In May 2020, Charles and his colleague Joshua from YBI’s Kenyan member Somo, pitched the idea at YBI’s African Community of Practice, which connects YBI members and entrepreneurs from across sub-Saharan Africa. They were successful in securing the funds for the innovation challenge, provided by the Argidius Foundation for the Community of Practice.
We caught up with Charles to find out more about DigiKua and how he is working with Somo to optimize the app for microentrepreneurs in Kenya.
Hi, my name is Charles Juma, I’m a software developer from Kibera and the developer of the DigiKua app. Back at high school, I wasn’t interested in IT and coding at all. But after graduating, I stayed with a friend who had a laptop and he started teaching me some basics of programming. That’s when I became interested to learn more. I started teaching myself how to code with a PDF I found online. When I applied to university, I was placed to study mathematics. But during my first year, I ended up switching to Computer Science.
DigiKua is a USSD and Whatsapp-based record-keeping tool where entrepreneurs can submit their incomes and expenses to automatically generate cash flows and income statements to track and manage their businesses. Entrepreneurs use the USSD code to submit sales, client info, expenses, and inventory information. DigiKua can be used on any mobile phone, it doesn’t even have to be a smartphone. This makes it accessible to everyone, including entrepreneurs from rural areas and informal settlements.
My mum was an entrepreneur. She used to own a small grocery store but she really struggled with keeping records of her income and expenses – that’s why her business failed. I figured if one business owner has this problem, others probably do as well. So I came up with the idea of developing software that will make record keeping easy and accessible. Then a friend told me about Somo and encouraged me to pitch my idea and apply to their entrepreneur support programme. I wasn’t taking it too seriously but to my surprise, I got accepted. Somo helped me develop my idea into a business model. It started as a web-based application but then we thought about how we can make it more accessible to everyone.
In 2016, the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics found that almost 40,000 businesses collapse annually in Kenya. One of the main reasons for this is lack of access to financing which is strongly tied to insufficient record keeping. Good record-keeping forms the basis for a business to make the right decisions and qualify for funding. But we found that many micro and small business owners have very poor record-keeping habits. They can’t make any informed decisions about how to grow their business because they have no records of, for example, what product sells best. What’s more, the tools that are available for record-keeping are quite expensive and complicated to use.
Most micro and small businesses in Kenya only accept cash payments. This has become a problem during the COVID-19 pandemic as many people prefer to shop online and pay cashless. We are currently looking into adding a payment feature to the DigiKua app so that entrepreneurs can accept direct payments through the app. Another problem business owners are facing is how to use their business records effectively to apply for funding. This is why we are developing a new dashboard for investors where they can access business records in the DigiKua app.
Yes, so there is Margaret, she is a restaurant owner from Kibera. You might have heard of Kibera, it is Nairobi’s largest informal settlement. Keeping records with DigiKua has shown Margaret that December is a busy month for her where she has a lot of sales, whereas January and February are less busy. This has helped her a lot with her planning. She has also been able to secure some investment and a loan because she was able to prove the viability of her business with the records she keeps in the DigiKua app.
So some of the things we are trying to achieve within the next five years include supporting at least 100,000 entrepreneurs and finishing up the dashboard for investors so that data will be visually available to them. We are also looking into integrating banking APIs into the DigiKua app to automate financial statements. Long term, we want to become a major record-keeping provider in Africa within the next 10 years and make new partnerships with different investment groups and financial institutions, which will offer exclusive services to DigiKua users.