01.02.2017, Interview with SunTransfer Kenya, Business Member of Sun-Connect News Company Database
"The first PAYG company who reached break-even-point" - Gathu Kirubi
SunTransfer was the first company to introduce PAYG in East Africa. Today SunTransfer Kenya is the first PAYG company in Africa who reached the break-even-point in 2016.
To continue its success story SunTransfer Kenya plans to go the next develoment step and start offering products beyond PAYG.
Sun-Connect had a chance to interview Co-Founder and CEO Gathu Kirubi.
SC News: What was a mistake in the past from which you learned a lot for the future development?
Kirubi: My biggest mistake was spending three years selling solar lanterns only and thinking this was going to be a profitable business. Customers want choice, bigger systems and real energy access to transform their lives and livelihoods. Economic and social development is a complex process, which cannot be successful by focusing just on a single aspect.
SC News: What would you recommend young entrepreneurs in Asia/Africa in the off-grid solar sector when they start to work: what is the most important skill or talent they need?
Most important is to focus on reliable customer service and on high quality products. The idea to sell "as cheap as possible" has no chance to be successful.
Also flexibility is a key requirement, as is the ability to deal with things that cannot be planned. For another, one has to be prepared for a long and often difficult path that is far less effective in terms of public exposure than the realization of an isolated project.
SC News: How important were partnerships to international partners at the time you were a startup?
Kirubi: Very important! Actually this is the first great lesson every startup has to learn: in the off-grid energy sector which is dominated by multinational companies close business relationships with strong and well-connected international partners matter. SunTransfer Kenya was able to grow because of the startup support by Stiftung Solarenergie and the following support by SunTransfer Germany. I'm happy tp see that Stiftung Solarenergie continues to support young local entrepreneurs through their SENDEA programme (www.sendea.org) .
SC News: How important is PAYG for your company in past ?
Kirubi: We were able learn from the long-term experience of Stiftung Solarenergie in Ethiopia since 2005 and transferred this PAYG experience to Kenya. Because combining micro-finance and technical service is not only operationally efficient but also makes huge business sense.
Today we have a robust last-mile distribution network, with 15 Solar-Centers serving thousends of PAYGO customers in different regions. SunTransfer was the first company who provided PAYG for SHS in Kenya. And now we are the first PAYG company in Africa who reached the break-even-point in 2016.
But we think a company barely can be sustainable if this is the only sales channel. Our main goal therefore is not to be a PAYG company only, but to offer sustainable solar solutions for any customer in rural areas, independent of size, type and way to finance the solar system.
SC News: What does this mean in consequence: What are the next steps for SunTransfer Kenya?
Kirubi: We continue to extend our holistic approach and our “full-service” business:
a) we provide new and more products to existing customers, such as solar water pumps, security lights etc.
b) we extend our distribution business to new customers in the areas of our Solar-Centers. This includes new type of products, such as backup products, solar +storage, water heaters.
In that way we reduce our dependence from PAYG, add other services and products to more and new customers.
Finally SunTransfer Kenya becomes a one-stop, energy access company who provides the full range of products to rural customers: from lanterns to big solar systems for institutions and companies. An innovative concept where we will be again the pioneers.
Facts and figures
Name of the company:
Headquarters based in:
SunTransfer Kenya Investments Ltd.
SunTransfer is a distributor who provides reliable, solar energy supply in off-grid areas. That way SunTransfer contributes to poverty alleviation and promotes economic and social development.
STKE’s business model has evolved through two distinct phases: the initial phase focusing on lantern distribution followed by the second phase anchored and defined by a customer-centered holistic model that integrates four key elements: top-quality products, PAYG, technical installation and after-sale service. This holistic model is made possible by a strong team of 73 highly passionate and well-trained staff distributed across a network of 15 Solar Centers in different regions