Kirusa was founded by Dr. Inderpal Singh Mumick and is headquartered in New Jersey, with offices in Delhi, Bangalore, and Lagos. The company develops Voice/SMS based Mobile Value Added Services (MVAS) for emerging markets.
Inderpal,the CEO of Kirusa, said, “Africa remains a top priority for our business.”
In August 2014, Kirusa acqui-hired Saya Mobile for an undisclosed amount. Saya Mobile is a Ghanaian instant messaging app often depicted as the ‘WhatsApp for feature/dumb phones’. As per the deal, Kirusa will be the owner of the technology, intellectual property. The workforce of Saya will now be working on Kirusa’s mobile application InstaVoice.
Founded by Meltwater Inc, MEST (Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology) trains, mentors, and invests in world-class African tech startups from Ghana and Nigeria. Saya was founded by two MEST graduate entrepreneurs, Robert Lamptey and Badu Boahen in 2011. The Meltwater Foundation, Forward Partners and Progress through Business were Says’s investors. In 2012, Saya made it to the finals of TechCrunch Disrupt.
In a press statement, Robert Lamptey the CEO of Saya stressed “In launching Saya, we wanted to create a world class product, but one that was built by Africans, for Africans in mind.”
YourStory had a chat with Robert, the Founder of Saya Mobile, post the acquisition. Here are his thoughts.
YS: Tell us a bit about your experience in MEST and how you came up with the idea of Saya Mobile?
Robert: MEST is a two-year entrepreneurial program where 20+ students from various disciplines are brought together to learn software development and entrepreneurship. I came in with a CS degree and learnt the formalities of running software startups, and it was MEST where I met my Co-founder Badu Boahen. Saya was born out of the need to get a cool messaging app for our feature phones that was going to cut the cost of SMS and push the capabilities of the existing SMS messages we were sending to each other. We did a couple of prototypes to test this theory and once we had a stable app running, we decided to pitch it to investors at MEST who bought into the idea and funded the company.YS: Give us some stats about how big Saya grewbefore the acquisition?
Robert: We had over 200K active users over the life of the application with over 500K downloads of the application. The app was being used in 35 countries with the biggest markets being India, Indonesia, Egypt, Ghana and Nigeria.
YS: What is your view on the current startups and investor ecosystem in Ghana in particular and Africa in general?
Robert: In my opinion, it’s still in its infancy and there is a lot of work that is needed to make it happen. We need more startups and more funding to create an ecosystem. Right now, things are quite fragmented.
YS: As an entrepreneur what were the pains you’ve gone through raising funds and getting the best out of your team?
Robert: Fundraising is a difficult art that requires time and dedication; and it’s true everywhere, irrespective of where in the world you find yourself. I had a small team and everyone was needed full time, and hence having to juggle fundraising with fixing bugs and user acquisition wasn’t an easy thing. We did the best we could with what we had and raised some funding, even though it wasn’t as much as we’d had expected. Fundraising becomes a problem if it takes too long to do and shifts the focus on product development. It needs a dedicated person for this task.
YS: How did your experience at TechCrunch Disrupt help your startup?
Robert: TC Disrupt put Saya, MEST and Africa on the world map, which was a powerful thing for us. It got the world asking questions about Africa they hadn’t been asking earlier. People wanted to know if the education in Africa was any good, if we had internet access, and if we had quality engineering etc. These are questions people don’t ask about Africa because of the bad press in mainstream media. It was exciting to see the ‘right’ questions being asked for a change. Disrupt gave an adequate exposure to us and many investors and other entrepreneurs worldwide, and helped in growing our network, user base, team and exposure. I would recommend TC Disrupt to any startup, irrespective of where they are.
YS: What does it mean for Saya team to be acqui-hired? (What are the pros and cons)
Robert: It’s great to be acquired. It’s even better to end up working for an acquirer who has a product fit with yours. It makes knowledge transfer a breeze and you can bring on board a lot of learnings from previous experiences to bear on product development. This also means that you get to work with a bigger team and have more flexibility and money to get things done quicker, better and faster. I’m really delighted to be working with Kirusa on Instavoice. It’s an exciting app. The only drawback I have is the feeling to let go of your baby (Saya) and bring your experiences to bear on another product in the case where the service has to discontinue. We are merging technologies, so for my case, it’s an exciting prospect.
YS:Since you started a new chapter professionally with Kirusa, what is the product vision?
Robert: The vision for InstaVoice is to become the app of choice for all communications on a user’s phone, from voicemails and missed calls (we are heavily integrated into Telco’s infrastructure so we are virtually the only app that can do this), to texting, voicing and multimedia messaging. We want to provide these services to users irrespective of the kind of device they are using, especially in case of Africa, where users are predominantly using feature phones. This is extremely important to us, since our focus is completely on emerging markets.
YS: Do you have advice for aspiring entrepreneurs scattered across Africa?
Robert: Get off your seat and go build your dream. Turn your hobbies into careers and have fun building something awesome. Also, failure is a fact of life, so when you fail, get up, clean yourself and move onto the next one. Live a life without regrets where you will not be asking yourself ‘what if’ in the future. Life is too short to waste on procrastination, go show the world your ideas.
YS: Right now if you were not working on solving low-cost real communication problem, what other problem would you have worked on in Africa?
Robert: I would probably be working on digital payments. It’s a problem I’m really passionate about solving and I have a couple of ideas about how to do so elegantly. I think it’s a big enough problem to solve and I think my next startup will be focused on this area.
(Stay tuned for Part-2 where we talk to the Founder of Kirusa, a company that acquired Saya.)
Image credits: Cp-africa.com
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- Meltwater Inc
- Inderpal Singh Mumick
- Robert Lamptey
- Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology
- Badu Boahen