Mr Chris Gathingu, Founder and Chief Executive TangazoLetu Ltd and his wife Caroline Gathingu cut the cake to mark the company's 10th anniversary held at the Golen Tulip Hotel in Westlands. Looking on (from left) is John Gachora, Group Managing Director, NIC Bank and Bob Collymore, CEO, Safaricom Ltd.

[dropcap]F[/dropcap]rom an amateur innovation, Chris Githingu has molded a mobile solutions business that is providing cutting-edge services to millions of Kenyans. His company, Tangazoletu, is behind Safaricom’s Lipa Na M-Pesa service and SpotCash, a mobile banking product that has automated business processes for more than 50 Sacco’s across the country.

But the recently named Top40 Men Under 40 CEO did not set out to run an ICT company. In 2001, while still pursuing his undergraduate Computer Science studies at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, he came across someone whose water had been disconnected because of arrears. According to the water company a notification had been sent, but the client insisted claimed he had not received it.

“It turned out that the problem was that they were using the postal system that was prone to delays and even then, most people went to the post office only once a month. So, I reasoned that we need to automate some of these business processes,” says Mr Gathingu.

But it was not until he made Ksh50,000 from the sale of the product, or solution as he prefers to call them, that he realised he could make some good money by automating businesses. Today, his firm handles contracts worth more than Ksh1 billion.

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“Even though I later came to know that the solution was worth much more, the experience was a good realisation that there is a lot of inefficiency in business operations and if we could automate the processes, then we can have a more efficient economy,” he says.

Tangazoletu was conceptualised in 2005 and registered two years later. It has developed several solutions since then, for both local and a few foreign companies. One of its best performing product, Mr Gathingu says, is SpotCash. He is especially proud of the transformative effect it has had on the way Saccos run their businesses.

Before the solution came into the market, Mr Gathingu says Sacco members, especially those in rural areas, used to withdraw all their money and stuff it under their mattresses, simply because withdrawal was not possible during the weekend when offices were closed and they needed their money the most.

Now he says, “SpotCash allows all sorts of transactions, namely check balance, take loans, repay and even applying through a mobile phone. Our pilot client was Nyeri Teachers’ Sacco. They took a risk with us and today they are among the most efficiently run Saccos in the country.”

He adds that more than 50 Saccos use the solution to run up to 80% of their operations. The latest to join the bandwagon is Sheria Sacco, which draws members from the Judiciary and the Attorney General’s Office (see photo above).

And the company is not done with helping Saccos achieve efficiency and maximum productivity.

“We will be very soon breaking the ground when we launch the first SpotCash agency banking for Saccos in the country that will use the Near Field Communication (NFC) technology. The implications will be enormous,” says Mr Gathingu, keen not to divulge more details.

The Tangazoletu boss says forming partnerships has been the main driver in designing innovative solutions. Besides Saccos, he has partnered with insurance firms to automate various processes, such as client reminders when premiums are due.

Tangazoletu is also working with the Ministry of Health. Tibu, a product developed in partnership with Safaricom and other companies, has been pivotal in fighting TB.

“We came up with a solution whereby when cases of TB are identified at the grassroots level, health officers don’t have to go through the location-division-district-provincial and national information dissemination chain for action like was the case in the past. Now, the officer at the grassroots can key in the information and anyone on the national level receives it within seconds. We have been introducing technology solutions to help make their operations more efficient and hopefully stop the spread of the diseases,” Mr Githingu says adding that so transparent has been the system that donors’ funds for TB treatment go through it.

Tangazoletu partnership with Safaricom in 2011 produced the *544# service that enables Safaricom customers to buy data bundles from their M-Pesa accounts. Most recently, the company came up with Lipa Na M-Pesa to further increase the usage of M-Pesa in settling daily transactions. A fortnight ago Safaricom announced that Lipa Na M-Pesa has now overtaken transactions registered by credit and debit card providers. According to Mr Gathingu, the service was developed to solve coinage problems experienced by shoppers.

“The success of Lipa Na M-Pesa is great. In one year it has surpassed MasterCard, Visa and other payment platforms combined,” he says.

He says Tangazoletu employs multiple strategies to come up with solutions to problems that hinder companies from realising their full potential. First, the company has a team that is always thinking of solutions and closing gaps. Once they have a solution, they then approach the company and more often than not, the targeted organisations are happy to take up the solutions.

“The beauty about that is that we don’t have to persuade people to buy our solutions because they meet their needs perfectly,” Mr Gathingu says. Alternatively, through partnerships, like the case with Safaricom, the company collaborates with the client in identifying existing gaps and coming up with solutions.

Currently, all their solutions use the M-Pesa platform. But moving forward the company intends to open them to other mobile payment platforms.

“We are moving towards a more cashless society, so we will partner with more payment platforms, says Mr Gathingu. In the next five years, the company plans to diversify its product portfolio to included solutions for such segments like manufacturing and aviation.

“There is a robustness about our solutions and we want more industries to enjoy the benefits,” says Mr Gathingu.

 

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