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MJ at *iHub_

iHub By Jessica Colaço / October 20, 2010

Review of the session: “Reflections with MJ”


MJ at *iHub_

Michael Joseph retires from Safaricom in 10 days, these are some of the words he shared with the audience at the iHub.

Safaricom was started in June 2000. The business plan was to have 400,000 mobile subscribers in 5 years; Safaricom was hoping to get at least 50% of those. They had inherited 17,000 unhappy customers, 9 cell sites in Nairobi. The staff consisted of five people from vodaphone and 55 people from Telkom. They only had 20 million dollars yet one switch cost 10 million dollars then. 10 years later they have approximately 16 million subscribers. They grow by 500,000 customers a month. He says they are successful because they are innovative.

Some Lessons he learnt during his tenure:

Don’t surprise your customers- He once tried to surprise Kenyans with 200KES free airtime and what resulted was a network outage that has never been forgotten.

No free calling times in Kenya, not yet anyways. They once had free calls from 9:00 p.m. but that used to cause network jams and thus it was suspended.


They have a dedicated team that looks for new ideas. In relation to their terms and conditions, they ask people to sign waivers because they receive so many ideas; they may have had your idea before.

Sambaza- This is a service that is used to transfer mobile airtime from one subscriber to another. It was actually used before in Egypt and Sudan.

M-Pesa was written using a 2 million pound grant. It was initially meant for the disbursement of microfinance loans. It was first tested in Thika. The technology sits in UK and Germany. The success of M-Pesa is due to Safaricom’s distribution network.

Here a few of the questions asked.

What is the best advice that you have ever gotten?

As a leader you have to make decisions. He is a benevolent dictator, but he consults internally when he is not sure. There is no wisdom that comes with an office; you have to be the wisdom in the office.

What do you feel about social media?

He’s not a big fan of social media but he’s successor is. He no longer reads blogs because he reads terrible things (definitely not this one!).

How energy efficient is Safaricom?

They have 60 sites that run on green energy only. This sites use wind power but they have generators that are used when there is no wind. They have building management systems, because it makes economic sense when conserving energy.

Role of government

Government should play an enabling role and not a repressive role. Currently they do not play that role. During post election violence the government wanted to shutdown the mobile network.

Leadership and Management lessons

You have to behave with absolute integrity

You have to lead from the front.

There is no substitute for hardwork.

Know what you are doing or pretend at least.

Starting November 1 2010 he’s new job title will be that of Advisor to the incoming C.E.O and the advisor to the C.E.O. of Vodacom International Operations. After the session Akirachix took a photo with the outgoing C.E.O.

Blog post courtesy of Judith Owigar from AkiraChix

Author : Jessica Colaço

Jessica Colaço is currently the Director of Partnerships at iHub. She was the Founding Manager between 2010 and 2011 at iHub and Research Director between 2011 and 2013 at iHub Research. She is passionate about Innovation, Research, Mobile and Robotics Technology, Mentorship and Entrepreneurship in Kenya as she uses her position at iHub to court local, regional and international stakeholders to adopt Kenyan-made and African-made solutions. As an upcoming angel investor, she courts local and international investors to invest in great tech ideas and companies at idea and concept stage. She is also a Mobile and Robotics Tech Evangelist, Co-Founder of WMIAfrica and AkiraChix, ISOC-Kenya Chapter, Treasurer, ACM-W Nairobi Chapter Chair, TED Global Fellow 2009 and upcoming Guitarist. She was named one of the top 40 women under 40 years in Kenya's business scene by Business Daily on 2009, 2011 and 2012. Her endeavour is to put Kenya and Africa on the map for technology achievements and spur innovation within the country and continent! She blogs at:

  • Gilbert at 05:02:19AM Thursday, October 21, 2010

    Nice post. Straight to the point. I liked the part of Michael not being a fan of social media because of reading terrible things on blogs! I couldn’t agree more.

  • Michael Joseph Reflections on Safaricom Success and Failure at 09:06:13AM Thursday, October 21, 2010

    [...] can find a great synopsis of what went on in the meeting at ihub, Idd Salim and [...]

  • Alex Nyika at 10:25:20AM Thursday, October 21, 2010

    Was there yesterday and picked a lot from his wisdom

  • David Otieno at 15:42:44PM Thursday, October 21, 2010

    I didn’t get the invite but I guess these few paragraphs will do just fine for me.
    Hongera Michael Joseph; wewe ni SHUJAA

  • wendohw at 12:27:53PM Saturday, October 23, 2010

    Hey, is there a recorded video? I thought one was to be done.

  • Jessica Colaco at 12:09:27PM Monday, October 25, 2010

    Yes it will be out soon

  • Duncan Mochama at 15:16:46PM Tuesday, October 26, 2010

    one very important and funny lesson that i have learned from him is “Know what you are doing or pretend at least.”


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