Kenyan Engineer develops start-up that transacts user’s airtime for money

While working as a creditor to young entrepreneurs two years ago, Samson Wachira received Sh6,500 as payment for a loan from one of his customers.

Although the money came in as airtime top-up in his Safaricom phone line, he had no iota of doubt that on visiting the telecom’s customer care centre, the company will find a way to send the money into his Mpesa account.

To his amazement, that was not to be even on visiting Safaricom’s head office.

In response, the mobile service provider urged him to sell the airtime to his friends so that he can recoup his money because Safaricom cannot process his airtime into money for his Mpesa account.

Alternatively, Safaricom recommended that he utilises the airtime for his business calls so that he gets value of his ‘lost’ cash.

It is at this moment that Mr Wachira appreciated the magnitude of the quagmire his client had sank him.

While leaving Safaricom’s office, the Liverpool University, United Kingdom, trained engineer thought hard about the two options he had been offered for free.

He ignored the first because he feared his friends might not buy the entire credit and some may not even pay him thereby losing his hard-earned money.

Soon, he chose to use the airtime for making business calls turning the challenge into a business opportunity by establishing Tandaza, an investment where Safaricom’s airtime is exchanged for money.

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“At Tandaza, we offer best ever services because airtime is bought and sold at discounted prices. I think for me, this makes customers happier because they are able to see the value of their money,” says Mr Wachira.

Until he rolled out his idea, he did not know that there were was a large number of subscribers who find themselves in the same problem which he grappled with.

A number of Mpesa users erroneously send money to others as airtime.

At the moment, Tandaza’s clients have grown from individuals to corporates.

While most customers who visit his main outlet at East Gate building in Donholm, Nairobi are individuals who want to sell their airtime, much of the airtime is bought by companies.

On average, Tandaza trades about Sh20,000 worth of airtime daily. Even though his start-up tries to confine itself within the daily target, it always a challenge because sometimes, he sends back some of his customers ready to sell their airtime just to make sure that his firm doesn’t buy a lot of credit and retain it.

“You will be surprised that some customers come from as far as Nyahururu, Thika and other regions in the country for the services.

This is evidence that many subscribers require our services which at the moment, Safaricom subscribers are the only beneficiaries,” he says.

But why did he opt for Safaricom only? Mr Wachira says that it easier dealing with Safaricom because the company has rich technology compared to its competitors.

As an expansion strategy, Mr Wachira says after launching Tandaza’s new software next month, customers will be able to get their airtime or exchange it for money on demand as opposed to the present system where they are required to visit the start-up outlet for services.

Subscriber’s Bonga points are on his strategies too, especially to counter the challenge of devaluing airtime by the operators.

“We believe, Bonga points cannot be devalued just like it happens to airtime. I think Bonga points is our next business attraction”, he says.




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