Lynk recently won Ksh. 1.5 Million in the Safaricom Appwiz 2015 competition and I was able to catch-up with Erick Obiero, the lead developer at Lynk.
I started by asking him, how do you feel about winning Ksh. 1.5 million for your business?
Great! We are incredibly excited and thankful. Appwiz has been a great experience for us. We are really look forward to developing our relationship with Safaricom, and using the grant to help our company scale.
Would you please tell us a bit about yourself and your company Lynk?
Lynk is striving to transform the informal sector as we believe the relationship between households and fundis is broken. We offer transparency, security and reliability for households seeking to hire fundis, but to fundis Lynk offers a way to advertise their services, develop their skills and receive feedback about their work.
I am currently the lead developer at Lynk, Before that I worked on medical applications. I really enjoy working at Lynk and would like see Lynk making a major contribution to the informal sector not only in Kenya but also in other African countries.
So, how did you start Lynk and what made you choose the informal sector?
The informal sector represents about 80% of the Kenyan GDP and about 55% of the GDP of sub saharan Africa. Yet it is a sector that we (the government and research institutes included) know very little about. This is what excites us about Lynk. We can gain insights into this sector and develop products which help both the people in it and the people requesting services from it. Lynk was started about 4 months ago. We started serving customers about 3 months ago at about the same time when we entered the Appwiz competition. We decided not to do marketing because we want to make sure that the product is perfect before. However, just telling a few friends about Lynk and Adam’s occasional pitches at events made our job requests grow to more than 350.
Interesting, what challenges did you face when starting your business?
It has been challenging to balance product development, customer acquisition/management, worker recruitment and finding time for Appwiz mentoring classes as a small team (we are 4 people) so we had very little sleep during that time. But the insights and learnings far outweighed the costs. And now we have a clear vision for the following weeks and months about where we want to be.
Any type of funding is crucial to business start-ups, so how did you find the process of searching for your business funding?
Funding is always a challenge for small companies. Thankfully we were able to cover our own expenses very early from the incoming job requests. This is mostly due to the fact that we stayed very lean and spent as little as possible. In order to fuel the growth that we are planning for the next months we will need external investments.
So how was the experience of joining the Safaricom Appwiz competition?
Appwiz was great. One of the most valuable things for us was access to experienced mentors to bounce ideas off of. When starting a company there are lots of areas in which none of the team members has experience in and it was great to be able to pick the minds of smart people in order to answer some of these questions. Especially the cooperation between the teams was exciting. We are still holding brainstorming sessions with some of the other teams after the competition.
What were the main challenges you faced in your business? And how will the funding from the competition impact your business?
Lynk targets a traditionally very off-line and real world business, the informal sector. This brings a lot of operational challenges. How to make sure the fundis know where to go, are on time and all communications are clear to both parties involved. Additionally, signing up informal workers is a challenge in and of itself. We highly value quality and want every single customer to have a good experience when hiring fundis. As a result we have to be very careful when we interview workers and sign them up to our system. Funding will allow us to really scale our business by bringing on more key team members, developing new products, and forging key partnerships.
What was the key to your success in winning the Safaricom Appwiz Competition?
While we obviously don’t know how exactly the judges took their decision, during the competition we tried to communicate as much as possible and as openly as possible. For example we hosted a discussion about the technologies used by the different teams. Our idea of a successful start-up ecosystem is is one of collaboration where essentially everybody is able to stand on the shoulders of giants. This idea can also be found in the open source movement of which we are firm supporters.
What advice do you have for other start-ups who are still looking for business funding?
Competitions such as Appwiz are very useful. Even if you don’t win, it helps to sharpen the business model, it gives exposure to interesting and insightful people. This is not only valuable in terms of exposure but the goal of the judges and mentors is to constantly question the choices taken by the participating start-ups and to find mistakes. This means that if you survive a good business competition such as Appwiz you can consider your business as validated.
We believe that funding is less important than having a great product. If you have a great product, funding will find you. Finding funding is more time consuming than many people think and it is easier with a finished product in the pocket. So instead of thinking about funding first, people should concentrate on being close to their first adopters and iron out even the smallest of kinks in their value proposition.
Ok, final question from me: What are the future plans for Lynk?
As Lynk we want to transform the informal sector. We’ll do this is by offering good service and transparency to the customers and allowing fundis to improve over time. The goal is to create a meritocratic system in the informal sector or in other words it is to make good fundis rich.