Nerding in Nairobi

A few months travelling, living and hacking in Kenya

Dylan – Kopo Kopo

I visited Kopo Kopo last Thursday and shared a few Tuskers with their CEO, Dylan Higgins. Kopo Kopo helps SMEs accept mobile money as payment – think paying your bar tab by SMS. They have some traction in Kenya and big visions for the future.

Dylan and cofounder Ben Lyon got started in late 2010 and now seem 1-2 years ahead of most companies I’ve encountered. You can see it just walking in the door – they’re bursting out of every corner of office space they can scrounge in the iHub building. They are an official partner of Safaricom and built into millions of SIM cards. Walking around town, you see their signs at nice restaurants, tiny fruit stands and all other manner of businesses.

Being early has been challenging. When Dylan and Ben went to raise a seed round in 2011, few US investors had any sense of the significance of mobile money in Africa. Even with money in the bank it was a struggle to find the right talent in Kenya and convince them to join a little tech startup. Two years later, people like me are flocking to Nairobi to see what the buzz is about and a small army of freelance developers is honing their skills just upstairs.

Kopo Kopo is going back for another round of funding and Dylan’s vision goes far beyond signing up a few more vendors. He sees Kopo Kopo as the Square of the developing world. He wants to deliver a full suite of business tools including point of sale, loyalty and analytics to SMEs over basic mobile devices. They face some big hurdles – fragmented markets, weak infrastructure, low margin customers – but they’ve built an impressive team that has a great shot at making it happen.