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Hey kids, beware...You now have to bury your parents' phones to hide a bad grade

Story highlights

  • 26-year-old Boniface Githinji is the founder of Kenyan startup Sematime
  • It's an SMS service provider for schools and small and medium businesses
  • Clients can send report cards, bills and invoices to large groups through text messages

Few items inspire universal teenage angst quite like the school report card, that mishmash of letters and numbers that could periodically mean the difference between family praise and punishment. Sometimes, however, it can also inspire new business opportunities.

A few years back, Boniface Githinji was studying computer science at the University of Nairobi. Shortly after his return home for the holidays, he ran into one of his neighbors who started complaining about his child doing what so many other kids around the world with bad grades resort to: hiding their report cards from their parents.

This got the young Kenyan programmer thinking: "I thought, we can actually come up with a solution to that problem," says Githinji. "Virtually every parent owns a cell phone in this country -- and that doesn't have to be a smart phone to receive SMSs," he adds. "And so since I was doing computer science training on how to program and make software, we came up with a simple service to make it easy for these schools to send report cards by SMS."

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That service has today become Sematime, a Nairobi-based SMS service provider. With just a click of a few buttons, schools can send report cards to parents on their mobile phones, allowing them to keep better track of their children's education. In addition, schools can also use the platform to distribute exam results, fee balances and general communication messages.

Githinji, 26, says the service is designed to make parents become more involved. "If you are not up on how your kid is performing in school, then that kid to some extent probably feels not loved," he says. "And then as a parent I want to know how my kid is performing so I can take some measures. I can go speak to the teacher and get to know why is he not performing well."

So far, more than 1,500 schools use Sematime, forming a huge percentage of the startup's clientele base. The rest is composed of small and medium businesses in Nairobi, which use the service to send information, bills and invoices to large groups through text messages.

Githinji, who started the company in 2011, says the biggest problems initially were raising capital and convincing schools about the service. But he found a crucial ally in Nailab, a Nairobi-based startup accelerator that helps budding entrepreneurs develop their tech ideas.

"I probably wouldn't be here if it weren't for Nailab," he says. "It's an organization that tends to start ups, people who want to do something but they don't have the facilities, they don't have the internet."

Githinji has had a pretty successful start. His company made about six million Kenyan shillings last year -- that's about $68,000. But even with his financial success so far, he remains grounded.

"In terms of feeling accomplished, I think it is a long, long way to that point," says Githingi.

"It has not been as easy, the only thing that has been keeping us going on is a passion," he adds. "You have to have a passion for what you do because you have challenges; sometimes you run out of money, sometimes customers run away from you.

"I think it is just beginning -- we have a thousand things we want to do and we can't wait to get started."

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