TiA: Tell us a little about yourself and your background?
Ani: I have always desired to positively impact people’s lives through entrepreneurship so this is a dream come true. Prior to Puku, I was a research engineer at Corning Incorporated. I then transferred my research experience to finance as a research analyst at Merrill Lynch covering a variety of sectors ranging from technology to healthcare and industrials. The innate understanding of business models developed from my seven-year tenure at Merrill Lynch combined with the process-driven rigour as an engineer has prepared me for my current role at Puku today.
How did Puku come about?
Puku was inspired by necessity. It all started in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, which left thousands of New Yorkers powerless for days. My business partner, Meck Khalfan, was directly affected by the hurricane. He had to carry a two month-old baby up and down the stairs to get his phones and tablets charged. Fortunately, a kind neighbour gave him a portable charger which made his life easier. This was also his first time coming across such a device. Realising the need for portable power, Meck approached me and Abraham Merishani to explore the opportunity. Puku was founded thereafter and we launched our first product in less than a year.
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Puku: The most stylish charger
What does the name mean?
Puku is the name of a breed of antelopes found mainly in Tanzania and Zambia. It’s a beautiful animal known for its speed, strength and survival instincts in a wide range of adverse environmental conditions. We feel strongly connected to these attributes which we’ve included in the core values of our brand. We also thought the name Puku appropriate as the company founders all have African backgrounds. I have a Nigerian background, while Meck and Abraham both have Tanzanian backgrounds.
Did you all know each other before you started the company?
I met Meck Khalfan though his wife and we hit it off pretty well as we were both entrepreneurs looking for interesting opportunities at the time. Meck is a software engineer, with a degree in mathematics and engineering, also based in New York. He is now a co-founder and CEO at Puku. When we started exploring the portable charger opportunity, we realised we needed an experienced and trustworthy partner in Asia to manage our production. Meck approached his childhood friend Abraham Merishani, a China-based computer engineer and entrepreneur. He also owns and operates Tanchin Trading Company in Guangzhou. Abraham became the third co-founder with a role as the CTO of Puku.
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CEO of Puku, Meck Khalfan on Arise Entertainment 360
Battery chargers aren’t usually products one would describe as ‘visually vibrant’. Was creating a bold and colourful product something you all had in mind from the beginning?
Yes. When we first started researching portable chargers we realised that, although there was a real need for this product, the awareness was lacking despite the presence of so many brands of cheap chargers. The lack of awareness stems from lack of design innovation, subpar quality and zero branding effort. If you observe any existing lifestyle technology product, you’d realise that design, quality and branding are the common attributes that ensures the awareness and adoption of products within that category. This is why products by Samsung, Apple, Sony, Beats, etc. are all well received despite pricing.
In the same vein we knew we had to make a difference with our product, and so we went above and beyond with our design team to ensure a great customer experience with the design of our products. When you purchase a Puku, it is simply different regardless of what our competitors are currently offering. You can see the difference in the interesting curved design, vibrant colours, soft-touch feel of the product, captivating and efficient battery level indicators as well as packaging.
Puku has over 500 charging cycles, so this product will last for many years, correct?
One key differentiator between Puku and a lot of Chinese chargers flooding the market is battery quality. We only use high quality batteries in our chargers. High quality grade A batteries are still 70-80% efficient after 500 cycles. So yes, with over 500 cycles, Puku should last at least 1-2 years depending on usage frequency before any noticeable degradation in performance
How has the reception of Puku been so far?
We launched Puku during the New York, Paris, Milan and Moscow fashion weeks in late 2013 and the reception has been phenomenal within the circle of fashion enthusiasts, models and trendsetters. We had initial orders coming in from customers located in over 20 countries within the first three months of product launch.
We were also able to establish partnerships with marquee brands such as Victoria’s Secret, the NBA and The View on ABC. Overall the general feedback has been positive from everyone including our fans and loyal customers. With our new products, we are looking to bring Puku to many more people in need of a quality and beautiful charger.
Will Puku be launching in Nigeria, Tanzania and other parts of Africa as well?
Absolutely! We will be introducing Puku to emerging markets as we strengthen our New York brand and once the new models are in full production. Our goal is to make Puku available to everyone globally including Nigeria, Tanzania and the rest of Africa. That makes a lot of sense considering that we, as founders of Puku, will always remember our routes and inspirations.
What can we expect in the future from Puku?
At Puku, we will constantly push the innovation envelope. We expect to continuously introduce more products within the portable power and mobile accessories industry that solves a very real problem.