How to build Cloud Services Business in Africa; Interview with Angani’s Phares

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The mention of cloud computing to a normal user invokes thoughts of a futuristic 21st century solution that is complex and difficult to decipher. Let’s debunk this for you.  Cloud computing has managed to evolve from just being the epicenter of IT departments to a solution allowing users to perform mundane tasks such as backup their WhatsApp messages. It has allowed users all over the globe undertake mission critical projects from different part of the world.

It has also allowed startups and large corporations achieve real productivity by giving them access to the necessary tools at low costs. Still, many users attribute cloud computing to backup services, while there is much more to be achieved from this solution.

Locally, the mention of cloud computing invokes memories of Safaricom’s cloud project, which for some reason failed to gain the necessary traction after a massive investment. Angani, a Kenyan startup is seeking to become the market leader not just locally but in the region with provision of cloud solutions.

Phares Kariuki Angani

“We are a team that set out to learn the market, take the market as is and bring a solution that the clients wants in all matters cloud”, said Phares Kariuki CEO and cofounder at Angani. We got a chance to sit down with him where he outlined Angani’s plan to take over the region with its cloud solution.

Cloud on the go

Angani basically leases out infrastructure in bulk and offers it to customer on a pay as you go model, thus reducing the expense of setting up and running an entire IT department. Key among the services offered by the company include virtual machines, virtual office, back-up and storage as a service, managed services as well as software as a services. “A client who comes to Angani will get the entire package. We will manage their email, their business applications and their infrastructure. We are a Microsoft Service provider with the entire Microsoft stack of applications including Microsoft Exchange, Sharepoint and Dynamics ERP. To top it all up, we are a company that prides itself of exceptional support and that we guarantee and deliver,” he added.

Angani has also launched Angani Media, a solution that targets players in the media industry allowing them to manage their digital content from the cloud where it can be served to various platforms.

The High School Teacher turned Angel Investor

Angani has been a concept in the work for the last 10 years. “We had this idea, but we never saw the commercial aspect to it. The internet connectivity at the time was so slow and rudimentary that such a solution was not practically feasible at the time”, he added. Phares recalls the days when they would carry four servers along with a network switch to demonstrate virtualization. He recalls the dial-up days when downloading MBs of files took several days to now when a TV show can be streamed off the internet and an age where entire companies can virtually run off the internet with minimal problems.

The partners involved in Angani were not also sure they wanted to take a leap of faith to get into this business. Phares further acknowledged the input of his former High School teacher who was instrumental in getting the idea off the ground. “The teacher, along with various friends believed in us. In our concept and saw it as a product likely to shape the future thus becoming our angel investors and that is how Angani came to life”, he said. In addition to the angel funding, the start-up has also received some seed capital to scale on its growth.

The learning curve

Angani has been a steep learning curve for Phares and the team from both an operational and product front. When they initially launched the business, Phares and team thought they had the business all figured. Phares previously worked for a multinational selling software solutions. On approaching the same clients with Angani, many of them did not offer him their business, which he says was part of operational learning. In addition, talent acquisition and retention formed a key part of this learning from an operational perspective. With regards to product learning, he said Angani has learnt to offer tailor-made solutions for different clients and offering the client the services they exactly need.

“As a company we created solutions thinking we were creating them for other techies like ourselves but as we continually grow, we are now moving towards managed solutions for clients.”  The service has also suffered technological glitches “We have had some teething issues with our infrastructure and from that, we were able to set up mechanisms to help us mitigate such down-times in the future.” The company has further improved its SLAs for change management as well as guarantee clients level-two availability. Angani plans to receive an ISO certification further raising the metrics for its service delivery.

Market Reception

Angani launched their product in January 2014, this was after beta testing from August 2013. They were able to lock in their first client in October 2013 but offered the services for free as it was still under testing. “Our initial product was vanilla virtual machines offered under a prepaid model. We have since scaled and grown our services to much more”, says Phares.  30-40% of Angani’s revenues are web-driven sold mostly to other businesses. The business hosts the largest email clusters with over 20,000 email accounts hosted on its service.

According to Phares, the company has growing revenues and is excited about the future of bringing reliable cloud hosting to the continent.

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