Kenneth Mbuthia, Co-founder Henga Systems
The Kenyan tech scene has been growing over the past few years, with more and more people developing software and mobile applications. This can be attributed to the high percentage of mobile penetration and increased internet connectivity throughout the country. But this influx of developers and applications has it’s own problems.
According to the people I have interacted with, the quality of software products out there is wanting. Poorly done websites and mobile applications with outdated designs are what is to be expected from Kenyan developers. This is something Henga Systems wants to change. Started by a group of students from Strathmore University, Henga systems prides itself in creating quality software products efficiently with the end user in mind which is clearly seen from their portfolio.
I sat down with the co-founder and lead developer of Henga Systems, Kenneth Mbuthia, to find out the essence of their startup and what they hope to change in the Kenyan tech space.
What did it take to move Henga systems from inception to where you are now?
We have had a bit of a journey. Henga was started 2 years ago, by four guys, but unfortunately, I am the only one still here. We entered an application challenge with our first application, Pesa Manager which we failed miserably at. To be honest, that application was wanting. That was the beginning of our learning process. Even after the failure, we did not give up and moved on to apply apply for incubation at iBiz in Strathmore and we haven’t looked back since.
Pesa Manager is still there today, with better design and increased downloads day by day without any form of marketing as it’s not our main focus, but it gets clients to notice us. After 6 months of incubation, we applied and received funding through our incubator from the Idea Foundation who have been very supportive.
So far we have close to 6 applications on the Google Play Store, 3 that belong to us and the rest for our clients. At present, we are receiving the last bit of funding from Idea Foundation, we have a close team of 9 dedicated people and we now have a flagship product, Eleveyt which is a mobile based platform for Christian content, where you can connect with churches and other Christians out there. We will launch this officially next month.
You mentioned earlier that out of the group that started Henga, you are the only one who is still actively involved. Has it been a challenge finding the right people for Henga?
Yes, there have been a lot of challenges, broken relationships (he laughs a little). This was a challenge earlier on. We started Henga as friends, which I would not recommend to others. We lost two of our co-founders due to misconduct and lack of commitment to Henga. Finding the right talent at the beginning was an issue. But we have overcome that. We have a strong team now, of like-minded people who are fully committed to Henga. If this is how we were at the beginning, then Henga would be at a different place right now.
A challenge we face currently is lack of funds. Client jobs are our main source of income and we heavily depend on them. Without clients, funds become strained. This is something we face but we are hoping to get out of it using Eleveyt. We launched a pilot version last December and from that we have been working on a revenue model so that by the end of the year, it can churn out significant revenue, but probably not enough to live off yet but enough to sustain Henga.
Where do you see Henga in the next 3 years?
I can tell you where we want to be in 3 years, I can also tell you where we want to be in 6 years. Let me start with 3 years. The first thing that we want to achieve, wait, something we WILL achieve before the end of next year is to leave the incubator. We want our own space, preferably a house, where we can work down stairs and live upstairs. The nature of our work requires collaboration, therefore staying close together will mean better communication. Secondly, by 3 years, we want to have two main products that are profitable. The aim of Eleveyt is to have at least 50 churches signed up in 3 years. Since churches maintain a premium account, revenue will be guaranteed. Thirdly, we want to be an authority in software development. We want clients to come to us, not us looking for them.
In 6 years, our main goal is to have our own building, Henga HQ, where we will mostly focus on research and development. Possibilities are endless. Coming up with innovations that will help our country is a major objective. Turning innovations made my Kenyans, into commercial products used buy us and the rest of Africa is a key goal. We will not be limited to software.
Interesting, do you have a strategy put in place to achieve such plans?
Strategy is something I talk about often with the team. We have come to the conclusion that we need to work on one product at a time. We were a bit scatter-brained before, one day we would have product X and the next day product Y. We want to change that. We are now focused into building a product fully until it meets a certain threshold before moving on to another. This will ensure quality, efficiency and simplicity which are our core objectives for everything we do.
Secondly, diversifying our products offerings and enriching them is key to sustainability. As a group, we have a myriad of skills therefore we have added online presence services. This is a new branch of Henga called Legacy, where we handle branding, digital advertising and SEO ( Search Engine Optimization) for companies and their products.
What puts you ahead of other software development companies?
When people ask me that, I think of three things. Quality, Efficiency and Simplicity. Let me explain. The software development scene in Kenya and Africa at large is still young. Earlier, many companies would outsource their software needs to places like India and Europe in order to get quality products. Now that talent in software development has increased, we still face an issue with quality. Most of what is out there is sub per. It has functionality but crude and outdated user experience design.
We want to change the way of thinking of Kenyans. They need to realize that they can get quality products at home. If you want to make something that just works, don’t come to us, go to our competitors. We care about the users and users appreciate quality products. We are efficient. Once we agree on a deadline, we guarantee delivery of end product on or before the deadline. Most IT products development jobs out there tend to behave like construction of houses. They take too long, and more often than not, go over budget. We don’t do that that to our clients. We value efficiency as this encourages trust and builds confidence in our work ethic.
Lastly, we are geared towards simplicity. What is the point of creating something that people cannot even use. We put the average user in mind and ensure that they get the most out of the software we create.
What would you consider as top threats to your products
Two threats that we face are security and money. Without money, we may not be able to create wonderful products. Currently, we depend on clients as one of our revenue streams. You never know when a client will come by, we can not depend on that. That’s why we make our own in-house products so that it can be a constant source of revenue. Security is another threat. We have had several scares in terms of security(sighs). Let just say we have learnt through baptism by fire, but we have hardened our security measures. We do this regularly. The internet is awash with new threats daily, and we keep up with that in order to strengthen our security measures.
What keeps Henga going?
We have the right people, without them, failure is imminent. Period. You also have to have some kind of endurance to run a start up. A lot of things come up hindering the growth of a startup, from inconsistent revenue streams and clients who give you a hard time but if you are committed to your business, then you need to have a thick skin.
(Smiling) We are coming. We will continue being adventurous and take risks. No guts, no glory. We are ripe to take bug risks, otherwise we will not reap any rewards. We do not want to stay stagnant and comfortable, we want to grow.