Kamal Budhabhatti remembers his chat with late Safaricom chief executive Bob Collymore when he dropped by the giant East Africa telco offices along Waiyaki Way in Nairobi.
He had just developed the Little Cab app and wanted advice and partnerships with like-minded technology companies to penetrate the market.
At the time he was getting into the industry, established brands such as Uber and Bolt were already in the business with a huge customer base.
“I kept telling Bob Collymore that the only way I could make an impact in the industry is through the price war strategy, which would mean offering lower prices to riders using the Little Cab app, because how else was I going to be in business after coming late in the industry?” recalls Kamal.
“After listening to my concerns and fears, Bob would tell me that I should never get into a business by compromising on the price to get ahead of the competition,” he says.
Kamal, the founder and CEO of Craft Silicon and Little Cab says he never looked back and the price war has never been part of his strategy in a business empire that comprises ride-hailing and software development for financial institutions and utility firms.
Currently, Little Cabs controls market share in corporate clients and ranks third behind Uber and Bolt in the retail segment of Kenya’s app taxi business.
His taxi business is expanding into the Ethiopian market early next month in a Sh107 million strategy.
On what has triggered the geo-expansion, Kamal says the Ethiopian market is promising.
“It has a huge population that is slowly but steadily warming up to new ways of doing things through technology.”
He says the recent entry of Safaricom into the Ethiopian market has made the situation much better.
In May this year, Ethiopia’s telecommunications regulator awarded an operating license to a consortium led by Safaricom and Japan’s Sumitomo.
The license fee from the consortium was Sh91 billion. Ethiopia is hoping that the opening of the telecoms markets will create millions of online job opportunities.
“We are looking at better internet services and improved expertise in technology with the entry of Safaricom into the Ethiopian market, this will help us in pushing our internet-based services in this market,” he says.
“Our strategy into this new territory is through a partnership with local companies in tours and travel. They will be running the show as we provide tech and operational support.”
He adds that the company has already recruited 5,000 drivers out of the 10,000 targets.
Little Cab is not the only product Kamal Budhabati has built from scratch.
The physics graduate through Craft Silicon Company is a big name in banking software solutions and also has made a mark in the utility payment space.
Craft Silicon currently boasts 400 employees in Kenya and a similar number in Asia. The company which is headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya has branches in Tanzania, Uganda, Bengaluru, Ahmedabad and operates a liaison office in California.
Among his software clients include Absa, Standard Chartered, Safaricom Sacco, Sanlam, Republic investments (Ghana) limited, Centenary Bank, Finca among others. One of his products provides access to credit scoring systems remotely, allowing financial institutions to sanction digital loans.
Jobless in a new country
He says he doesn’t have deeper training in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) but has learned the trade from a culture in India where it is almost a requirement for the citizens to know ICT while growing up.
He discovered his potential in software development in 2007 when, after disappointment in employment where he worked in a polythene factory.
“My friend invited me to Kenya to work in a polythene factory and the money I earned couldn’t support me and out of frustration, I started a side hustle in coding. My employer kicked me out of the job when they realised I was not giving my job the attention it deserved,” he narrates.
“I stayed out of employment for quite some time but was not much under pressure as my landlady was understanding and allowed me to stay in the house for a year without paying rent.”
“Through a friend, I got an opportunity to develop a software for ABC Bank, I was paid Sh200,000 for the job, the deal opened up my ways and from then I have been winning contracts of which the proceeds have been reinvested into the business,” he says.
In a chit-chat at the company’s campus-based along Waiyaki Way, Nairobi, Kamal says that Kenya’s IT space is more advanced compared to other countries across the continent. The highly gifted techies have enabled him to grow his business empire over a short period of time.
His sentiments are confirmed by the 2020 Africa Tech Venture Capital Report by Partech which places Kenya second after Nigeria in terms of top countries in the continent for capital venture investments.
During the period, Kenya’s tech startups attracted $305 million in investment, slightly behind Nigeria’s $307 million.
“There is money in software and the future is ICT as confirmed during this Covid-19 period.
“We did not lay off our staff though we did not grow as earlier projected,” he says, and calls on aspiring investors to cultivate the art of patience and focus on perfection.