Mr Kamal Bhattacharya is one who has had his fair share of job changes ever since joining iHub back in August 2016. His movements have not been those to brush off, they have been high profile appointments that saw him move from one big name to another.
Prior to his appointment as iHub’s CEO when the then Kenya’s most popular innovation hub decided to go commercial, Mr Kamal had worked at IBM for 17 years, serving at various capacities. Shortly after he settled in at iHub, Kamal was soon changing addresses from one side of Lenana road to the other. In March 2017, Kamal was appointed Safaricom’s Chief Innovation Officer and he was tasked with steering Safaricom’s new innovation hub. The results? Alpha – an independent innovation lab that was meant to propel the company to innovate beyond M-Pesa.
Things were going well, Alpha had announced their first product, Bonga, a peer-to-peer messaging app with M-Pesa at its core. Before the congratulatory applause could fade away, the headlines hit that the man at the helm of Alpha was leaving – I know!
In September this year, Kamal resigned from Safaricom in what we termed as unclear circumstances, with little birds pointing to boardroom wrangles between Alpha and other Safaricom Business lines. “I’m very proud of Alpha and the opportunity Safaricom had given me to establish an innovation outlet. I’m even more proud of the amazing team and our product roadmap we were able to build in a very short time frame,” said Kamal, when we caught up with him to talk about his next move and why he suddenly left Safaricom.
“…I felt it was the right step for me to take the plunge…”
“Over the last six years, I’ve had amazing opportunities to hopefully positively influence the Kenyan tech scene, from IBM to the iHub and now Safaricom,” he says. “For some time, however, I’ve been meaning to pursue my own ideas and Mojochat is a company that I have founded together with an old friend of mine in the US. Due to the progress we’ve been making, I felt it was the right step for me to take the plunge and focus on this endeavour full-time,” says Kamal, claiming that Mojochat is the reason he stepped down from Safaricom.
Mojochat, Kamal says, is a service focused on helping people to acquire second languages. “The acquisition of a second language has become an invaluable asset for individual economic growth. But focus on teaching has been mostly around formalities, such as grammar, pronunciation or vocabulary. These are clearly important aspects of learning a language, but not the main drivers behind our needs to learning a new language,” he adds.
Mojochat’s aim is to help learners of a new language not only grasp the grammar but also build the confidence needed to fluently speak the acquired language. This will be done by bringing together native language speakers and learners on a video platform to have a conversation. The service will also augment this experience using AI-related techniques, such as Natural Language Processing (NLP) to suggest areas for improvements.
“The job of our native language teachers, however, is not to teach the language, but to be mentors, who create a safe space for conversations,” adds Kamal. At the moment, Mojochat is based in the US but Kamal says that the core development team is based in Nairobi.
Kamal seems very enthusiastic about his latest job, maybe, brought by the fact that this is his brainchild. Kamal says that Mojochat is currently in beta with a focus on emerging markets with demand for English. Kamal’s parting shot? “I miss my peeps at Alpha, but then again, our friendship will continue beyond the job. After all, it’s people first, institutions second.”