The question that came to my mind at the briefing held today at Michael Joseph to announce the Kshs 1.72 billion (US $ 20 million) loan to M-Kopa Solar from Commercial Bank of Africa (CBA) was: Is M-Kopa an extension of Safaricom?
A little background is important. M-Kopa – established in 2011 following successful trials in Kenya in 2010 – was developed as “a proprietary, patented technology platform that combines embedded GSM and mobile payments to revolutionize asset financing in emerging markets.” Since launch, the M-Kopa solar units have been acquired by over 50,000 Kenyans, a great achievement by any standards.
Now let’s a look at the people behind the company that is M-Kopa Solar.
The M-Kopa MD and founder is Jesse Moore, who was previously the MD of Signal Point Partners and the director of the GSMA Development Fund, which has contributions the GSM industry including Vodafone, which owns a majority stake in Safaricom.
Then let’s move to Nick Hughes, M-Kopa’s strategy director and founder (or co-founder?). Hughes – according to the M-Kopa website – was previously MD of Signal Point Partners (just like Jesse Moore), the advisory and venture firm that started M-KOPA. Until 2009, he was head of global payments at Vodafone Group, where he started M-PESA in 2004.
Then there’s Pauline Vaughan, M-Kopa’s director of operations. Ms Vaughan worked for 10 years at Safaricom, 4 of which were in the M-PESA management team.
That was the management team, let’s now go deeper and look at the M-Kopa board.
The board has Nick Hughes as chairman. Then there is Les Baillie who is listed as an independent board member. Mr Baillie Les was the CFO of Safaricom from the company’s inception in 2000 until its IPO on the NSE in 2008. He then served as chief investor relations officer (at Safaricom) from 2009 to 2011, “and continues to serve Safaricom on a part time basis as Chairman of the Safaricom Foundation,” to quote the M-Kopa website.
That’s why by looking keenly at this relationship and going beyond the similarities about the “M” prefix which appears in both M-Kopa and M-Pesa (remember M-Kopa users make their payments exclusively via M-Pesa), one can’t be faulted for suspecting – if not believing – that M-Kopa and Safaricom. Or the former is an extension of the latter.