Reflections on a Year of Uptime: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
Reflections on a year of Uptime: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.
It’s been a year since we came out of beta and in a recent conversation Brian, Riyaz, Rip and myself were reflecting on the year gone by. I thought it might be useful to write up our experience spaghetti western style. A synopsis of the major good, bad and ugly issues in the first year of Angani’s life, framed in the context of the wider discussion taking place about technology startups in the country.
The Good: Its overwhelmingly been good vibrations in the past year but, in no particular order, the highlights have been:
 Validation: It’s always scary starting something up on a hunch, even if it is a strong one. By far one of the most satisfying outcomes of the last year has been the realisation that our hunch was right. There is a market for a local cloud computing service, there _is_ a market for specialised cloud computing products in the region and there is a great improvement in the quality of service to end-users if the service is hosted in-country. Just ask these guys Pesapal, BRCK, they’ll be happy to tell you, and we’ll be happy to let them!
 Support: We have been extremely fortunate in having a great number of experienced and talented entrepreneurs to provide advice, moral support and a shoulder to cry on. In particular, we’d like to publicly thank, in no particular order
- Liko Agosta, CEO, PesaPal
- Rebecca Wanjiku, CEO, Fireside Communications
- Conrad Akunga, Director, Innova
- Erik Hersman, CEO, BRCK
- Emmanuel Kala (Director of Cloud, BRCK)
- Aaron Mbowa, CEO, DataposIT
- Ory Okolloh, Director, Investments, Omidyar Network,
as being there when the chips are down. We hope to repay your kindness in days to come.
 Expertise: There is oft lamentation in the national psyche that, as a nation, we lack expertise, vision and drive. In our experience, this could not be further from the truth. There exists, in this country, a network of technical, business and administrative expertise to rival anywhere out there. Better still, the advice is rooted in having lived and done business in the region. I can truthfully say a large proportion of our very existence today is due to our religiously following the advice provided to us from our mentors. There really is little need to look elsewhere, the expertise is out there, you just need to find it.
The Bad: Some things could definitely do with improvement though. In particular:
 Business Setup: We’d heard the stories on how it’s difficult and time consuming to setup a business in the country. We never quite appreciated how rough the situation can be. We started the business thinking the technical infrastructure would be our greatest challenge. It’s incredibly sad that the legal and regulatory process has been so.
From the initial company searches through to the registration of the company, licensing, importation of equipment and use of labour it’s been expensive, time consuming and frustrating. How will we become a nation of entrepreneurs when it requires the services of seasoned (and expensive!) lawyers on retainer just to keep up with legislation? To be fair, I realise there is a lot being done to reduce the cost and burden of setting up a business but it strikes me that something as simple as a goto list of the steps required to setup a business with pointers to people who can help would go a long way in reducing this burden.
 Infrastructure: Kenya has some of the best last mile connectivity to be found on this continent. There is fiber available to almost any commercial building and the residential areas are quickly catching up. However general computing infrastructure still needs work. Would you believe me if I told you there was no ISO 9001 and ISO 27001 data centre in the country when we started? I wouldn’t have believed you a year ago but there wasn’t. We started our service running out of a single datacentre in downtown Nairobi but quickly realised we’d have to rollout a second zone just to keep uptime decent. All in all, this means our costs double as we have to run 1+1 on every piece of infrastructure including the datacentre itself.
There are lots of other stories. Buy Brian a beer sometime and ask him about when our network kept falling off the Internet due to a misconfigured peer or how he had to explain that a post in the middle of a rack is not exactly an industry standard. On second thoughts, don’t. He’s suffering PTSD as it is.
For those looking for an industry-compliant datacentre we recommend East Africa Data Centers (EADC) who, while new in the datacenter business in Kenya, know how to run large, scalable datacenter infrastructure. They are, to the best of our knowledge, the only proper Tier3 facility in the region. We use them and would recommend them without hesitation.
The ugly: Some behaviour has been downright puzzling. In particular:
 Distrust: We’ve long since recognised that, collectively, we’re a peculiar bunch but it’s surprising how distrustful we are too. Generalising broadly, we’ve found Kenyan companies are a hard sell purely because the feeling is “there’s a catch somewhere”. As one unnamed but wise CEO once put it to me: “When people say buy Kenyan they usually mean buy my Kenyan product while I buy from elsewhere”. We’re here for the long-haul and so are you. Let’s give each other a chance, after all that’s how the best (friendships are forged).
 Feedback: How do I react to a user receiving Kshs 10,000 a month in free credit, consuming it all (asking for more actually) but actively telling potential customers not to use us because he is unhappy about some facet of our product he’s not let us know about? I’ll tell you how I react. I smile, reach out and fix the issue. I also die a little inside. We’re not perfect but if you let us know we’ll do our best to help. Kenyans, it seems, seem to suffer a similar affliction to the British.
Please complain! We can’t help if we don’t know what’s wrong :-).
All in all it’s been a great year. We’ve worked hard. We started from scratch and we’ve got to a working product. We are extremely grateful to you, dear customer, for your patronage. We look forward to serving you in the year to come.