to work with 27 women from Mathare slum on a pilot basis since August last year. “It took some time for them to accept the idea because initially they did not trust us and this is common. But by just showing them our value proposition, they slowly started coming in. After two or three women came, others started saying they would also want to join,” he says smiling.

Gudka is currently constructing a small shop in Mathare where the ‘mama mbogas’ will be picking their orders. “We also want to increase our image in the slums and attract more customers.”

The idea to use SMS to help entrepreneurs in the slums came up while Gudka was in campus through an online competition. “The problem they gave us was solving food insecurity in slums. I worked on the project with four other school mates and I was the only Kenyan in the team. One was from Canada, another from Germany, UK and one from Colombia. Though we didn’t win the $1million prize I decided to pursue the idea back home.”

The young man is currently working with an intern, Joseph Ndung’u, 21, who has helped him create the online SMS based system due to his knowledge on computer programming. Ndung’u is still in school and currently pursuing a degree in Computer Science at Dedan Kimathi University of Technology, Nyeri.

“I am passionate about programming and coming up with applications that try to solve the daily problems. So when I was attached to work with Suraj, I was so happy. I found him doing the entries manually and in this digital era, taking records by writing on a book is odd. So I helped him create the online page,” he says.

Gudka is a beneficiary of Nailab, which is a Kenya Startup Incubator, located in Nairobi. Nailab tries to lower the entry barriers for ICT entrepreneurs who want to start and scale their businesses in Kenya. They help young people great ideas until they become a business.

In partnership with the government through the ICT Authority and the World Bank, Nailab is currently working with other five start ups and targets to help over 30 ICT innovations in the next 18 months.

“We want to be handling a million shillings in revenue per year. In five years, we want to be covering almost every slum in Nairobi and later expand to other areas in the country and the region. And a part from fresh produce like fruits and vegetables, we want to be dealing other high valued goods,” Gudka says with enthusiasm.

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