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Start-up to multi-millions in two years

NAIROBI, Kenya, Jul 14 – In just two years, Kenyan firm Mobile Decisioning Services Africa (MDSA), has managed to transform from a virtually unknown start-up into a multi-million dollar company with a presence in six African countries.


The exponential growth witnessed in such a short amount of time; Julian Kyula, the co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of MDSA credits to simply filling a need that impacts a significant number of Africans.


“We basically lend airtime to people that don’t have any more airtime on their phone and qualify for a small loan of airtime,” Kyula explains.


In a nutshell, MDSA is a provider of micro and nano credit products to prepaid customers of mobile Telcos, an idea that grabbed the then Airtel Kenya’s CEO Rene Meza when he first heard it in 2010.


“Airtel Kenya gave us the first opportunity. I met the Airtel Kenya CEO and he said ‘you have five minutes to tell me what this is all about. If I like it we proceed.’ I shared the idea with him and he said it was fantastic, and that’s how it started,” Kyula recounts.


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He says the formula worked in a country, and equally a continent where people buy what they need for the day, and especially in Kenya where three quarters of the population owns a mobile phone.


MDSA lends out airtime in amounts ranging between Sh20 and Sh500, to about 700,000 users daily in Kenya, Uganda, Zambia, South Africa, Nigeria and Cameroon.


With a customer base of 52 million across the continent, Kyula expects the number to mushroom to100 million by the end of the year, after the company expands to eight more African countries.


This figure should more than double to 250 million after the firm enters the United States, Mexico, Russia by 2013.


“We want to set up a group head office in New York to handle the Mexico and Russia operations. Mexico and Russia have the same phone patterns as Kenya. If all goes well the US business will probably be twice the size of the Africa business,” Kyula said.

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The CEO is already talking with interested partners in Silicon Valley as MDSA makes the move to the US.


MDSA carries all the credit risk associated with the loans as it buys the airtime in bulk and in advance from the telco, as well as bearing all the capital expenditure costs of implementing the solution.


Having spent a significant amount of time in the US, Kyula said he developed a good work ethic, while working in the world’s largest economy, holding jobs as a waiter and even chauffer.


“I call the US the ‘equalizer’. When you land there it doesn’t matter who you are or who your parents are. I started learning the challenges the people that have jobs like waiters and drivers go through,” he says.


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By the time Kyula left his life in the US in 2005, he was working in a company of over 4,000 employees as a Senior Operations Analyst.


Seven years later, Kyula, who is also Senior Pastor of Purpose Center Church in Nairobi, still believes in the Kenya that drew him back with a dream to change the country’s mindsets.


“I think life is about people and how you interact with them. I had a mentor back in the US who told me life is to get to the place where you can teach people to the point where they are better than you and can go ahead of you,” he said.


Ultimately, Kyula says Kenyans and Africans need to be a part of the continent’s revolution that is attracting major global players from General Electric to IBM and Google.


“One of the attitudes we need to get rid of as Kenyans is the entitlement attitude. The government does not owe us anything. We just need to work hard. This is Africa’s revolution and it’s going to be very sad if the world catches it except Africans.”

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