Uzapoint: A school project that morphed into budding tech startup

Abraham, Mbuthia Uzapoint founder.

Abraham Mbuthia had a dream to transform dukas in Africa to operate like supermarkets by empowering them with simple, affordable, and innovative technology.

His start-up Uzapoint was born of this idea. It is a booking solution tailor-made for the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) market.

Google for Startups (GfS) selected Uzapoint as one of five Kenyan startups to benefit from the Sh560 million ($4 million) Black Founders Fund.

The five Kenyan founders are among the 25 African-based firms picked to benefit from the fund.

Mbuthia says that he targets business ‘nightmares’ like inventory management, sales tracking, procurement and accounting management.

All this is done through a web or mobile application for SMEs in a bid to make them more accountable, efficient, and profitable. The firm also offers an e-commerce platform for customers to buy directly from merchants online.

Mbuthia tells Enterprise about how he made it in the competitive tech space and scaled his business.

When was the idea born?

I have been the founder and executive director since I was at university in 2016. It was my end-of-year project at Strathmore University where I was studying for an undergraduate degree in Business Information Technology.

At that point, the focus was to facilitate a distribution management system. However, the turnaround time to close one customer and the effort required didn’t make sense.

We did more research and found out that in Kenya, about 90 per cent of businesses are SMEs yet most fail because they lack the proper tools to manage their scarce resources optimally. Therefore, this is a huge market to serve, as they are the heart of the economy.

We realised the four major things SMEs needed to manage were their inventory, sales, purchases, and expenses. Therefore, we tailored our product to suit this market. I didn’t register the business till 2020.

What Challenges have you faced?

Getting customers to understand the need for the solution you offer otherwise called product-market fit is usually a challenge.

Winners of the Total Startupper of the year 2019 challenge from Left: James Nyamai (BioAfriq Energy Ltd) , Rose Moses of Eco Makaa Solutions and Abraham Mbuthia (UzaPoint) won Sh2.5 million, Sh1.5million and Sh1 million respectively in the challenge that received 807 entries. [File, Standard]

SMEs are mostly informal so it’s hard to convince them to work formally. It also comes with blockers. For instance, if the solution needs internet, or requires a device like a laptop or computer there is a big blocker to overcome.

Secondly, lack of working capital for your business. It requires a lot of patience. For start-up founders to get the resources they need, they need a bit of runway to validate the product in the market.

Earlier on its really difficult to roll out the product with all the costs involved. We came to understand that the best place to get financing is actually from your customers.

Uzapoint was very fast to get out product-market fit and raise money from our product and essentially bootstrap.

Lastly, setting up the right team is a big deal for startups. Founders only have a vision and getting the right people to execute involves sleepless nights, foregoing key events in your personal life, and lots of resilience and commitment.

How did you overcome some of these hurdles?

Understand that for you to get some value, you have to invest. Unfortunately for SMEs not able to afford the infrastructure, we had to partner with other people to finance the hardware.

They could also extend their services to a by-now-pay-later model just for clients to transition. All this however was dependent on the user’s credit score.

You recently got funding from Google, can you share some insights on how you did it?

I always believe in first getting money from your customers. You need to clearly outline your value proposition and make them want to invest in you. It may not be sustainable to start with but with that, you can demonstrate that you actually have two or three customers on board, the demand is there and therefore all you need is resources to move it from X to 10X.

In June 2023, Uzapoint was picked as one of the 25 African startups selected in Africa (out of 4,000 applications) to receive non-dilutive capital as a part of the @GoogleStartups Black Founders Fund.

As an entrepreneur, speak about what you’re doing because people are watching. There exists many organisations that want to back up businesses that uplift other businesses. That is how to access grants.

In 2019 we also received Sh1 Million as prize money as the second runner’s up winner in The Startupper of the Year By Total Challenge.

We have also been in strategic, angel funding arrangements that we are grateful for.

The simple formula for funding a start-up is to get a few customers to show traction and then show the scalability of your product.

In what ways can one tell their story and show their impact?

Write an article every day about what you do and one reader out there will see it. Social media is a free resource to talk about what you do which can be a huge drive to getting your first customer.

Be vocal, do not shelve the idea in your mind and you will find many people to help support and drive that journey.

How will the Google funding impact the growth of Uzapoint?

Our system is quite scalable in other markets. We plan to extend our value to SMEs in other markets like Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and Nigeria this year. We plan to also pursue South Africa and Zambia in the future.

The fund and support from Google will go a great mile in powering our solution with artificial intelligence (AI). The tech market right now is centered on AI so we want our merchants to make very informed decisions with insights using AI. We hope to help SMEs grow and we are investing heavily to get predictive analysis.

We also intend to get the necessary human capital to support our growth.

As a founder what are some valuable business lessons?

Your vision needs to be clear; at the point of growth. The vision keeps the fire burning and you can only inspire people to join the journey or bring in investors if you are sure about your vision.

What are your long-term and short-term goals, expansion strategy and probably exit strategy as well?

For an enterprise to work, you need three things - patience, passion and persistence.

Steve Jobs once said: “I’m convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance.” 50 per cent of SMEs do not make it past their fifth year. There will be products that do not work, you will lose valuable team members, and legal or regulatory issues among many more. It is your perseverance that will set you apart.

Be passionate about the problem you are solving and be patient, your company is like a newborn baby and you need to give it time to grow. Celebrate all the baby steps and milestones along the way too. 

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