Story & Interview by John Ndungu of Commerce and Industry magazine.
the Craft Silicon Campus, off Waiyaki Way and a few kilometers farther up and away from the fast-growing Westlands Suburb, is a beehive of activities as workers do finishing work and final touches on the three-storey complex Campus while other busily landscape and construct other facilities including a swimming pool at the lowest end of the expansive compound.
Going up the staircase to the reception upstairs, we meet several fundis and as we proceed we meet another smartly yet simply dressed gentleman of Asian descent. We greet him and he answers humbly; then we ask our way to Mr Kamal’s office. “Oh…I’m Mr Kamal,” answers the pleasantly and extremely humble gentleman as he leads us to comfortable settees in an open, spacious and well-lighted area overlooking the extensive parking at the front of the Campus. On the low table at the settees are several publications. Overlooking the huge, glass front is a finished model of the Campus mounted on a crafty pedestal; at a corner is a water dispenser and several glasses arranged welcomingly in a tray.
Soft-spoken, friendly, humble and of extremely decent demeanour, Mr Kamal Budhabhatti welcomes us to sit and talk after we have introduced ourselves. He is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Craft Silicon, a software concern that is currently riding the waves as Kenya’s fastest growing software developing entity. Mr Budhabhatti, on the other hand, is increasingly gaining fame as a man who, through sheer determination spiced with lots of innovation and goodwill, has virtually moved from rags to managing millions in a span of only10 years since 2000 when he developed his first banking software.
Apart from networking, how else has Craft Silicon reached out to clientele? I inquire from Mr Kamal, who has now proved quite likeable and of a pleasant personality while our chat gains headway. “Apart from networking that involves selling our products and services in local and international conferences, we also use word of mouth which has become a crucial selling device in the present age. Our customers advertise our products by telling others about them and us,” he explained.
The company, now worth between Ksh 1.6 to sh 1.7 billion (and determined to grow) and with an annual income of over K sh 500 million, sources more than 85% of its business from without Kenya offering software solutions in different languages including French, English, Arabic and Spanish across Africa, Asia, Europe and America.
Moreover, it has permanent offices, apart from Kenya, in New York, India, West Africa.
“Kenyans including small and big companies must be patriotic and keep trusting their own enterprises. We are a small company but very busy serving and servicing foreign companies who have total trust in us. We are currently servicing a foreign bank with over 800 branches yet some of our banks are busy sourcing software solutions from abroad,” he explained arguing that many local firms have the capacity and capability and must be given the opportunity to prove themselves. He also urged local companies and other financial institutions to embrace modern technology and ICT or risk lagging behind others.
The company prides in having over 200 employees, 90% of them Kenyan, majority of them very well paid, trained, qualified and experienced.
“Your parking is full of many nice vehicles- do these belong to your clients?’ I ask Mr Kamal. “No no…these belong to our staff,” avers Mr Kamal giving credence to the fact that they (staffs) are well rewarded for their efforts.
He explained that computer programming is an intellectually taxing exercise that makes people the company’s biggest asset. “We are a unique company that takes very good care of its staff. We have a comprehensive medical scheme, free lunch, gym, pool table and swimming pool among other amenities that help to make work fun. We also have flexible working hours,” he added. Yet at times it is rather difficult to assess workers productivity. So, each worker is assigned to a specific clientele; complaints from each client is taken seriously and this is taken as one way of measuring performance and taming complacency that might assail workers in the free and fun working atmosphere.
Newly hired staffs undergo induction after which they are expected to learn a lot on their own through research work in different media. Colleagues are also expected to assist, teach and role model each other while self-discipline is highly encouraged.
While placement interviews are diligently conducted, the correct work culture, that includes teamwork and humility, self-discipline and dedication to work and service to clientele, and the drive to perfect oneself and continuously learns among virtues, is highly emphasized.
Mr Kamal explained that times reach when sole proprietors have to invite external investors like he has done in recent days. “Investors are crucial since we are not experts in everything and need extra expertise and insights in our operations.”
Is entrepreneurship an in-born talent or could it be taught just like other learnable skills? I inquire of Mr Kamal. “Business skills can be learnt but they are often a combination of talent and passion. Though creativity, which is a pertinent part entrepreneurship, is in-born, a strong desire is required for success in business,” he said.
Computer programming is very common in India, where Mr Kamal, now a Kenyan, was born in the small west coast town of entrepreneurs known as Jamnagar in the same state as the late noble Mahatma Gandhi. Programming has created very many jobs in India, he explained emphasizing the need for more Kenyans to learn the course since the country needs a big pool of experts in the field.
As afore-mentioned, Craft Silicon’s forte lies in ICT and especially developing of softwares in the finance sector. It has developed and continues developing different sotfwares for banks and SACCOs among other financial institutions that program operations such as accounts opening, loans servicing; many of the programs are tailor-made for specific countries. Its softwares for banks, micro-finance institutions, and SACCOs are the only complex ones available in the country. For instance, the Bankers Realm developed in year 2000 by Mr Kamal, helps retail banks deliver retail and corporate, as well as back office transactions processing, multi-channel delivery, card management and payments. It also tackles the needs and challenges of branchless and mobile banking.
The company also offers other financial solutions including some for Sharia-compliant banking; micro-finance banking BR Core solution (BRmfs) and Bankers Realm.Net, a modern high-tech version of the original Bankers Realm that operates on any standard browser.
Payment solutions offered by the company include the EFT Switch solution, that could be used by any core financial application, regardless of the database host; M-Banking and E-Banking solutions.
How could the government support software development in the country? “We give and let live. Government support directly and indirectly is crucial but we in the sector can’t solely rely on government’s help. We expect some bit of help and are currently happy with the government’s support and initiatives especially from the Information & Communications PS Dr Bitange Ndemo,” Mr Kamal explained.
However, the sector is hoping that the government takes a stand on reducing taxation and duties on software development equipment and services. “More incentives such as tax exemption for five to 10 years would be highly encouraging and welcome because Kenya needs to embrace high-tech ICT and not solely rely on agriculture for economic development and growth,” he added.
A Bachelor of Science (Physics) graduate with the added benefit of the widespread computer programming lessons given throughout Indian institutions, where he went to school, Mr Kamal got his first employment opportunity in Kenya. Adventurous enough, he didn’t isolate himself to his first job as a data entry clerk but tactfully tried his hand at developing a software for a local bank; this became the moonlighting task that would open wide the world, including that of fortunes, opportunities and responsibility, to him. His dream is to provide employment and empowerment to as many Kenyans as possible. Currently, he feels somewhat overwhelmed with the CEO tasks as well as the technical skills he has to provide for the company. He is keen to hire a fitting CEO in the future so that he can concentrate on developing softwares which is his main forte.
He believes technical skills and expertise are crucial for business. This can be sharpened with time through training and further education. Yet, the right and positive attitude towards work and life is the most crucial aspect of consideration for anyone considering being hired at Silicon or any other organization where competence, productivity, efficiency and effectiveness count the most. As Craft Silicon CEO he believes in an open-door policy, interacts with all and any worker and is equally accessible to all.