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Wananchi Online founder targets SMEs with ‘cloud’ solutions

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Ms Njeri Rionge at a past function. She has set up Insite Ltd to offer SMEs cloud-based applications priced at Sh1,000 per month.

Ms Njeri Rionge at a past function. She has set up Insite Ltd to offer SMEs cloud-based applications priced at Sh1,000 per month.

Njeri Rionge, one of Kenya’s pioneer internet entrepreneurs, has turned to developing software targeted at digitising the running of small and mid-sized enterprises (SMEs).

Ms Rionge, the founder of Wananchi Online and who also served as chief executive until 2006, has set up Insite Ltd to offer SMEs cloud-based applications priced at Sh1,000 a month.

The 48-year-old techie said that her business technology solution targets the mass market to computerise aspects such as accounting, payroll, e-commerce, and customer relationship management.

Ms Rionge said that the pricing and design of the range of business management software she is offering will disrupt Kenya’s tech space and hopes to replicate the success of Wananchi which her team built from scratch to a cable, broadband and internet-based telephone provider.

Ms Rionge has effectively put on notice the big boys in the business software market such as Sage Pastel, SAP and Oracle that she is determined to win a big chunk of the industry.

“We are creating solutions for businesses to automate their operations and help create value rather than work in chaos,” Ms Rionge said in an interview with the Business Daily.

“There is need to develop content to get SMEs to use cloud-based apps. If we get businesses to use online solutions, the price of Internet will go down as there will be higher uptake of bandwidth.”

Ms Rionge, who serves as a director at Wananchi Group, said that Kenyan businesses stand to reap huge benefits by signing up to online solutions to store data, upload documents, make payments and manage staff records.

Ms Rionge said the idea to form an SME-focused tech start-up was conceived when she got into business consultancy after quitting Wananchi’s corner office in 2006.

She formed Ignite Consulting to advise businesses on strategy execution, organisational effectiveness and skills training.

“I realised most businesses had not integrated their operations hence it was a challenge to execute strategies across departments.”

Birth of Insite

This led to the birth of Insite in January 2010. Two years later, Ms Rionge brought in David Ngugi, the brains behind NyeriOnline.com — a portal for all news and information regarding Nyeri County.

Insite’s flagship cloud app is dubbed Peach CRM, a customer relationship management software that helps businesses manage client data and customer interaction, automates sales, marketing and contacts management.

The solution has a ticketing function which helps companies prioritise and sort out e-mail enquiries to the right departments and monitor if customer enquiries have been attended to.

Ms Rionge said Peach CRM can also be used to track sales in real time from the comfort of mobile devices across platforms such as Android, iPhone, iPad, or Blackberry.

Furthermore, Peach CRM offers SMEs to manage their contacts and mailing lists to ensure client data is accessible, available at all times and also easily updateable. “It can integrate SMS and e-mail to do viral marketing,” Ms Rionge said.

Kenyan SMEs’ uptake of cloud services by is very low mainly due to lack of information. However, as Ms Rionge points out, cloud-based apps offer advantages such as affordability through pay-as-you-go terms, can be accessed anywhere so long as there is Internet connection and is generally easy to set-up and use.

Peach CRM was number 74 in last year’s CIO 100 Awards which ranked East Africa’s top 100 apps. Insite has a team of 15 developers who make applications locally.

Ms Rionge shuttles between her Nairobi address at Purshottam Place in Westlands and her overseas offices in Toronto, Canada — spending between six to eight weeks in each of the two hubs.

She points out that whereas the entertainment sector has developed local digital content in the form of music and film, there is urgent need to create a suite of homemade content for businesses.

Kenya’s bandwidth use stood at 41.8 per cent of the 862,834 megabite per second (Mbps) total capacity in the quarter to September 2013, latest data from the Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK) shows.

Kenyans only used 360,900Mbps — which is less than half of the total capacity delivered by cable systems SEACOM, Teams, EASSy, Lion 2 as well as satellite. “This means operators are sitting on huge bandwidth which they have to pay for,” Ms Rionge said.

The uptake of bandwidth has remained low despite the five-fold growth of Kenyan internet users in the last five years to 19.6 million or 49.7 per cent of the population as at September last year.

Ms Rionge is a self-taught techie who quit her undergraduate studies to set up Wananchi Online with a seed capital of $500,000 (Sh43 million) in 2000 which has now grown to be valued at $173 million (Sh14.8 billion).

Like other successful techpreneurs such as Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs, Ms Rionge has dropped out of three colleges — La Verne, North Lake College and United States International University Africa (USIU) — to pursue her business dreams.

She is a director and minority shareholder at Wananchi Group, making her one of Kenya’s richest female techies.

Opportunities

Wananchi was the 31st licensed ISP in Kenya and focused on the mass market at a time when established players such as AfricaOnline, Net2000, Swift Global and Interconnect focused on the corporate market.

“Our price point was Sh1,000 per month or Sh12,000 per year when our competitors were charging 10 times this,’’ Ms Rionge recollects.

Insite is currently working on an app dubbed Fern, an enterprise resource planning software designed to digitise farmers’ operations, agribusinesses and agricultural value chains.

Her parting shot: “I am a builder. I am an entrepreneur. I spot opportunities, build a business and move on to another venture. We have come to disrupt the market.”

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