Have you ever found through an online platform, the perfect item on sale, you contact the seller and negotiate just the right price, only to be swindled out of your hard-earned cash? Well, the founders of Mlinzi (www.Mlinzi.co.ke) were driven by such an experience to start a multiplatform Escrow service. An Esc-what? ( in a sharp tone)- is usually the first question they get when trying to explain the concept.
” An Escrow service is simply a service where a third party like Mlinzi holds and regulates the payment of money for two parties in a transaction. Money is only released when all terms of the agreement are met and is overseen by the third party.” Says Anthony Kamau, one of Mlinzi’s co-founder. Escrow services have globally been in existence for a while though the concept is new in Kenya. They are useful when a buyer wants to confirm the quality of service or product first before paying.
On what inspired the idea behind Mlinzi, Anthony says, “A friend who is also a co-founder, bought a laptop from one of the popular e-Commerce platforms around and on delivery, it didn’t match the standards advertised, it just wasn’t worth the price. Of course he complained but the seller became unreasonable-accepting no returns, he had to cut his losses.” The Mlinzi team is made up of four young men with diverse skills and backgrounds all under 30 years. Anthony Kamau (finance), Samuel Njuguna (CEO) Albert Koskei and Brian Kangogo who are web developers. They have hustled, talked and saved their way to getting registered, approved by the relevant authorities and launching Mlinzi, all within a year of conceiving the idea.
I ask what problem Mlinzi is solving for people and Samuel, Mlinzi’s CEO replies, ” We are in the business of doing one thing-safeguarding the hard earned cash of that ‘mwananchi’ buying things and the interests of the seller in equal measure, making sure they are not shortchanged.”
Since Mlinzi aims to secure and safeguard transactions, how secure is Mlinzi? What assurances are there that people’s money is safe, even from Mlinzi ?
“When you send money to Mlinzi, it goes into what we call a Suspense Account – an account used to hold money for other people. Here, even I (Anthony adds) cannot touch that money, it will only go into the account specified or back to the sender – so it is completely secure. In addition, Mlinzi is a registered legal entity in Kenya.”
In Kenya, OLX was the first company to introduce an Escrow service, specifically for car buyers on their platform; this was inspired by the need to increase the trust of these buyers. During the service launch, OLX country manager Peter Ndiang’ui said that the service was yet another addition to their platform, that would make it safer and more convenient for car traders on OLX. Also, involvement in the payment process would increase the buyers’ trust when making a car purchase. In turn increasing the number of buyers looking for cars on their platform. On the other hand, Mlinzi can be used by buyers from OLX and all other platforms both online and in the block and mortar setting.
Being the new kids on the block, Anthony who doubles as the Head of Finance and Strategy says that the biggest challenge his team is grappling with at the moment is market penetration and lack of finance to market effectively. The world over, getting people to know and embrace a new product is a challenge faced by many startups. Thus companies have to be knowledgeable and strategic when entering a market no matter the presence or lack of stiff competition. All in all, Mlinzi is one bold move that slowly aims to change eCommerce transactions in Kenya and beyond.