[Seedstars World] OkHi is a Kenya-based startup founded by a young British entrepreneur. The company has developed a smartphone app that provides a physical address for people who do not have a formal postal address.
The figures speak for themselves. There are more people in the world without a physical or postal address than with. Four billion people in fact. This is due to vague or non-existent numbering systems, or absence of street names. This lack of a physical address can of course be a serious drawback in lots of situations. On the business and commerce front, how can you get a product delivered to your house? How can you obtain a loan? It might even be a matter of life and death when an ambulance is called to an emergency. OkHi-founder Timbo Drayson is aiming to turn this situation around. His answer to the problem is a smartphone app which assigns a physical address to its owner. ″OkHi supplies two essential pieces of information: geolocation of the house and a photo of the door. This information can then be shared via email, WhatsApp or SMS, using a short URL address. When someone wants to come round to my house, all s/he has to do is open the link to access all the necessary information needed to find the way,” he explains. The address is strictly private, and the owner can decide whom s/he shares it with. “In many developed countries, addresses are sold and resold as marketing data, and your letterbox is inundated with advertising. We want to be sure that OkHi users can choose the people who have access to their address, whether individuals, firms or the government,” Drayson underlines.
Assisting economic development
Timbo Drayson’s venture arose out of a trip he made to Kenya. He firmly believes that the new technologies have an important role to play in finding solutions to a range of problems. ″When I first set up here I wasn’t sure exactly what I was going to do. I spent several months interviewing business people, looking for a problem they all had in common. And although no-one actually said it out loud, it quickly became clear that one of the main obstacles to business development was the address system. Especially when it comes to moving goods across the country,” explains Drayson. The Kenyan government uses the traditional system, giving a number to each house. The problem is that the process is very slow. In two years a mere three districts in the capital Nairobi have received their numbers. And in rural areas sorting the problem out is proving almost impossible. However he is not the first person to tackle the address issue. Other startups have been looking for a solution, also using GPS geolocation. Timbo Drayson believes nevertheless that his use of a photo provides added value over his competitors, pointing out: ″GPS alone does not suffice. It helps you to get within 100 metres of the house, but you could still waste half an hour looking for the right door. This is where the photo really scores; it tells you immediately where your destination is″.
Vague or non-existent numbering systems, or a lack of street names means that many people do not have a postal address. Photo: a street in Nairobi.
Absence of physical address a worldwide problem
The mobile app is free for users to download. When a company wants to use an address, OkHi will supply one – with the agreement of its owner – for a fee. Drayson’s business model depends to a large extent on e-commerce, a business where firms need reliable addresses so as to deliver items reliably and in good order. Just one of the happy coincidences in this venture is the fact that Kenya is the worldwide leader in mobile payments. And although at the moment only 5 - 10% of all Kenyans own smartphones, Timbo Drayson believes that his innovation will give a further boost to this already flourishing market: ″A physical address is not only practical information, it’s your ID. Very few people have access to finance in many emerging countries because lending organisations don’t have reliable information on their borrowers. Having a physical address means a guarantee for your creditor. This is why we hope that with OkHi, the smartphone will be more than a communication tool, it will also be an investment,” stresses the young entrepreneur. He points out that the problem is not limited to developing countries but affects the whole world. ″In Japan, for instance, there’s a major problem with the address system. Each neighbourhood is divided into blocks, which you can easily identify, but inside each block it’s very difficult to find the way to your destination if you don’t know it already. Even in the UK I remember spending ten minutes going up and down the same street looking for the office of a potential investor. And I’ve also met people from rural areas in the US and Canada who’re very interested in our system. It’s a problem in every country.” So, when OkHi has solved the problem in Kenya, can we expect to see the startup set out to conquer Africa… then the rest of the world?