Abel Maasai challenges innovators to focus on the customer

By Gabriel Onyango

Abel Maasai is an award winning mobile solutions expert, with experience in design, development and delivery of mobile technology products. His company Kocela Limited is behind applications such as the KCB mobile app, and Standard Groups SDE app.

In his address as a keynote speaker during the recently concluded JKUAT Technology Expo 8.0, Abel (a past winner of the competition) poured his heart out to the innovators, students and the business community at large. Using his own personal story to provide a map for other innovators to follow.


Abel, on his way to steering Kocela to the title of the best payment and transfers solutions in Africa during the Africa Fintech Awards, started small.

His first crack at innovation was with an app – Click a house; it emerged top at that year’s JKUAT Tech Expo. “Despite the money, the media exposure and investor meetings Click a house never became the big success we thought it would.

We worked on it for a year, improving it, deciding amongst ourselves about where which button would go and what needed changing, all without ever asking the customer what they thought,” he said.

His advice to innovators, “often times we don’t think about the person we are building for, we get excited by the technology but it’s not about the tech, it’s about the user. Even before you build your solution what problem, is it solving? “

Calvin, one of Kocela’s team members reiterated this statement on a later conversation, saying that innovators, especially in competitions should expose themselves to customers when developing solutions. “Test your product, give people to use and get feedback then make improvements from there.”


After campus Abel Maasai worked with a company called Cellulant for two years before starting Kocela. Pointing to the fact it is okay for entrepreneurs to work for someone else before starting their own ventures, using the experience to learn about the inner workings of a business.

On how Kocela started, Abel narrates, ”After quitting Cellulant, I took a break and was spending time at iHub when the idea to email all financial institutions in Kenya came about-what’s the worst that could happen?”  He thought.

KCB bank responded and called him to present his idea. He knew he only had one shot, one bullet and he decided he would go the extra mile. In the presentation, instead of just presenting an idea, Abel decided to go with a prototype of an actual KCB app with all features made from the customers’ perspective.

His advice to innovators, “Often times you have ideas and you think they may not work out, but you have to try, go the extra mile-you can’t do the bare minimum and expect results.”


Abel tells innovators to be in it for the long term and that innovation is not about the money. Otherwise once the money comes in, no matter how little, it can tear up teams as each partner takes their share leaving the company with nothing.

Abel’s advice to young entrepreneurs, “follow your passion, we used to fault universities for producing non-industry ready entrepreneurs but truth is, they are just there to prepare you to be a person ready to shape the future-opportunities are there.”

He says that young entrepreneurs have a chance to disrupt industries because once companies grow big, they stop focusing on the customers. This opens up opportunities for passionate innovators to bring better customer-focused solutions to market.

Abel Maasai represents a generation of leaders, entrepreneurs and innovators that are shaping Africa through technology and innovation. His journey inspires and stirs up other would be entrepreneurs to stand up and move to action.



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