In September, we sat down for an interview with the then Angani CEO Phares Kariuki. Phares outlined ambitious plans for his then startup which involved scaling its services to become the market leader both locally and in the region in the provision of cloud services. A few weeks later, however, news broke that Phares and his CTO, Brian Muita had both left the company owing to boardroom brawls. The Angani story became one of the most heated and debated tech stories in Kenya in 2015. In the weeks that followed their exit, customers including Techweez suffered outages, with our readers not able to access the site.
We have not heard much from Phares since the exit, only taking on to his Twitter account to say that he was working on a new project. We had a sit down with Phares where we discussed the Kenya tech ecosystem, his new project and key lessons picked since his exit. Phares is pretty calm and collected despite the tribulation, stating that life has to go on.
“We can dwell on what happened, or we can move on with our lives”, he said. Phares and Brian are set to launch their startup called Node Africa on 28th January 2016. Node Africa will push managed cloud services to clients primarily acting as a reseller for VMware and Microsoft infrastructure, with a local footprint for latency sensitive customers. Is there a conflict of interest with his former company?
“Angani is a public cloud provider where they build and sell cloud infrastructure. We are, however, designing solutions for customers to ensure they derive maximum value from their cloud infrastructure, regardless of who they chose to work with initially”, he says. Node Africa will also offer consulting services to clients. “We have expertise in running reliable and secure IT infrastructure, so we shall leverage this knowledge to allow clients to improve their ROI from IT spend”, he added. Node Africa’s product offering targets enterprise users from startups, SMEs and large corporations.
Some of the issues at Angani seem to have stemmed from Venture Capital investment in the firm. To which we asked if had accepted any venture capital from investors. “Node Africa is currently receiving interest from investors, which is largely press-driven. We are still having conversations with investors but there is nothing conclusive so far”, he said. Phares was quick to state that he is not actively looking for investment and the focus right now is to get the product launched and get customers interested.
Phares believes that Kenyan tech startups can survive without capital injections as the constraints are what drives the innovation. He cites businesses in industrial area, Keroche Breweries and even Equity Bank as businesses that did not take large early stage capital investments and scale and now make billions of shillings in profits. “It has be done. It can be done again and as Node Africa, we can do it again”, he said.
On the state of Kenya’s tech ecosystem, Phares says Kenyan startups need two key ingredients to survive. Mentorship and networks. “If a startup gets a mentor, who then introduces the founders to his connections and networks, this business will grow”, he said. Phares believes, networks are key to opening up opportunities for business. “If my business has customers who are giving me returns, I believe capital to scale will be easy to get, if at all it’s needed”, he added.
Phares further urges Kenyan startups to focus on innovative solutions first. “You do not need all that capital”, he says. Solutions that add value and solve problems always scale. The other catalyst for the tech ecosystem involves reducing the disconnect between enterprise tech and startup tech. “Enterprise tech is closing deals out there. The startups need to offer their solutions to enterprises through additional services, which allow them to scale.” Bridging this disconnect will fill gaps such as lapses in capital, open up opportunities for startups and offer mentorship to them.