Mid last month, we announced the acquisition of well known Ghanaian startup, Saya Mobile by messaging leader, Kirusa. Saya Mobile first burst into the tech scene globally via its formal launch at Techcrunch Disrupt in 2012 where it went on to become a finalist at the biannual startup conference/showcase.
We caught up with Saya Mobile’s CEO, Robert Lamptey to learn more about his startup experience.
On running an international technology startup from Ghana…
Saya Mobile got massive international press and attention thanks to its launch at the Techcrunch Disrupt Battlefield and its emergence as a finalist. At the time, it was the first ever African startup to launch at the startup showcase. The Saya news took the African tech ecosystem by storm and with its ambitious goal to become the Whatsapp of feature phones, its founding story, journey and mission was very inspirational.
However, running the startup post launch came with its many challenges. According to him, “People see you on the streets and because they’ve previously seen you in the news, they get excited and are really impressed because they feel you are doing great things but then you go back to your startup and sometimes, it is a totally different story. It was very difficult running a startup from Ghana that had gone international. One of the major challenges was with resources needed to be able to find and hire the right people. Even though we had received foreign funding, it wasn’t enough to hire the best talent so we had to make do with what we had. In fact, at the beginning we were building everything by ourselves and most of the things we were building we had to read about them by ourselves.”
On raising money as an African startup…
“It is really hard to raise funding as an African startup,” he said. Most local investors only understand brick and mortar businesses. Most of the people that ended up funding us did so on an experimental basis though we tried our best not to let them down. I know people say money is not everything, however money does give you the liberty to hire the best of talent which is very important.”
“I also tried on two occasions to raise money from Silicon Valley and also tried fundraising in London and New York. Most of the investors in Silicon Valley felt everyone in the world would be using an iPhone in two years, some VCs didn’t have jurisdiction to invest outside of the United States while some found it difficult to find us credible because of Internet scams they had heard of from our part of the world.”
On valuing what we have as Africans, despite the challenges…
“One thing that struck me though was how surprised people outside the continent were to learn that we did all our education in Ghana. Often we would get asked what year we graduated from Harvard, Stanford or M.I.T and we would tell them we did 100% of our schooling in Africa. People always found this difficult to believe this. It taught me to value the things we have, such as our educational system despite the challenges.”
Robert and the rest of the Saya team will be joining forces with Kirusa to help power their mobile messaging initiatives in emerging market countries in Africa and Asia. The core Saya technology will be baked into Kirusa’s Instavoice app, a service that delivers over 1 billion messages a month. New Saya users will be directed to download Instavoice.
No doubt, the past few years has been exhilarating for the team and it is great to see an international messaging leader like Kirusa team join forces with Saya. We can’t wait to see what the Saya team comes out with next at Kirusa and thank Robert for sharing his experiences with us.