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Young techies’ app allows subscribers to swap airtime for cash across networks

By James Wanzala | Jan 20th 2015 | 3 min read
By James Wanzala | January 20th 2015

Imagine you desperately need to make a call but your phone is out of airtime, you are unable to get more on credit from your mobile service provider and the shops around you are closed. What do you do?

Or what if you mistakenly bought thousands of shillings worth of credit in a mobile money transaction gone wrong?

Five University of Nairobi computer science graduates thought about these all-too-probable situations and have come up with an innovation, Chura.

Leap across networks

Their service, named after the frog’s ability to jump from one place to another, allows users to leap across networks and enjoy the services offered by the different platforms.

The idea was conceptualized in March 2012 when Samuel Njuguna was working on an assignment on his laptop and exhausted his data bundles.

Since it was late at night and he had no mobile money in his phone, he was forced to postpone the work till morning.

“The idea of switching credit for cash came from this as I had airtime in my phone. I began thinking about what would need to happen to make it a reality,” he said.

“I approached my classmates Samuel Njogu, Jack Kinga, Byron Sitawa and Stephanie Gaku, and we began to brainstorm.”

They came up with the idea of making network interoperability a reality, and Chura was born.

Chura offers four services: buying airtime online and through SMS, swapping airtime for cash, sending airtime from one network to another, and sending bulk airtime.

“With the purchase of airtime online, for instance, a subscriber can use M-Pesa to buy airtime from Airtel or Orange, and vice versa,” said Mr Njogu.

“You can also convert your airtime into mobile money. This is particularly useful for people who mistakenly purchase credit when intending to send money to someone else.”

The third service allows subscribers who have multiple SIM cards for different applications to send airtime from one card to another. For instance, you can switch your Orange airtime into Airtel credit.

The final service allows the sending of bulk airtime, which, Mr Kinga said, is targeted at businesses that send airtime to several employees on different networks.

To access these services, one needs to fill in a form on www.chura.co.ke. Transaction fees vary depending on the service.

For instance, swapping airtime for cash costs between Sh3 and Sh60 for amounts between Sh50 and Sh5,000, plus a 20 per cent fee charged on the amount being sent. Thus, you would receive Sh389 to swap Sh500 in airtime for cash.

Enhancing choice

Sending airtime across networks costs between Sh4 and Sh220. For instance, sending Sh500 from one network to another costs Sh30, so one would receive Sh470.

To buy airtime through SMS, one sends the word ‘Chura’ to their Safaricom, Airtel, Orange or yuMobile numbers to access a menu with further instructions. SMSes are charged at normal network rates.

The five entrepreneurs behind the startup, which was incubated at the C4DLab at the University of Nairobi, participated in the Demo Africa competition held in Lagos last year, and emerged fifth in the communications category.

The innovation was also a finalist in the mobile startups pitching competition, Pivot East, held last June.

Chura has been shortlisted by the UK’s Royal Academy of Engineering for the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation, with the winner to be announced in May.

“With this innovation, we intend to ensure our users enjoy the services offered by the different networks, enhancing subscriber choice,” Kinga said.

Njogu added that the market response to their innovation has been positive the last 12 months, with 70 per cent of users becoming repeat clients.

The group’s future plans include launching new products, as well as replicating their services in other multi-SIM markets in East Africa.

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