Touching base with Nation reporter Lilian Nduati on matters business

February 23, 2012 — Leave a comment

Occasionally, someone gets drops me a line and wants to get to know more about where we {Symbiotic} are from and pick my mind on the journey thus far. Lilian Nduati reached out for a piece she was doing for techpreneurs, and knowing the culling power of the mighty editors, here is how it went …
What companies have you founded since you began techpreneurship?

My technology venture is Symbiotic; an emerging leader in mobile business, mobile entertainment and custom web and mobile application solutions. We build mobile and web based software platforms that help businesses and organizations leverage mobile and general telecom technology to maximize revenues and meet other business objectives. Our areas of focus range from business process improvement,  distribution and monetization of content,  operational efficiency, internal and external communication as well as development of public services. Our services include mobile billing, messaging platforms, mobile marketing, building of web and mobile applications, payment gateways and technical consulting. We provide direct network connectivity for promotion, distribution and billing of mobile content and services over a range of channels including web, sms, mobile web and mobile apps. Our focus is using interactive technology in the most cost-efficient way to create superior service experiences that deliver value to businesses and customers alike.

What factors led you into techpreneurship?

Since college and varsity days I have always been drawn to matters business and technology. The love of these two things could only mean that I would eventually be in the business of technology.

I also had the honor of working at pioneering firms in the web and mobile vertical. At both 3mice and Cellulant, I got to play pivotal roles in the creation of  value for consumers on both  B2B and B2C service fronts. The key thing however is that there remained many opportunities, some in plain sight and others that you had to  sniff out that led to the forming of Symbiotic as it became the only way I could, with the help of a stellar team maximize the opportunities as they became apparent.


What advice do you have for others seeking to enter the business?

The business of technology is broad, and the first thing is to seek out your niche and settle where are you most comfortable.  Will you be a solutions creator or a reseller? Will you develop from scratch or will you support and distribute? Such are the questions that one must answer. I see may aspiring techpreneurs  going after the latest technology. While not down playing innovation, to build a real business you must address a real need – apparent, created or perceived. A real business means cash flows and margins. This feeds into the question of when to seek money for your operation if you are in the solution or service creation space. In my perspective, it is once you have a minimum viable product that has been tested in the market and you have some numbers to show. What I have learnt over the years having bootstrapped and interacted with varied flavors of investor types is that while you can sell on promise, you seal on numbers. I should also add that you must work at building a great team.

What have been your greatest achievements so far?

Achievements have been many, some obvious but others are what could be referred to as battle scars but achievements none the less.  The greatest would be that we built East Africa’s first mobile social network and grew it to a user base of quarter of a million users,  attracting the attention of big players in the space such as Naspers but unfortunately we were ahead of our time and faced challenges while trying to take it to the next level with mobile network operators. We have also managed to gain the trust and loyalty of many customers over the years cutting across enterprise and SME types.

On the personal front I would say my greatest achievement is to have become a recognized authority on matters pertaining to technology. I am also a founding  member of the East African chapter of the Mobile Marketing Association and the local chapter of Mobile Monday.

The Mobile Marketing Association (MMA) is the premier global non-profit trade association representing all players in the mobile marketing value chain. With more than 700 member companies, the MMA is an action-oriented organization with global focus, regional actions and local relevance. The MMA’s primary focus is to establish mobile as an indispensible part of the marketing mix. The MMA works to promote, educate, measure, guide and protect the mobile marketing industry worldwide.

Mobile Monday is a global community of mobile industry visionaries, developers and influential’s fostering cooperation and cross-border business development through virtual and live networking events to share ideas, best practices and trends from global markets.

What were the greatest challenges you faced as a techpreneur?

 The first  challenge of funding  may be is historical in nature as the country seems awash with funds whether from venture capitalists, grants or programs setup to promote new techcentric businesses; but I think it remains a challenge as the gap still exists between idea and business. Businesses get funded based on how well they can articulate their consumer value to a financier. This affects both startups looking for wings to fly and established entities seeking growth capital. The space that we play in takes quite abit of capital to grow consumer numbers as the costs of marketing are quite high.

Building a brand has also taken time and effort. In the past, lack of a name that resonates in the industry meant that we lost out on numerous opportunities simple because we were unheard of.  Thing is once you build a brand, the challenge is to maintain, protect and strengthen it.

Competition comes with business, if you’re making money doing something, rest assured someone will want a piece of it. We embrace it in all its forms and try to remain, nimble, innovative and fast.

What next?

The technology space has over the past few years come to its own, the right kind of attention has finally come. With the stars aligned – superior platforms, great team, excellent working relationships and partnerships, enlightened and empowered consumers and a growing fund pool we are looking at growing our customer portfolio in Kenya and then taking our game well played into the regional markets. The journey has not been easy, but it has been worthwhile.

Mbugua Njihia

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An Africa based entrepreneur in the pursuit of opportunities without regard to resources currently controlled striving to build services that have real-world value for my beloved continent and beyond while having fun along the way.