Meet Mo De (Mobile Decisioning), a nano-credit tech company from Kenya and co-winner of the IBM SmartCamp Latin American Regional. They’ll be competing for the title IBM Entrepreneur of the Year in NYC, Feb. 5-7! This is part 7 of 8 in our Meet the Global Finalists series. Register for the public session on Feb. 7th here.
1. Briefly, what is your company’s solution, how does it work and where did your idea come from?
The mobile phone and pay-as-you go platforms have transformed the balance sheets of telcos and other utilities in emerging markets, and enabled billions of people to have access to vital services without needing to have a credit record. The flip side has been that these vital services are not available 24/7.
Very often, pay-as-you-go customers of utilities are unable to access the service because of lack of money or access to distribution points. Mo De provides these customers with nano amounts of credit (US$0.5-US$10) to use the services whenever and wherever they need it.
Most utilities already provide some sort of credit to their customers. We observed that these services are usually elitist, inefficient, customer unfriendly and not suited to pay-as-you-go customers. We developed a comprehensive business solution to address this gap that combined a proprietary technology platform, business analytics tools, customer care and zero funding/implementation risk for our utility partners.
- 2. Explain how the company was born; who are the key players on your team and how did they come together?
Mo De was born in 2009 out of chance meeting between the founders and a failed idea to offer nano-credit mobile money to a customer of M-Pesa, the leading mobile money platform in Africa. The founders realized that a larger opportunity lay in providing consumer nano-credit that is linked to utilities such as telecoms and power.
Julian Kyula, the Group Chief Executive Officer is a serial entrepreneur with a background on financial inclusion and credit analytics. He has worked in the credit bureau sector in the USA.
Josphat Kinyua, the Group Chief Commercial Officer is an investment banker with experience in M&A, corporate finance and equity analysis in the telecoms, media and technology sectors.
In addition to the founders, the Mo De team includes an experienced executive committee and multidisciplinary team of more than 70 people with experience in telecoms, technology, hospitality, investment banking and finance.
3. How will your solution impact people’s lives for the better?
The best way to illustrate the positive impact of the solution is by a true testimonial.
Naomi is Josphat’s mother-in-law. She runs a small flower shop in Nairobi Kenya. Naomi lives 25 kilometers west of Nairobi. Every Sunday evening she must call the flower market to find out if they have the flowers she needs for the week. If she doesn’t make the call, her alternative is to spend US$3 on public transport to go the market without the certainty of getting the flowers.
Very often, for a variety of reasons, she doesn’t have airtime on her phone or money to buy it. MoDe has been a lifesaver for her and her business. She now can borrow from MoDe US$ 1 of airtime, make the call, establish that the flowers are there and save herself US$3 in transport cost and 2 hours in frustrating traffic.
She is not unique. According to the UN there are over 5 billion just like her in emerging markets – hardworking people at the bottom of the pyramid looking for a US$1-10 credit to address an urgent life or business need.
4. What is the best advice you’ve been given or the most important thing you’ve learned in the SmartCamp competition so far?
In one of the SmartCamp discussions in Sao Paolo, one of the VC panelists said that in all the businesses they have ever invested in, none of them ever turned out remotely close to the original business plan. The lesson: the only constant in the technology is change. To survive and thrive as a business one must anticipate change, constantly innovate and have the right team to navigate it.
The most important thing we have learned from SmartCamp is that technology has leveled the playing field and made the world a much smaller place. A technology solution out of Africa, with a little tweak, can be just as relevant in New York, Mexico City or Afghanistan. There is no excuse for companies from emerging markets not to try and go global.
5. In what ways do you hope working with IBM will help your company grow and succeed?
Working with IBM has already transformed our business.
Speed to the market is essential in our space. For a start-up out Africa, the ability to expand globally is dependent on credibility, access to finance and relationships. Access to IBM’s technology and expertise, coupled with winning the local and Regional SmartCamp competitions have greatly enhanced our global credentials.
SmartCamp has also been a great networking opportunity and as a result we are in discussions with a number of VCs. We are also in discussions with partners who are already introducing us to new markets in Latin America, Middle East and Southeast Asia.
In a Smarter Planet, the essence of technology solutions is to transform and enhance the lives of ordinary people.
Through our solution, a widow in Bogota, Colombia can get 1 week of electricity so that her children can study for their exams, or a fisherman in Indonesia can call different markets to get the best price for his fish.
Within two and a half years, we have given out over 250 million nano loans worth more than US$170 million. We have a captive customer base of more than 90 million in 15 different countries.
We have transformed millions of lives.