Friday, February 27, 2009

Selling Income

One of the greatest challenges I have faced in my time as an entrepreneur is what to do after a large paycheck. Surprised? I was too at first , and it's even worse if you have been waiting for that payment for some time. With money in the bank, you rationalise with yourself of the 1001 things that need to be purchased, and they all demand high priority allocation.

Of course, this is a psychological condition that can easily be averted by careful planning beforehand. When it happened to me I tried to avoid the extravagance that accompanies large income inflows by investing the money as quickly as I could.

When SoftLaw sold the laws of Kenya to the judiciary I discovered why having the government as a customer can be very rewarding. Relatively prompt payment, many zeroes in the payment, and a very appreciative customer.

With our newly expanded bank account, we knew that we had to quickly invest the funds or we would be sucked into a vicious and wasteful consumption given our still University of Nairobi residential address and crushing social expectation to bling. Genius Executive Centre (www.geniuscentre.com) helped to mop up these excess funds and assured that in future we would have a relatively stable and recurrent income.

My only regret is that in our rush to dispose ourselves of excess funds we also made several investing faux pas: like putting up several quarter page ads in the media when classifieds would have done the trick; importing sophisticated PABX machinery from Europe when locally available equipment was sufficient and leasing furniture instead of buying. Fortunately we were able to correct most of these as we went on.

One thing we have not yet done but have always wanted to do is expand to other locations. Setting up a business centre however is a costly affair, and to finance our expansion we have decided to sell the future rights of income for two-thirds of Genius Executive Centre.

Here is the ad as it appears in today's Daily Nation back page


By leveraging the future income of the offices at GEC we intend to expand to Nakuru by mid this year and Eldoret before the end of the year. Admittedly this is a new concept in Kenya but that is what SoftLaw is all about, pioneering.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

More goof-ups from Safaricom and the Great Zap Mystery

You'd be very surprised if you walked into a management meeting at Safaricom. The meeting's agenda on how management is devoting or planning to devote considerable resources in customer satisfaction would bewilder you. My overworked flys on the wall tell me that this is currenlty Safaricom's primary focus, customer satisfaction.

Did I hear a gasp, or was that you masking "bull****" under your cough?

Here in the real world, we still are trying to figure out how customer satisfaction by Safaricom is measured: is it getting a dial signal on the customer care number 100? Or perhaps it's finishing a conversation without spending thirty seconds saying "Hallo....hallo...can you hear me...hallo"? Maybe its spending less than 30 minutes queuing at a customer care centre?

While we ponder on this, I'm afraid I have to bash Great Green once more on another major goof. This time the culprit is M-PESA agent application on service so bad it almost equals their Safaricom Broadband scam mentioned elsewhere in this blog.

Last November, I applied for M-PESA super-dealership, hoping to join the gravy train of the new age banking heralded by this product. Things seemed to be moving on relatively well and after 2 weeks I got a call from SC telling me that my application had been received. Then, darkness set in.

Its February now, more than three and a half-months since I applied and I am still to receive confirmation on whether my application was successful. I have them called countless times, written several emails and even visited their HQ twice. Their responses have been either inadequate, incomplete, deceitful, or just plain ignorant. I've been promised to be called back but had no one call back, my emails have gone unanswered and I was quickly brushed off from their office with claims of "we'll call you this week". One lady even had the audacity to tell me that I shouldn't bother calling her direct line, because she doesn't pick it.

Yaaani! Have Safaricom grown too big, they don't need my business or what?

In the spirit of equality, I also have some barbs to throw at the counterparts on MSA road, Zain. Zain launched their Zap service (an allegedly superior alternative to M-PESA) recently, and I am dying to start using it, but I have no clue where to start. Someone help me out here, how does this Zap thing work and where can one apply?

18/02/09 UPDATE - Zain has just sent me the following message:

Send money from Zain with ZAP for 10/- only. To activate your SIM card send an SMS ZAP to 455. Zain a wonderful world
I've sent the SMS but I'm yet to get any kind of response (14 minutes later)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Great Safaricom Bambanet Rip-off

I'm going to stop reading newspapers.

If you live in Kenya, and see the daily headlines you'll understand why. It seems like day after day I am assaulted with ever more dire headlines. Either the editors of these newspapers have suddenly turned into sadists intent on breaking this country's spirit, or our spirit is already broken and we are living in a very sick, sick Kenya.

Over the past weeks I have read about greedy retailers who crammed their tiny stores with goods but couldn't provide decent exits or fire prevention equipment; policemen who demanded bribes to allow highly dangerous petrol looting, arsonists-looters who decided 'if I can't have it, no one can', ministers of government who dished out food reserves and threatened the lives of millions through starvation, custodians of investors funds who used these funds as their personal piggy banks, examiners who put in doubt the academic qualifications of a generation of students, and the list goes on and on.

I'm not the only one to have noticed this slide into the abyss and analyst, commentator, and columnist over the past month have all voiced their opinion. One opinion which I find repeated among most is how greedy and selfish we have become as a society. We have become vicious plunderers of our common resources, pillaging and ravaging so completely anything we can lay our hands on, scorching the earth as we trample along that we put in doubt the possibility of a future generation to renew and rebuild. Clearly greed is a factor but what is worse is that we are blinded as to the ogre we have become. We justify and rationalise our greed, and where that is insufficient we are comforted by our ability to buy opinion and justice and emboldened by the example set forth by those who purport to lead us.

Regardless of who we are in society, beggar or millionaire, hawker or banker, student or professor we share equally in the blame. However this past week I was confronted with the most odious example of greed. The offender: the Great Safaricom; the offense: charging for Bambanet services not provided.

It seems that Safaricom, facing an energized competition, slowing growth, saddled with massive debt, and nearing its first AGM as a public company has decided to make the numbers whatever the cost. In a manner extremely disappointing for a company of its stature, Safaricom is demanding I pay 10 months subscription for a post-paid bambanet line they disconnected 10 months ago. Their argument is that I signed a contract, so whether I used the service or not I have to pay. That, as I told their representatives, is a load of bull.

Here's an analogy. Say in January you sign a one year lease with me for an apartment. If by March 5th you have not paid the March rent, and I kick you out and get another tenant, should I still demand that you pay rent between March and December? What a scam from Safaricom!

And if you still side with them, compare the very different reaction from their competition Zain.

As mentioned elsewehere in this blog I have oscillated between Zain's and Safaricom's GPRS services for some time. Since I ditched Safaricom back in 08 I got a Zain postpaid Uhurunet contract for Internet access. Early this year I had the same issue (being billed for services not provided) with them after they barred my line for two months, and then asked me to pay for those two months for service I did not use. Thinking that greed had also gotten the better of them, I verbally lashed at them. However, unlike their counterparts, and I must add much to my pleasant surprise, I received a phone call from their very courteous staff who said they had noted my complaints and decided to waive the 2 months charge. In exchange they asked that I extend my contract for the 2 months. Now that's true service.

So finally after three years of comparison, the winner of the GPRS internet service goes to Zain (formerly Celtel). Enough said.