Catalyzing the growth of the Kenya tech community

Review of the session: "Reflections with MJ"

By Jessica Colaço
iHub
  Published 20 Oct 2010
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Review of the session:

Michael Joseph retires from Safaricom in 10 days, these are some of the words he shared with the audience at the iHub.

Safaricom was started in June 2000. The business plan was to have 400,000 mobile subscribers in 5 years; Safaricom was hoping to get at least 50% of those. They had inherited 17,000 unhappy customers, 9 cell sites in Nairobi. The staff consisted of five people from vodaphone and 55 people from Telkom. They only had 20 million dollars yet one switch cost 10 million dollars then. 10 years later they have approximately 16 million subscribers. They grow by 500,000 customers a month. He says they are successful because they are innovative.

Some Lessons he learnt during his tenure:

Don’t surprise your customers- He once tried to surprise Kenyans with 200KES free airtime and what resulted was a network outage that has never been forgotten.

No free calling times in Kenya, not yet anyways. They once had free calls from 9:00 p.m. but that used to cause network jams and thus it was suspended.

Successes

They have a dedicated team that looks for new ideas. In relation to their terms and conditions, they ask people to sign waivers because they receive so many ideas; they may have had your idea before.

Sambaza- This is a service that is used to transfer mobile airtime from one subscriber to another. It was actually used before in Egypt and Sudan.

M-Pesa was written using a 2 million pound grant. It was initially meant for the disbursement of microfinance loans. It was first tested in Thika. The technology sits in UK and Germany. The success of M-Pesa is due to Safaricom’s distribution network.

Here a few of the questions asked.

What is the best advice that you have ever gotten?

As a leader you have to make decisions. He is a benevolent dictator, but he consults internally when he is not sure. There is no wisdom that comes with an office; you have to be the wisdom in the office.

What do you feel about social media?

He’s not a big fan of social media but he’s successor is. He no longer reads blogs because he reads terrible things (definitely not this one!).

How energy efficient is Safaricom?

They have 60 sites that run on green energy only. This sites use wind power but they have generators that are used when there is no wind. They have building management systems, because it makes economic sense when conserving energy.

Role of government

Government should play an enabling role and not a repressive role. Currently they do not play that role. During post election violence the government wanted to shutdown the mobile network.

Leadership and Management lessons

You have to behave with absolute integrity

You have to lead from the front.

There is no substitute for hardwork.

Know what you are doing or pretend at least.

Starting November 1 2010 he’s new job title will be that of Advisor to the incoming C.E.O and the advisor to the C.E.O. of Vodacom International Operations. After the session Akirachix took a photo with the outgoing C.E.O.

Blog post courtesy of Judith Owigar from AkiraChix

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