Kenyan artificial intelligence (AI) startup UTU has raised funding from Hong Kong-based accelerator Zeroth as it looks to expand its platform offering trust recommendations to sharing economy platforms across Africa.
UTU is the company behind socially powered taxi and transport app Maramoja, which chief executive officer (CEO) Jason Eisen said had allowed it to achieve a deep understanding of human trust as a driving factor for digital commerce.
The company is now adopting its trust engine API to support use cases in other sectors where trust is key, and is looking for African platform partners interested in piloting its trust engine
As it enters this new growth phase, UTU has partnered with Zeroth, a leading global accelerator for AI companies based in Hong Kong. The startup is participating in Zeroth’s global accelerator programme, and has raised an undisclosed amount of funding from the company and its venture partners.
Zeroth invests in the best entrepreneurs involved in artificial intelligence and partners with them to build companies that solve tomorrow’s problems. It has invested in 34 companies in 13 countries, and partners with elite founders and investors from Appier, Sentient Technologies, Horizons Ventures, and Google DeepMind. UTU is its first African investment.
“The current state of digital trust is really sad, our whole system is based on star ratings and anonymous reviews that have little to do with how people actually trust – based on their close relationships and people they know personally. At UTU, our mission has always been to bring this human model of trust to the digital economy,” said Eisen, who has ceded control of Maramoja to Ronald Mahondo, former general manager (GM) of Little and operations director of Easy Taxi.
“We’ve learned huge things about the nature of trust and how it impacts people’s decision-making when hiring service providers. In the Nairobi taxi market, where UTU has served up trust recommendations for three years through Maramoja, we’ve learned that personally trusted endorsements overwhelmingly dictate consumer decisions comparing to star ratings, wait times, and other factors. UTU’s trust recommendations have also improved their sales conversion and customer satisfaction by 20 per cent and driven strong viral acquisition.”
Zeroth founder Tak Lo said UTU was developing revolutionary technology Zeroth believes has global applications and the potential to tokenise the sharing economy.
“They’ve assembled a word-class team and already demonstrated that their tech works Africa’s biggest sharing economy platforms. We’re excited to work them to bring their trust solutions to the global market,” Lo said.