What you need to know:
By automating processes, businesses get rid of excess paperwork, are able to measure their workers’ input, and get better insight into consumer behaviour to enable sales people have data-driven conversations with the customers
Nearly 10 years ago after graduating from school with degrees in Computer Science, Alexander Odhiambo and two of his classmates were certain that they would soon secure decent jobs in the IT industry.
At the time, technology was beginning to pick up in Kenya, and the country had just come from a peaceful general election, therefore, most factors pointed to a successful road ahead.
They never imagined that they would remain jobless for several months, and even have to do unpaid work just to build a name for themselves. While still looking for work, the three had jointly developed a number of tech-solutions which they knew they could sell and make money. They just didn’t have a ready market.
“We had the skills and technology, what we needed was someone with the networks. We approached a friend who ran an advertising company and asked him to link us up with some of his clients in exchange for a seat at the table,” noted Odhiambo during an interview with Powering SMEs.
Together, the four of them would later form Solutech Limited, a technology company which offers ICT and business automation solutions to players in different sectors. Collectively, they raised about Sh40, 000 as start-up capital to set up the business.
The first product to hit the market was a sales force automation solution, a tech-product that would help manufacturing, distribution, pharmaceutical and construction among other fast moving consumer goods companies to collect data that would help them in their day-to-day decision making.
The solution comprised of a mobile application to be used by sales people in the field, an admin application to be used by sales supervisors and top management to assess performance remotely, and a web dashboard where users could adjust settings, as well as access reports.
“A company could be having more than 300 sales people in the field. As a sales manager in the office, you just know you have people in the field, but you do not know what they are doing.”
“The tool would ideally help businesses have the visibility of who is working, which customers have they seen, what have they sold, what they still have in their vehicles, how much money have they collected, and also what kind of feedback they are they getting from customers,” noted Odhiambo.
By automating these processes, the solution would also help businesses get rid of excess paperwork, and get better insight into consumer behaviour to enable sales people have data-driven conversations with the customers.
While it was a good product, they found it very difficult to penetrate the market initially. Being a local company, they were perceived to offer a lesser product compared to those offered by larger multi-nationals, who were their main competitors, in terms of the products they were offering.
“People would even ask us why we were charging similar or higher rates than those of our competition, yet those were international products,” notes Odhiambo.
He says this helped them to grow and to keep innovating and improving their platform.
“The business we are in is a business of trust, and we have really had to prove ourselves. We started with one customer in the first year. Within the first two years, we had acquired only two customers, now, we have so much to do, almost to the point of being overwhelmed,” he says.
He explains that the success of the first product has since inspired the birth of two other products, a human resource management solution and a property management solution, which helps property owners or agents manage tenants, manage payments, and assess conditions of the property, therefore enabling them to figure out what they need to change.
“The human resource solution was inspired by a client, who after being impressed with the first product, wanted a solution which would allow his employees to apply for leaves, do appraisals and keep track of the same,” notes Odhiambo.
As the business started growing though, they needed more staff to perform the extra duties, and this posed yet another challenge. Getting the right talent was not easy, and neither was getting people whom they could trust to handle the sensitive data involved. Even after they did, getting these people to adjust to their working culture proved more challenging.
Within the eight years that they have been in operation, however, Odhiambo says the firm has found ways to cope with most of its challenges. Currently, the company, which is made up of 30 employees, boasts a client base in eight countries, including Congo, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Tanzania and Kenya.
They were also ranked highly in a recent sales force automation competition, under the beverage category, alongside multinationals.
They hope to introduce more products in the market in future, including a Business-to-Business e-commerce platform, that could see them raise their annual turnovers to about Sh100 million.