I saw this video originally shot sometime in the year 2000 as the description indicates. It brought back vivid memories of the early internet space in Kenya back then. Kelele.com has since shut down, Africa Online gave up the portal business and aligned itself into an ISP, Magical Kenya sold out to the government and Virtual City moved away from its core focus on plain vanilla e-commerce and has since come up with vertical solutions for mobile commerce and logistics.

Such moments are nostalgic and probably even déjà vu like in comparison to the vibrancy and energy in the current internet space in Kenya. What went wrong and why did most of the early millennium Kenyan internet companies disappear into obscurity. Well the biggest factor was the lack of a critical mass in the market, there were less than 250,000 users on the net in comparison to about 6,000,000 today with about half of those on the mobile web.

Secondly government support was lacking, nobody really knew how web businesses operate, there was no policy dedicated to the increase of internet proliferation. Today things have changed; a vibrant Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Communications has taken the industry to greater heights. The ICT Board a government agency despite reservations by some quarters does deserve credit for shaping the industry to what it is today.

However one company, Safaricom, hate them or love them have had a significant impact on the Kenyan industry. Their 3G internet services are used by the bulk of internet subscribers in Kenya and the M-Pesa mobile money transfer service has catered for electronic transaction. Well I do have my reservations on the native adaptability of M-Pesa to internet based businesses given the fact that Safaricom are yet to release an API, however the likes of PesaPal, MobiPay, Moca and others have created middleware that bridge M-Pesa to the internet, they do work and do solve problems but it’ll be much better if Safaricom were more open and worked with developers and internet entrepreneurs to take M-Pesa to another level. Nonetheless M-Pesa has facilitated what I would call brick and mortar e-commerce to take place.

The scenario in Kenya’s start up and web scene is one of utter chaos and promise. Loads of new services are popping up every day, barriers to entry are so low, in my opinion innovation, value addition and hardened entrepreneurial and management skills will eventually pick the wheat from the chaff. With an exponentially growing internet user base which has absorbed a good chunk of the middleclass its seems natural for entrepreneurs to duplicate success stories of the more developed markets to Kenya. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, at the end of the day most business models have to be validated and localised for the Kenyan market. However solving tangible problems especially alongside verticals has proved to yield significant results a la Cellulant and Virtual City.

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