Name: Andrew Kamau
Name of Company: Pythias (formerly Ent-Mobile)
Ent-Mobile has recently launched their new product Pythias, which is briefly described as “Unstructured human conversation on social and mobile – converted to actionable and quantifiable data.” Sounds great, and from the buzz that it’s creating it must be great, but you might be wondering what does it mean?
We catch up with Andrew Kamau who is the Founder & Technical Lead at ENT-Mobile to find out more, and discuss all things African tech, entrepreneurship and accessible mobile banking in Africa.
Creating Accessible Mobile Banking in Africa with Pythias
Joseph: Can you describe ENT-Mobile, the idea and concept as if I knew nothing about it or the market?
ANDREW: We began working on the startup in January 2015, to build a product that we call Pythias. Pythias is an effort at making digital service delivery as personal and accessible as possible.
We do this by providing a platform through which service delivery companies like telcos and banks can offer their services to customers exclusively on social media and other mobile channels.
A big part of the motivation was to intentionally create disruptive technology; a different type of company from what is the norm. My vision was a work environment driven by innovation and where productivity comes first, not politics and bureaucracy.
Joseph: How is the African community accepting the innovations you are introducing into the market, such as accessible mobile banking in Africa?
ANDREW: Africa is at a stage now where we are beginning to adopt homegrown solutions in tech. Until now, there’s been a tendency to shy away from local solutions, but that is shifting. There are a lot of high quality tech solutions made in Africa by Africans. There are also increasingly more structures being established to support and encourage entrepreneurship and innovation. Fundamentally, we understand our own needs and behaviours so are best placed to craft solutions for the African market.
ANDREW: Well, I don’t think we have gotten to the point where we can lay claim to success yet. While we’ve gained considerable traction, this is just the groundwork. We are basically laying the foundation to enable us to scale. This is just the beginning.
Joseph: What activities or programs have helped push your company this far so quick?
ANDREW: Like most startups, we began on minimal resources and tight budgets – working out of coffee shops and lecture halls. It was crazy!
I think the first turning point was matriculation into iBiz (an incubation center in Nairobi). At that point, we expanded the team, polished the product and that gave us some credibility when talking with investors and prospective clients. We have since left the facility, but we owe a lot of our growth to that partnership.
We’ve also been lucky enough to forge a technical working partnership with IBM. This has eased our tech resource overhead, by gaining access to IBM cloud infrastructure, on which we run our stack. Finally, we went on to be finalists at Pivot East 2015, Citi Mobile Challenge 2015, and DEMO- Africa 2015.
Joseph: How has your background and experience helped your company?
ANDREW: I worked as a developer for many years. I was fortunate enough to be exposed to a lot of large scale distributes system development at an early stage. Most guys at a similar level of work don’t get half the level of exposure I did. So in essence that built my capacity and experience and has helped me a great deal in my current role.
Joseph: How would you describe the positive effect teamwork has had on ENT Mobile?
ANDREW: Well, teamwork is everything. Especially in a small company where a lot of roles overlap and job descriptions mean nothing. I initially envisioned spending most of my time architecting and building products, but that’s changed now, and I have to delegate most of those tasks to focus on operational tasks around running a company.
The guys are clear on our vision and the road to get there. This convergence of vision within the team makes it possible to complement each other and exploit synergies
Joseph: How soon are we going to see your products all over the continent?
ANDREW: We are launching at DEMO-Africa in September. More to come from there…
ANDREW: We have seen great strides over the past couple of years. An insatiable thirst for innovation. An increased interest in African startups by VCs and angel investors. Incubation and co-working facilities. Market acceptance of local solutions. Mergers and acquisitions of African startups. These are all positive indicators.
There are a lot of pain points unique to Africa that are opportunities for African enterprises to innovate around. I’m sure we are just scratching the surface and there’s a lot more great innovative companies with potential to scale continentally and globally.
However, we are not there yet. There are still pieces of the ecosystem that need to be addressed. For instance we don’t have regulatory structures, legal structures especially around intellectual property, and a whole lot of macro-economic conditions in Africa, which can make life difficult for entrepreneurs.
Joseph: What do you think the continent lacks and need to do to support innovative African businesses?
ANDREW: I’d say regulatory structures. You look at other established industries: banking, insurance, law – they all have regulatory boards that monitor and govern best practices and that goes a long way to guard against violations and improper practices. We lack this level of oversight in the tech industry and startups are obviously most vulnerable to exploitation.
Joseph: What’s the best advice you have received in your life and do you mind sharing it to inspire us too?
ANDREW: Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want.”
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