August 22, 2023
PayGo Joins Sun King to Scale Clean Cooking in Africa and Asia
contributor: Rob Goodier
Sun King’s foray into clean cooking
When Sun King bought PayGo, the company hired Nick Quintong, PayGo’s CEO and Co-Founder, to head its clean cooking team. A team that is comprised mostly of former PayGo employees. PayGo’s whole crew of 40 people in Nairobi moved less than a mile down the road to Sun King’s office. Sun King expanded its facility to include a lab and workspace for the new Clean Cooking Team. Mr. Quintong calls the arrangement a close collaboration that should spur innovation in clean cooking technology.
New products are already in a market trial phase.
“Currently, Sun King’s Clean Cooking Team is trialing a variety of pay-as-you-go cooking appliances in different locations in Kenya,” Mr. Quintong told E4C. “Following the conclusion of these trials, the team will evaluate the best strategies for introducing these innovative products to new markets across Africa and Asia. Given the pressing need for clean cooking solutions, we anticipate significant demand for these offerings.”
Specifically, the Sun King Clean Cooking Team is experimenting with pay-as-you-go electric pressure cookers.
Publicly, Sun King Clean Cooking has promised technology agnosticism. The clean cooking division will develop a range of products and services to help households shift to cleaner, more environmentally friendly alternatives. One alternative in their sites is electric stoves.
“Specifically, the Clean Cooking Team is experimenting with pay-as-you-go electric pressure cookers,” Mr. Quintong says. “Initial results suggest that these devices can dramatically reduce cooking costs by over 75% in comparison to traditional charcoal stoves. As such, the team is excited about these appliances’ potential for transforming cooking practices, promoting energy efficiency, and improving overall affordability.”
Sun King’s preliminary findings suggest that electric pressure cookers could reduce costs by more than 75 percent compared to charcoal stoves.
A little help from their friends
PayGo beat long odds to arrive at the moment when their team walked through the doors with moving boxes in hand at Sun King’s regional headquarters in Nairobi. The startup had raised Series A funding before its acquisition, placing it in a vanishingly small minority worldwide. Less than 10 percent of companies that raise a seed round, as PAYGO did, successfully raise Series A investment. Those that do make it to Series A, the first round of venture capital investment, have demonstrated that they have a Minimum Viable Product, not just a great idea with little else to back it up. Once a company has passed that Series A milestone, it has about a 50 percent chance of being acquired. And those statistics are for the all-inclusive field of startups in general. PAYGO, a startup in a region and a category of technology that are notoriously light on investment, achieved Series A and then acquisition.
One factor in PayGo’s success was its performance in the startup accelerator ASME ISHOW – the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Innovation Showcase. ISHOW supports early-stage social entrepreneurs who are developing new hardware, which they define as tangible products that are not solely software. ISHOW’s innovations fill a need to improve lives in the world’s underserved communities. PayGo fit the description and won the US regional ISHOW in 2016. The rewards package included money, which was a share of a (USD) $30,000 pool of cash to continue product development, as well as expert advice and consultation. ISHOW brokered a connection between PayGo and the engineering design firm Catapult Design.
The fundraising mentorship that ISHOW provided helped us tell a story that resonated with investors.
“ASME’s ISHOW brought in expert mentors from Catapult Design who had deep domain expertise in designing products for emerging markets,” Mr. Quintong says. “Catapult’s design team provided critical guidance and support on PayGo Energy’s first product and service, and many of the outputs from their work are still key components of our technology today. The mentorship that ISHOW also provided around fundraising played an important role in helping us tell a story that resonated with investors and ultimately helped PayGo Energy secure our first round of funding.”
Catapult helped PayGo improve the user experience of their meter prototypes. Under Catapult’s guidance, PayGo submitted to a self reflection that culminated in lists of questions they had yet to answer. The questions revealed gaps in their knowledge of how customers use their product and what they would want in the finished version. For example, what information should appear in the meter display and what information should arrive by text? And should there be a power button to turn on the stove?
To find answers, Catapult went to the source. The firm spent a week in Mukuru with PayGo’s team, building and testing prototypes and speaking with community members with help from an interpreter.
“Our job was to help them answer some of those questions,” Heather Fleming, then Catapult’s CEO (now co-founder and director of Change Labs), told Demand. “We relied a lot on the prototypes that [PayGo] had already built to communicate some of these concepts with their prospective customers. Households that they’d been consulting with who were helping to inform them on what the product and service might be.”