I have only been in Kampala, Uganda for one week now, but I have already been impressed with how amazing this city is. My first day in Kampala I went to Lake Victoria and took a boat ride around the lake where I saw a sampling of Uganda's more than 1,000 bird species. The people here are also so friendly ... more friendly than any other country I have ever been to. My taxi driver from the airport couldn't stop smiling and laughing during our 30-minute drive to my hotel and the host at the house party that I went to my first night in Kampala was very generous and kind.
The start-up life isn't all fun and games though, and BBOXX has a grand vision to bring electricity to the 1.6 billion people who currently live in darkness. I first learned about BBOXX through a classmate named Chris Hopper. Chris was the chairman of a charity called e.quinox at his undergraduate institution Imperial College of London. The three founders of BBOXX were also members of this charity, which designed and built solar kiosks in Rwanda. While the founders of BBOXX were proud of the 5 solar kiosks that they initiated that served over 800 households, they wanted to have an impact on rural electrification on a much greater scale. They have developed their own solar kits that come with a solar panel, a battery box, and LED lights. One of the features that makes their products stand out is that they have a range of different sizes of solar kits designed to meet the budgets and demand profile of different customer classes.
While BBOXX has offices in over a dozen countries, I will be focusing on distribution strategies in Uganda that will then be implemented in BBOXX's other markets. I am looking forward to the chance to see rural Uganda first-hand and I already got a taste of it last week on my first field visit. After a 4-hour drive, we arrived at a coffee cooperative outside of Mbale where we installed our products in their pulping stations and performed a demonstration of our products. The local farmers were so impressed with the solar kits that several of them approached us after our demo and asked if they could become a distributor of our products in their region. What was even more exciting for me occurred on the ride back. One of our vehicles broke down and we ended up stranded in a village until long after nightfall. The power in this village went out, but we had our products with us and turned on our lights. We drew a huge crowd (mainly children) who were curious about where all the light was coming from. We gave our lights to the children and asked them to try and break them. What occurred next had to be some of the best field testing of a product I have ever seen. The children took the lights and started bashing them against our truck. When one child failed to break the light the others eagerly clamored to get their turn at trying to break it. After repeated failed attempts, they asked me to try to break the light. I am embarrassed to admit that even after a great deal of fanfare and build-up, I also failed to break the light.
Amidst all of the excitement, we were able to gather some good market research about how many people didn't have electricity in the area and we had many people say that they wanted to buy our product. Unfortunately we had only brought a couple for demonstration purposes. After the success we had on our first trip out in the field, we have now scheduled several more. I will be leaving on Thursday and will not return until Saturday evening. The goal of this trip is to sign up more distributors of our products and get them to commit to come to our office to receive training on how to size the systems appropriately for each customer. I actually performed my first training for distributors today and I am looking forward to several more trainings in the near future. This is such a rewarding field to work in because you can see the look of joy on peoples' faces when they take home a product that will bring light, mobile phone charging, radio, and more to their families. Needless to say, I am excited about the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of thousands of Ugandans over this summer.