Always re-invent, never re-create, says Julian Kyula

October 8, 2020

“I didn’t want to only do airtime credit, I wanted to take it to another level.” said Julian Kyula when he was guest at Unthinkable RoastThis was the state of mind he was in when he came up with what is now one of the biggest companies in East Africa.

Julian Kyula is the founder and former CEO of MODE. He led the company from a start-up to a leading global company. Today, MODE is a well-known company specialising in mobile financial technology such as providing airtime credit and micro-loans to millions of mobile phones users across Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. 

When he was first playing around with the idea of MODE, Safaricom had already launched M-PESA but the platform was also at its infancy stage.

“I put together a proper pitch that was basically the banking element of M-PESA. It tackled how to monetise that aspect for Safaricom.” Julian Kyula said

However, getting audience with Safaricom wasn’t a walk in the park. He jokingly says that former President Kibaki was easier to see than Michael Joseph (former Safaricom CEO between 2000 – 2010) at the time. 

In the meantime, he decided to go to a friend and show his presentation to him. His friend subtly told him that it’s a good presentation but he has a guy who can clean it up. The friend did just that and also secured a meeting with Michael. What they thought would be a 5 minute meeting turned into a 2 hour meeting.

“Michael listened. However, within the first 5 minutes, he almost threw us out. “This is a horrible pitch!”, he said. “You want to charge my people 5% for lending them money on their M-Pesa?” Michael was visibly perturbed by the notion. Today, Safaricom is the backbone of two highly successful Mobile lending platforms, including M-shwari and KCB M-PESA. “I don’t know what they charge now” Julian reminisces with his ever present smile.

In the end, he didn’t get a deal with Safaricom but it didn’t stop him from aspiring to achieve what he had in mind, and his success today speaks for itself.

Julian Kyula was a guest at Unthinkable Roast in April 2019. Click here to join other leaders for inspiring monthly conversations on leadership and innovation

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