Innovative firm on the frontline to popularise e-solutions for SMEs in Kenya

DeepAfrica limited and Geonta Solutions CEO Richard Karanja

DeepAfrica limited and Geonta Solutions CEO Richard Karanja during the interview at his office in Thika on October 24, 2022.

Photo credit: Lucy Wanjiru | Nation Media Group

After living in America for 17 years, Richard Karanja became well acquainted with e-solutions thanks to the extensive use of technology abroad.

There, he says, it is common for a regular shop—similar to the local estate kiosk--to operate using a digitised point-of-sale system, that helps the shop owner keep track of their stock and inventory, as well as sales.

“New technologies such as artificial intelligence, have made it possible for business owners to assess and calculate what they need to stock in future accurately. This ensures efficiency in business. Compared to someone using traditional record-keeping, someone using the new technology is way ahead in terms of sales projection, among other things,” noted Karanja during an interview with Powering SMEs.

When Karanja came back home, his experience abroad inspired him to co-found deepAfrica, a technology company that provides digital services including data hosting, software and website development to businesses.

At the time of its entry into the market, the tech industry was dominated by a select number of players who were mostly large companies. That meant that as a start-up, in order to penetrate the market, deepAfrica had to curve out a niche for itself.

Target firms

Karanja and his business partners began by targeting small and mid-sized companies, which were beginning to embrace digital, but did not have the resources to host their internal data for instance, on their own.

“We would approach these companies and tell them to look, why don’t you host your data with us in our own dedicated server space which uses verified SSL thus guaranteeing data safety, at a lower price,” notes Karanja, the chief operations officer at deepAfrica.

He says clients were quick to embrace their hosting solution because most of their clients would previously host their data with foreign companies, where they had no control of their data, and therefore appreciated working with a local, reachable service provider.

Later, as the company continued to gain traction, it diversified into developing other digital products including mobile and web-based applications for companies across various sectors.

“There were so many other data hosting companies coming up, but not enough start-ups were coming up to meet the demand for software applications. Therefore, as we expanded, we were able to form other sister companies through which we were able to develop more products,” notes Karanja.

One of these companies is Geonta solutions, a software development brand through which they have been able to roll out a platform known as Geonta Metrix, which enables SMEs to manage their stock, inventory as well as payroll.

“The application is available on Google playstore. We have a free version and another version which users are charged a monthly subscription fee to use. Once a user signs up, they can be able to track sales, and stock and know when inventories are running low. They can also be able to issue invoices directly from the app.”

The company has been in operation for 15 years now. Over the years, it has worked on several digital products for other brands together and grown to a staff of 15 made up of IT experts, marketers and designers.

While Karanja recognises, with glowing pride, the milestones made by deepAfrica, he admits that gaining traction in Kenya as a tech company is still not easy, as there is still limited awareness of the benefits of technology.

“In Kenya, we have to change the mentality of how we consume technology. Though digital adoption is steadily increasing, we still fear technology. For instance, most people do not prefer to use the M-Pesa app, but would instead opt for the sim tool kit, even though the Mpesa app is easier to use, and helps to track and categorise your spending.”

Policy formulation

He says there is also a need for government and policymakers to engage tech industry stakeholders in policy formulation to ensure that the regulations being implemented are relevant and supportive.

“Data privacy in Kenya is still a grey area, but we are slowly moving to a point where we will know which data is to be shared, and which data is to be kept private. Just by integrating data, we can be able to share data across institutions and significantly reduce the time spent to get certain services.”

He notes that there is also a need to address bottlenecks in the registration, trademarking, patenting and marketing of ideas in order to spur innovation.

“For example, currently we have a solution that is a game changer in the transportation industry. We are working on a software application called Redix that seeks to improve road safety in Kenya, make drivers accountable, and streamline issues in the sector. But just being able to convene the relevant authorities to market this product is a hurdle,” notes Karanja.

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