This is a story of two friends who make this quote by Henry Ford so real, “My best friend is the one who brings out the best in me”. Charles & Michael are the faces behind one of the most innovative social enterprise in Kenya, Clad Light. These two young geeks observed how motorcycle fatalities and accidents were on a rise in Kenya. Every life on road is precious must have been the inspiration for Charles & Michael to come up with a unique idea of a “smart jacket” for the motorcyclists on Kenyan roads. Clad Light is a brain child of these two friends who wanted to make sure motorcycle accidents due to poor visibility in night are minimised. I met Michael at a social enterprise networking event, enthusiastically talking about the “lifesaving” jacket which are fitted with LED lights which serves as an indicator for the motorcycle. Bizarre!!! You must be thinking since when Kenya has motorcycles without indicators that you need a jacket with them?? Michael & Charles studied how motorcycle fatalities were huge in numbers especially during the night when the visibility is low. They came up with an idea of a “smart jacket”, though I prefer calling it a “smart lifesaving jacket” which is fitted with LED lights to indicate the next turn either right/ left or if the motorcycle is coming to a halt. The lights are bright enough to notify the vehicle following the motorcycle by the LED direction arrows which are fitted on the back of the fluorescent green jacket usually worn by the motorcyclists on the road. So the name Clad Light, wear the lights for making safer roads.
Michael recalls how inquisitive he was about, “how a system worked technologically”? To quench his curiosity he was the one making sure his dad’s Swedish Volvo is always up and running despite of showing up a problem each morning. Michael’s satisfying smiles shows he was good at fixing the problems all by himself. While talking about his regular visits to River Road to look for parts of the car he told me about how a typical Indian shop selling auto spare parts would look variedly different from a Kenyan one. A shop owned by Indians were invariably having a suffix as “& sons ltd” or “& sons co”, I know how obsessed we are with “boy child” in India. Michael was an observant child maybe that was a quality of a geek, I could make out when he described how he still remembered that Indian shops put incense sticks in front of picture of God & Goddess and how he saw an old man sitting on a white high seat in one of the corner of the shop who looked into every business taking place in the shop on a busy business day apart from men from his family. So now you know why Indian shops have the suffix “& sons ltd”!!! I laughed ear to ear to hearing Michael’s early descriptions about the Indian shops on River Road. It is good to know how people from different cultural background observe you in business, social and other dimensions of life.
You must be thinking why I named this story about two friends and their smart jacket as, “all bumps don’t slow you down”? Let me tell you the reason, while talking to Charles & Michael about what was their proudest moment in Clad Light, Michael told the proudest moment was when they made the “smart jacket” wireless. In the beginning the jacket was made with wires which were not so convenient for the motorcyclists to use since the wires dangling down would make it vulnerable to short circuit if it rains or if the motorcyclist forgets about the wire it might be torn apart. When the “smart jacket” was made wireless it was the happiest moment for Clad Light. For Charles the proudest moment was when he saw the LEDs on the “smart jacket” actually working. He went on a ride on a motorcycle to test the “smart jacket”, as he got down and the motorcyclist went ahead on the road Charles saw his “smart jacket” showing off a bright red light as the motorcyclist pushed on the brakes before a bump on the road. What a moment it would have been for Charles to see the “smart jacket” working and indicating the movements of the motorcycle. While hearing about this instance I thought, “All bumps don’t slow you down”. Imagine if that bump was not there on the road where Charles was to test his “smart jacket” the proudest moment which brings smile on his face even today would have come a bit later or even after a long wait. Charles gives such an inspirational message to all young entrepreneurs through this small instance of life!
Boda-Boda is the name for the bicycle or motorcycle taxis which are a common sight in any East African town especially in rural part where these motorcycle taxis replace the splashing car taxis in urban life. The person who drives you to your destination on his motorcycle taxi is also called Boda-Boda. The name has come from the phrase “border to border”; people crossing over the borders of Kenya and Uganda used these motorcycle taxis for commuting. Boda-Boda is an intricate part of the East African culture is provides livelihood to more than 300,000 people in the Western Province only. The boda-boda industry of Kenya is large and it is represented by “Kenya Tuktuk Boda-Boda Motor bike Welfare Association” their website is http://www.tukbodabike.com.
I am thankful to Michael & Charles for inviting me to visit Clad Light’s stand in Michael Joseph Centre in Safaricom headquarters which gave me an opportunity to interact with them and more about their journey till now. I wish Michael & Charles best wishes as they look for a Venture Capitalist so that they can procure electronic devices and components in bulk to start the production of the “smart jacket” for the larger market. I would love to take Clad Light for the Auto Expo, the biennial automotive show held in New Delhi, India. It is Asia’s largest and the world’s second-largest motor show. Clad Light will make motorcyclists around the globe safer on roads.
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