Q&A: A Kenyan Startup That Has Bikers’ Back, Literally

Q&A: A Kenyan Startup That Has Bikers’ Back, Literally

What do you get when an electronics engineer, a certified accountant and an IT guru come together and decide to become social entrepreneurs? CladLight. At least that holds true for the CladLight’s trio founders that comprise brothers Charles and Joseph Muchene and friend Michael Gathogo.

CladLight is a social enterprise that addresses motorcyclists’ safety through a sustainable business model.

Motorcycle accidents in Kenya have become prevalent to the point where major hospitals have annexed special wings for bike victims while riders have also earned the moniker “organ donors” due to the high mortality rates.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that there are between 3,000 and 13,000 accidents annually while Kenyan government figures indicated that the number is sandwiched between the aforementioned figures at 6,205 as at 2013.

Fatalities are however high at 3,000 per year most of whom are pedestrians and motorcycle riders.

A 2011 WHO report indicated that Kenya had an estimated 34.4 road deaths per 100,000 people which is slightly more than 6 times the UK’s ratio and nearly two and a half-times higher than the US’s ratio.

AFKInsider chatted up the trio behind the venture at Nailab, a Nairobi-based accelerator program for startups. With their wearable tech startup, they hope to bring down Kenya’s heartbreaking motorcycle accidents statistics.

Charles, 27 is a graduate electronics engineering, passionate in electronics and programming. He has participated in several bootcamps involving electronics and programming and has also done electronics training in some of the public and private universities in Kenya. He is CladLight’s CEO.

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Joseph Muchene, 25 is a Certified Public Accountant in Kenya and is CladLight’s CFO.

Michael is a graduate and experienced IT consultant. He actively participates in technical events organized by the iHub such as the Africa Hack Trip and gearbox hackathons. He is CladLight’s Product Manager.

AFKI: How did the concept of CladLight come about?

CladLight: CladLight started in November of 2013, as a wearable technology company. This was as a result of the inception of our key product called the Smart Jacket – a safety jacket fitted with bright lights that increase the motorcyclist’s ‘visibility’ on the road.

Quite a number of night bike accidents occur because the bikers do not stand out on the road or are noticed when it is too late to initiate knee-jerk reactions to avoid collision. Our smart jackets primarily seek to remedy poor visibility.

AFKI: What makes the Smart Jacket so smart?

CladLight: Well, they are pretty smart. With modified reflectors coupled with light-emitting diodes (LEDs) the bikers can indicate the direction he or she is about to turn in addition to being conspicuous.

Indicators on the jacket are controlled wirelessly from a transmitter fitted onto the indicator system on the rider’s bike and a receiver in the jacket. When the biker indicates on his bike, the corresponding side of the LEDs fitted in the jacket light up.

Some jackets are fitted with trackers.

AFKI: Trackers? Tell us more.

CladLight: The tracker is an advanced feature that is only available to those who need it such as courier service and delivery motorcyclists.

Trackers show the whereabouts of the motorcycle and as such are used to map the routes the motorcycles have covered. This information can then be analyzed and used for making decisions on profitable routes and-or how to price the different delivery options.

AFKI: When did you make and sell your first jacket?

CladLight: The first smart jackets were made end of March this year. These were solely for piloting to gather user experience and provide essential feedback for iteration or creating a new and improved version of the product.

The response from end users was mainly on the design and implementation of the Smart Jacket. This involved suggestions for the material made using the jacket, placement of lights, integration to the motorcycle and others.

This formed the basis of the alterations on the product and as any serious business knows, the unhappiest customers are their greatest source of information in learning to tailor the product for the market.

AFKI:  What keeps you doing what you do daily?

CladLight: The reception of the Smart Jacket by the motorcyclists, popularly referred to as boda boda guys, has been positive and encouraging. Such technology is fascinating to them and they are willing to buy. And we are willing to see them stay alive.

AFKI: The initial phase of any business is challenging. What are yours?

CladLight: Evidently, the motorcyclists prefer the smart jackets in comparison to the ordinary jackets. This is because it’s active in the sense that it radiates light rather than just reflecting any light.

However, the biggest hindrance in acquiring a Smart Jacket is the cost, KES 3,500 ($40).

As CladLight, we seek to lower this cost by up to 60% once we acquire a (cheaper) supplier for the electronic components used. The high cost is attributed to the expensive cost of the constituent electronic components locally.

Several institutions have expressed interest and we are currently awaiting an order from one of them to supply the jackets to.

AFKI: How big is the Kenyan and regional market?

CladLight: Since the government zero-rated all motorcycles rated 250cc and below back in 2008, there has been a tremendous increase in the number of newly registered motorcycles in Kenya annually.

Up until 2012, there were an estimated total of 0.6 million motorcycle units in Kenya.

Uganda has even a higher number. Research of the total number of motorcycle units in Africa is still underway.

AFKI: Today you are making jackets, 10 years from now where will Clad Light be?

CladLight: CladLight seeks to have broken the national boundaries and ventured in to other motorcycle markets in Africa. It is also our mission to impact this wearable knowledge to young Kenyans through a training institution.

We are also seeking partnerships with insurance firms and motorcycle assembly plants and wholesalers delivering the jackets to the masses they command.

AFKI: Personally how have you managed to maintain the friendship and business balance?

CladLight: As an entrepreneur, one has a clear understanding that friendship and business don’t mix. Learning to separate the two has been one of our greatest achievements in running CladLight thus far.