Startup Spotlight: interview with Paul Kimani Co-founder of TozzaPlus

TozzaPlus Team in their offices

When Paul Kimani and Jackson Kung’u came up with the idea of TozzaPlus, they had one thought in mind – to create a three-in-one, cloud based end-to-end solution for employee time tracking, payroll preparation, and payout – a one of its kind solution in the Kenyan market. But how did the two electrical and information engineering graduates end up here? We sought the answers from Paul Kimani the CEO and this is what he had to say.

TozzaPlus is our third startup with Jackson who acts as the company’s COO. We both graduated in 2013 from University of Nairobi. While still at the university we came up with our first startup – The Aspirant Enterprise. During the 2013 general elections we were profiling politicians on our online portal The Aspirant Enterprise on what they had already done and what they were planning to do. Unfortunately that did not end well. We had to close shop, but we learnt a lot about how not to do a business.

After graduating we went our separate ways. We settled down, started families and the likes. Then we regrouped and started our second startup called Afrisoft Africa Limited. Afrisoft is short form for Africa Software. This is basically a consulting firm that consults for IT services – mostly software development. We develop mobile apps.

What is TozzaPlus?

Basically what TozzaPlus is an end-to-end payroll solution that is cloud-based. We help businesses to manage their workforce – from tracking, payroll processing, all the way to payouts. We mostly target businesses that work with huge work forces – especially those who work in construction, security firms, NGOs, consultancy firms that have a huge part of their workforce outside the office. We help them to track their workers using a mobile biometric device – a device that is new in the market.

Using the mobile biometric device, employers are able to track where the employee is working from, and the time – since the device takes the time and location of that employee – then that data is sent to our cloud servers. The servers are able to check the time that employee works, then prepares the normal payroll including deductions, and any monies that were advanced, and then at the end of that perform the payout.

So if for example Regina has worked for five hours, and her rate of pay is a thousand bob, we pay her the five thousand bob directly to her phone’s Mpesa, still using our solution. That is why I said its end-to-end. You track your employees, you manage the time they have worked, at the end you pay them.

Where did the idea for TozzaPlus come from?

At AfriSoft most of our clients are SMEs. We have been building software for SMEs for diverse industries from banking, MFIs, to consultancy firms, to construction companies. One of the things we realized is that there were issues with the way they managed their employees. So we tried to make their operations more efficient while improving their bottom line.

Maybe to take you back a little, I told you both of Jackson and I are engineers. When our first company didn’t work I went to work with a contractor. Jackson went to work with an engineering consultancy firm. So we experienced what engineering works face out there. We realized there was a challenge with connecting the engineering with the IT and we decided to do what we are calling a business management solution.

We started with a solution that had CRM, payroll and accounting. After doing a lot of tests and getting feedback from the early adopters, we ended up doing the payroll. I would say we were inspired by the clients we were working with at Afrisoft, and our experiences in the places we were working at before -I was a project manager and it was a hectic time trying to manage the people working under me using pen and paper.

Who are your main clients or your biggest clients in Kenya?

Our solution gives a payroll that is different. When I say it’s different I mean it is connected with time and attendance, that is, it speaks to us, and also it is connected to payouts.

So the people that we go for are people that would consume the both ends of our system. They would like to be able to track time and do the payouts. Our biggest clients currently are in the construction industry – one of our clients is one of the biggest construction companies in the country.

What about competitors? Any major competitors?

Yes. Every business has some competition; there isn’t a business out there that has no competition.

Competition for us comes in three ways:

First we have the people who do time tracking. You know the ledger systems you find in the offices. They are a competitor not because they are doing what we are doing, but because when we try to explain to people, they think we are talking about that.

When it comes to payroll, they are a number of systems that are doing payroll all the way from big brands like Microsoft Dynamics, SAP, and when you scale down to the kinds of solution that we have, you get companies like Wingu and the likes.

When it comes to payouts our biggest competitors I’d say its Popote pay, because they are doing what we are doing.

But we beat all of them in the sense that our solution is end-to-end. Customers love us because we give them one solution that is starting from time tracking to preparing the payroll, to payouts. No one is doing what I’ve just mentioned – like one solution. Also, no one is doing mobile tracking. We are the only ones who are doing mobile time tracking.

What would you say is your biggest accomplishment since you launched in 2017?

Actually we did not launch in 2017. We started working on the solution in 2017; we’ve finished our beta testing early this year. So, we launched this year. Up to date I’d say our biggest accomplishment would be first to finish developing the solution and stabilizing it, and second signing a good number of clients.

What was the most difficult thing working through the solution?

The most difficult thing, from a technical point of view was to find an easier way to have the three solutions that work seamlessly. We have been so keen on what is called design thinking – we want to think the way the client will be using our solution. You realize that each of the three solutions I’ve mentioned above can be used alone as a single system.

So our biggest challenge was how do we come up with three solutions in one but still yet retain that simplicity and make it easy for user to use.

Our next challenge was signing up or first client. It was a big hustle. Our solution is not so new but explaining to people was challenging. Also, people want to maintain the status quo. We are coming to remove things like time punching, ghost workers – It was a tough time signing our first client.

You mentioned people like maintaining the status quo. So how are you ensuring people adopt your solution?

We say technology is an enabler by itself. When we come to sell to you we don’t come to sell the technology, we are selling to you the solution. So number one I’d say we have to know what your pain is. We have to see what you are struggling with and we have to address it. If we address the pain, you don’t see a technology but you see a solution that is coming to sort your problems – not seeing the technology that is coming to disrupt the way you have been doing your things.

You recently participated in the Pangea accelerator program, how was the experience for your startup? Were there any advantages, were there any challenges? Was it difficult to get in?

Pangea was the first accelerator we attempted as a company. We had stayed away from accelerators by design – not because we were not getting in. We believe that whatever we had if we were to put our application forward we would get. It was actually very easy for us to get through pangea, because, our solution is very clear, we have traction, we have customers we can show that are using our solution. So I wouldn’t say it was hard to get into Pangea.

But what I would emphasize on are the benefits we got in Pangea. It was really timely; we were looking for such a program. We had anticipated we would like to join such a program at the beginning or at the very early stage of our business, because we wanted to get experience from other people that have been running businesses – those are the mentors. It was really good for us. We learnt a lot, we got to meet very good contacts, and most important we got to get some investment to come in and help boost our business.

Talking of investments, are you looking to raise more funds for your startup, or you would like to work with what you have?

We don’t want to raise money we don’t need. So the way we have put our structures, we want to concentrate on running the startup this year. But we will definitely be raising more money next year – a bigger raise. For this year we want to concentrate on building the business and serving our customers.

I’m assuming when you’ll be raising the money next year it will be for expansion?

Yeah, next year we will be raising money to expand. We want to first be very strong here at home. We want to be the go-to payroll solution for the industries that I mentioned. So this year and a good part of next year we want to concentrate here at home. Then in the year 2020 we expect to be in at least four other African countries.

As the CEO of the company, what kind of problems do you get to solve on a day to day basis?

There are many.

First you have to make sure that ongoing projects on are in progress. You have to get a status of what is happening.

Secondly, you have to monitor correspondence with the customers that you are working with.

Thirdly, you have to go look for business because as CEO, my biggest task is to grow the business. So I have to go out and talk to customers, both new and the ones we are prospecting.

Maybe to answer your question more directly I think one of the biggest challenge you face as a CEO is maintaining personal relationships.

By personal relationships I mean starting from your employees – you have to make sure that all the employees are motivated, they are doing the right thing at the right time, they are hitting all the targets and they feel the company cares for the them – because probably the monetary appreciation is not meeting what they expect since we are a startup.

The other people you have to maintain a relationship with are your customers. You have to balance and see you are meeting your customers’ demands.

The last group of people you have to maintain a good relationship with are the investors. When you have people who are external coming to invest in your business you have to keep those in check.

I’d say it’s a game of juggling three balls and there is no ball you can let fall to the ground.

What are some of the lessons as an entrepreneur and a founder of a young startup you’ve learnt so far?

The one thing I’ve learnt is that you cannot do it alone. You need people on your journey. You might think you have a brilliant idea, you might think you can do it, but I’ve learnt you cannot do it alone.
You need people to walk with you.

Then number two, which might sound like a cliché, I’ve learnt you cannot afford to give up, you keep pressing each and every day. My day is very upside down, like for example at this moment I’m feeling like I’ve really done it, I’m headed in the right direction. The next moment I’m not sure I’m doing the right thing. I get to a point where I’m not just doubting myself, I’m also doubting the capacity that I have in running the business. But I can’t give up because I have people looking at me – I have employees looking at me, and my customers trust I will deliver what I’ve promised. So you cannot afford to drop the baton, you have to keep soldering on and not give up.

Also, one of the most important things I’d ask every entrepreneur to look at is you must be solving a problem. If you are not solving an existing problem you are just wasting time. You have to go out there and talk to customers. Yes you can start with what you say is an idea that can become a business, but to make it a business you have to go out there and talk to people you’d want to sell your products to, then you build your product around that. Not the other way around where you sit in an office, build a product, and then you go look for a market for it. It has to start the other way around – get a market, build your solution around it.

Listen to the complete interview below

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