BrightLife by FINCA International

An end-to-end business software solution for a social enterprise that works to unlock economic opportunities for Ugandan families.

What is BrightLife?

BrightLife is a social enterprise bringing clean and affordable energy services as well as unlocking economic opportunities for Ugandan families.

Only an estimated 41% of the population in Uganda has access to electricity.

Even though Uganda has an abundance of sunlight, most households cannot afford solar home products that could convert it into electricity.

Moreover, only a sixth of the country has access to the internet and only 16% own smartphones. This means Ugandans cannot benefit from the effects associated with increased information flows and productivity gains, two major contributors to economic growth and opportunities for social uplifting.

BrightLife rigorously selects and sources the most affordable, yet durable, solar home systems and smartphones and provides micro-financing to Ugandan households. This helps eliminate the affordability barrier. In addition, BrightLife provides distribution and installation services as well as after-sales support and customer training.

The Opportunity

  • An off-the-shelf Software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution for sales, customer account and loan portfolio management, and product activations or deactivations based on customers meeting their loan repayment obligations.

  • Traditional phones not connected to any other systems.

  • Interactions with customers were logged in Excel rather than on a CRM system.

  • Data analytics, used for making business decisions, was done manually in Excel.

  • Mobile money payments (the primary method of payment in Uganda and other parts of Africa) were processed through a payment gateway essentially acting as a middle-man and taking a cut.

  • Inventory management software, which was poorly integrated with other systems, made reliable tracking of stock very difficult.

This disjointed approach suffered from many inefficiencies affecting everything from customer experience to the business’ ability to stay sustainable as it scaled.

It also meant that BrightLife lacked agility to implement changes in their operations quickly in order to respond to changing customer demands and market conditions.

Launching smartphone products is one example of this. Initially, BrightLife only provided solar home systems to their customers. Recognising how important access to education and information was for social uplifting, getting smartphones into the hands of more Ugandans became a priority. However, the existing SaaS solution could only manage solar home systems.

Meanwhile, the lack of automated data analytics solution made it challenging to evaluate the effectiveness of business operations in a timely manner.

On occasion, it could take up to an hour to register a new customer

On top of this, the SaaS software in use at the time had a pay-per-customer licensing model which made it fairly expensive. It would’ve also gotten increasingly more expensive as BrightLife scaled.

Finally, BrightLife recognised the situation they were in wasn’t unique to them. Other companies operating in the same space came up against the same challenges. This meant that if BrightLife could develop a software product that solved those challenges and prove that it worked for their business, they could sell it to other companies in the market.

The Solution

BrightLife engaged Blitz Effect to perform a holistic review of their business and assess how technology could alleviate the most pressing pain points.

Step 1: A Ticketing System

We jointly arrived at the conclusion that the most glaring hole was the lack of a robust CRM solution. Its absence made the assessment of things at the core of business operations difficult. Why were the prospects interested (or not interested) in buying from BrightLife? What common queries did the customers have? How good was the after sales service? What did the sales and field agents come up against in the field?

In order to address this, Blitz Effect initially developed a ticketing solution for BrightLife. This enabled capturing all the critical data points. To avoid customer data re-entry by the customer service team, we built a data exchange mechanism between the ticketing solution and the existing SaaS system that held customer accounts.

In addition, Blitz Effect assisted BrightLife in transitioning from a traditional phone system to soft phones, complete with the new ticketing system integration. This enabled the customer service team to see which customer made the call before they even answered it. Moreover, the team could now initiate calls to customers straight from their record, without ever having to type in the phone number.

Step 2: A system for managing end-to-end business operations

As intended, the ticketing system surfaced business areas which required attention. BrightLife recognised that a fully integrated software approach was required in order to address them successfully.

Having built up a great working relationship with BrightLife, Blitz Effect became closely embedded in the business to understand all the processes in depth and recommend tech solutions to support them. It became a very tightly-knit partnership substantially contributing to the success of the project.

The initial focus became transitioning BrightLife from the existing SaaS solution and bringing license fee payments to an end. This would make for a shorter ROI period associated with BrightLife’s proprietary software project.

After several months of development and successful data migration, the initial version of BrightLife’s customised, proprietary software, called Singularity, was successfully launched. It contained critical features required for day-to-day operations and meant that funds previously reserved for SaaS license payments, could now instead be used for further Singularity development.

Using agile methodology, Blitz Effect continued implementing improvements based on user feedback and market demands. Meanwhile, the roll out of new features set out on the road map was happening in parallel. After a number of iterations, this effort resulted in a fully fledged and highly customised business software incorporating all of the following aspects:

  • A full-featured CRM for all customer interactions: prospecting, sales and after sales.

  • A deeply integrated phone system capturing touch points with customers on their record.

  • An end-to-end sales process, including a vetting and referral system.

  • A feature-rich and accurate loan management solution.

  • A reliable inventory management system integration with end-to-end stock tracking: all the way from arriving at the warehouse to the eventual sale, including repairs and replacements.

  • Time-based (de)activation of solar home systems and smartphones, with sufficient flexibility for future product category integrations e.g. fridges or freezers.

  • Direct integrations with payment providers, cutting out the middle-men as well as enabling automatic payment reconciliation to customer accounts.

  • Reporting on sales agent performance and loan repayment collection rates.

  • Integration with data analytics software for real-time business intelligence.

  • A native sales agent app for: sales, collection of scheduled loan repayments, internal company communications and presentation of commission-based rewards and leaderboards.

  • A native customer app for checking: repayment progress, product activation information, remaining loan balance and seeking support.

The Outcome

The roll out of Singularity and continued delivery of new features has been transformational for BrightLife.

In the industry where margins for sustainability are thin, efficiency is key to keeping the costs in check and having a healthy bottom line. Singularity has enabled BrightLife to unlock significant efficiency gains through joined up processes which dramatically reduced waste. To this end, eliminating software licensing and payment processing costs provided a welcome boost.

No longer do the sales agents have to involve customer service representatives for submitting customer applications at the HQ. Sales agents can now do that themselves, on the spot, via the mobile app. And it doesn’t stop there.

Average time to register a customer decreased by

Sales agents operating in rural areas often experience poor internet connectivity. BrightLife was able to solve this specific challenge by having Blitz Effect develop an offline mode for the agent app. This made sales agents truly self-sustaining while also freeing up valuable resources in the customer service team and cutting down the wait times for customers.

The latter, together with improved service as a result of a fully integrated phone system and robust CRM, markedly improved customer experience. In turn, this has improved customer retention and loan repayment rates.

Even after reducing headcount, BrightLife grew sales by

Having proven that this model has worked well in their own business, BrightLife have started tapping into the potential of unlocking an additional revenue stream through the sale of its proprietary software to other companies in their industry.

With so many positives, it is clear the project has been a major success. Having great talent on both teams and building a strong working relationship between them has been instrumental in achieving it:

Working with Blitz Effect is like having your own development team. Not only did they get to deeply understand our business, but also the challenges we faced. They have helped us in finding real solutions and have taken an active role in ensuring their effectiveness. Their ability to help us prioritise development and then deliver on time has been most helpful. They are a competent and effective team who are a pleasure to work with.

Bernard Carr Head of Product @ BrightLife