I got to chat with Frankie from studying procurement to an interest in tech , get to find what drives him and motivates him to be innovative. Swiftify is basically a digital procurement solution that looks to curb fraud and seal most if not all the loopholes in public procurement. Enjoy.
- Tell us about yourself:
My name is John Frank Githiaka aka Franje which is Kikuyu for Frank or Oaksupreme – this one has a deeper meaning so we’ll leave that for another day. So, Franje is a Purchasing and supply chain management graduate from D. Kimathi University, Out here it’s called Procurement but we don’t usually say it out loud during introductions *whispers*.
I’m co-founder and CEO of White Oak Innovations, a company made of really young people who thrive in using technology to make people’ lives easier and also cut costs because we live in the information era and everything should happen at the speed of thought.
- Your best social media platform?
It got to be twitter. Not only because it’s a microblogging platform but has some really interesting people, very smart in how they argue points, engage and all. And of course, KOT you wouldn’t want to miss out on the jokes, memes, banters and general netizen madness.
- What do you use social media for mostly?
As I said earlier, we are in the information era so mostly is to interact, learn from people in my field because it’s a very easy way to follow what their up to, what’s new, their thoughts on certain issues or new tech as in it bridges that information gap and geographical gap while at the same time bringing you news and happenings.
- What did you study?
Procurement, now I can shout since you all know. It’s a very interesting course and profession since it has lots of stakeholders however small the company is as no one wants to see you waste their money but well, people still manage to. No need to explain further, we hear it on the news every other day.
Our flagship product (swiftify.co.ke) is designed to automate the procurement process with an aim to curb these fraudulent cases by reducing human input into the procurement cycle. Built from scratch by my team with info I gained from my studies, practice and case study research.
- How did the business idea come about?
First of all, I had never had any interest in tech whatsoever until I applied for internship at one a county referrals hospital and within the first few days I had noted the much paperwork, document doctoring and inefficiencies in that department then again there was the daily sagas of money being squandered in and through procurement departments so I thought to myself can I fix all this? Automating it (procurement cycle) was the only solution available so I went for it and yeah, that’s how the idea was conceived. Went on to enroll for a web and software development short course, did more research, consulted, built a team and within 6 months we launched. That’s how I became a “Techie”.
About White Oak Innovation, in the process of building my swiftify team I met some really amazing guys, very skilled, motivated and had some amazing goals and ideas and we thought why not just co-found like one umbrella company where we can work together, support each other and also support and mentor others who might want to turn their ideas from just thoughts to something real.
- What was your key driving force to become an entrepreneur?
For me I started way back, it’s more of a childhood thing like nikiwa mtoi used to say Michael Joseph (former Safaricom CEO) on the news and every time my dad asked what I wanted to be when I grow up I would say Michael Joseph (sikutambua CEO ni nini) so I grew up wanting to be a “Michael Joseph” somewhere. Then at the age of 8 (I still remember that chilly day) we were arguing with some kid about Justin Bieber being the youngest million then I told the kid I’m gonna be a millionaire by the time I’m 20. Well, I’m little past 20 and thou I’m not there yet before and after turning 20 I’ve made some good moves that ensured I’m on the right track.
In short, it’s just passion and wanting to smash some childhood dreams and goals. I’m CEO and the feeling is profound, can’t wait for that millionaire feeling.
- Tell us about financing and how you raised funds?
First save up, have a saving plan depending on how much you want to get your project started then after you have something to show usually called an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) which you can show to people that this is the idea, this is how it works, the core features, our market is this big, our competitors, revenue projects etc then now you can advance to approaching your well off uncles and aunties and also apply for Seed funding from Venture Capitalist and Angel Investors. So for me, I’ve had some side hustles going on so I single handedly financed myself (bootstrapping) but I’m currently in talks with Kris Senanu from Lion’s Den and Sam Gichuru from Nailab about a funding deal so hopefully it materializes.
- How do you market your business and which tactics have been the most successful?
Social Media marketing works best for me it’s like this big pool of potentials and leads especially on products that target millennials but the good thing is that also the older generations (baby boomers) are now active on Social Media. We have also been doing offline marketing, email marketing, networks and partnerships but for me my go to marketing option is Social media, it will never disappoint then again most of my guys have quite some influence online.
- Do you believe there is a pattern or formula to become a successful entrepreneur?
I’m not a successful entrepreneur yet but from where I stand I don’t think there’s a formula. Starting and building something demands sheer hard work, passion, some very high level of emotional intelligence, patience, persistence and these are thing you can’t get a formula for.
- Key activities you would recommend entrepreneurs to invest time in:
Acquire some soft skills; communications, public speaking, human interaction, networking etc. Also, know imagination is powerful than knowledge so learn to use the power of your imaginations to deal with your fears. But most importantly, keep learning. Learn, unlearn, relearn and never stop learning.
- What has the government done or should do to encourage innovation and support innovating ideas:
For starters, I don’t know what our government’s obsession with “creating employment” is but must be a ploy to loot some more, from my understanding governments work is to create a conducive environment for economic growth , an environment where people can start business, business thrive and people creating jobs for themselves. So, it should be easy for use innovators to actually be able to register our intellectual properties, start businesses with easy, availability of loans for SMEs (izo affirmative action ni kuchezwa tu), implement tax breaks for startups that have a revenue of <5m per year. On what they have done, nothing really just talk.
- Why are tech companies not growing in Kenya?
TBH, besides death (got a lot I want to achieve) and losing my reputation (you don’t want this happening to you in business), I fear KRA more. This is one agency that can single handedly bring your successful venture to the ground. Also, government policies, intellectual properties being stolen, TAXATION!!! And investors not wanting to buy in on an idea especially if there is no a white co-founder amongst the team. Look at the few startups that have gotten funding and one thing is common; Tala, Bitpesa, Branch, MKopa solar, Soko, Lendable etc.
- The government recently included taxes on data, what effects do you think that will have in your field of tech?
It will have an impact and I think we can already feel it and even before the tax bill was passed we were already paying more for data than the global average. It has an effect especially when you are building e-services which you want people to consume at an added data cost but then those people will not use the service as they would have was the data cost way cheaper.
- Tell us a secret about you:
Mmh, I enjoy time alone, I’m having the best time of my life when I’m alone somewhere really quiet.
- What advice would you give young you?
Take risks. Be spontaneous. Curiosity is an advantage so always be eager to learn.
And don’t go to school pay hefty fees and sit around waiting for teachers/lecturers to tell you what to do, learn stuff, network and practice some other skills degree haitoshi sai.
- Your top 5 hobbies:
Listening to some good music (mostly reggae, something about it so therapeutic)
Long distance cycling.
Reading stuff (online, softs and hard copies)
- Kindly tell us your parting shot in regards to both life and work:
It’s all in your head and mindset is everything.
For long we have been told to “think outside the box” and that box does and doesn’t exist. That box is your fears, once you deal with them and conquer them you’ll realize it didn’t exist at all. So, go for it whatever it is, keep a winning mentality, stay focused, stay consistent and stay consistent at being consistent if you win you got everything to gain and if you lose well, you learn. People don’t know this but there is some kind of satisfaction that comes with making moves, trying something you’ve always dreamt of even after failing, you’ll go home feeling satisfied that at least you gave it a shot and there is no greater regret than that of “I wish I tried when I had the chance”. TAKE THE RISK. Go for it.