Local techies bridge the PayPal withdrawal chasm

In Innovation

Most businesses, it seems, will always be ahead of the game because they innovate and innovate and innovate.

Yet even if that is not true, the following account of a rising business will still make a worthwhile reading:

It is now possible in Kenya to get airtime online without considering, for instance, Safaricom’s ‘Okoa Jahazi’.

If you are wondering, for quite a while now, there’s been ‘Chura’ in the cut-throat Kenyan market.

Chura.co.ke  is “an integrated, user friendly, easy to use” airtime vending website developed and successfully commercialized by a team of young entrepreneurs formerly mentored at the Computing for Development (C4D) Lab, University of Nairobi.

Now almost three years in existence, the disruptive Chura is the collective brainchild of one Njogu Kinyanjui, an Architectural graduate from the University of Nairobi; Byron Sitawa, Bsc. Industrial Chemistry; Jack Kinga, Bsc.Engineering, Stephanie Gaku, Bsc. Computer Science as well as Samuel  Njuguna, Bsc. Computer Science—all the four also being University of Nairobi alumni.

For a start, the platform, Chura, allows the user to convert their excess airtime into cash, buy airtime itself (small quantity or in bulk), switch airtime randomly between the existing networks, buy data bundles, and much more,  “at just the touch of a button”.

Wanting to find out the truth, I tested one of the offerings on my mobile phone; to be sure, the transaction is as instant as it possibly can be. It is “under one minute,” as they  claim.

However, all the above features are now old enough. The newest of their other game-changing services is ‘Chura Money’. It too is touted as comparatively fast and efficient.

The service allows one to send money locally directly from their mobile phones, withdraw money from their PayPal account using M-Pesa, and pay all their utility bills through M-Pesa.

“If you need to buy anything online such as  Web hosting space, Web plug-ins or design themes, you can now top-up your PayPal account with M-Pesa instantly, and that without a debit or credit card ,” explains Samuel Njuguna, Chura’s head of marketing.

“For freelance developers and writers, they can now withdraw funds from PayPal to M-Pesa in under one minute”.

Chura Money also allows people in the diaspora to send cash directly on their mobile phones to family and friends in Kenya.

Anecdotally speaking, the holders of multiple innovation accolades have a unique story that led to the birth of the firm: the then impossibility of transacting airtime, money or data bundles between any of the available mobile networks.

“I was browsing one busy night when I suddenly ran out of bundles on my Orange modem. Realizing that I had some substantial airtime on my Safaricom line, I thought I could anyway use the line on an Orange modem. It didn’t work. The following day, I had something to work on related to the problem,” relates the jovial Njuguna on behalf of rest.

And since then, against all odds, the company is stabilizing and soon looking to expand into the East African market, given their system handles at least 1 million transactions a day.

“All this success is attributed to the team’s team spirit and work ethic,” continues Njuguna.

At the same time, touching on some of their competition successes, the 28year-old says Chura has had to face-off with many other promising startups on both local and international scenes for the most coveted prizes; for example in Pivot East, Demo Africa, and much more recently in Silicon Valley, only to emerge the winners and among the best of their own kind.

“Just recently, we hit the mark with our Chura platform at the Royal Academy of Engineering’s ‘Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation’ competition held in South Africa early June last year, receiving Sh1.4 million,” points out the soft-spoken entrepreneur.

“Now we are working on Chura Virtual Card for shopping globally using M-Pesa, as well as Chura Remit for sending money directly from your credit or debit card to your M-Pesa account,” he reveals.

Njuguna’s parting shot is that the road to realising a practical, impactful product is not an easy one, however, with a relentless spirit, it can be done.

“Just for instance we were probably very lucky to have taken more than one year before we found a working and sustainable business model. For some, it might take a while before it finally clicks, but they don’t have to quit yet. ”




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