12 September 2023

Kim Buller, CFO and co-founder, Alchemy Telco

Kim Buller, CFO and co-founder, Alchemy Telco

Who was your hero when you were growing up?
My father. He is incredibly principled and so hardworking. A humble self-made man, who enjoys his own company, is happiest in the vast garden he created or his greenhouse and potting shed, which houses his tractor, a landline phone, kettle, microwave, and small TV to watch the golf and cricket.

We often say he just needs a bed …. His interests are so diverse. He knows the call of every bird and where they are nesting, is an incredible sportsman, plays a mean game of darts and enjoys his bridge. I would say he taught me to enjoy hard work and to never be ‘bored.’ I have not seen him for some years, but I am sure he will still be out with his chain saw at the age of 86.

What was your big career break?
Rather than one definitive break, my career has been marked by a series of opportunities that have steadily built my experience and capabilities. I started my professional journey as a bookkeeper for the local farmstock auctioneers and then started my own landscaping business. Both gave me a strong foundation in business operations and project management.

From there, I transitioned into cashew farming (not my finest moment but an intriguing way to explore the Gambia and its people nonetheless). During this time, I was frustrated that there were significant gaps in communicating vital things - prices, etc, and in an attempt to bridge that gap, I entered into the dynamic world of telecommunications and technology, setting up Alchemy as a way, initially, to deliver affordable SMS comms to keep the rural farmers in touch with each other and with those who were eager to buy from them. We started off building websites and then a tool to send bulk SMS.

Along the way, I’ve been fortunate to work with visionary mentors who have encouraged me to take on new challenges and greater leadership roles. My biggest growth has come through saying “yes” to tough assignments that seemed daunting at first. Each step out of my comfort zone has expanded my skills and confidence.

Meeting my business partner Malick Dibba has certainly been pivotal. Together we’ve built a thriving enterprise in Africa. I’m eager to see what the future holds for our promising venture.

If you could dine with any famous person, past or present, who would you choose?
I sat at a dinner in London many years ago with Princess Anne and was so impressed by her down to earth common sense, her humour and fascinating conversation. She is an extremely accomplished horse woman and competed in the Olympic Games. She is a patron of over 300 organisations and has been associated with Save the Children for over fifty years.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given.

My mother often told me: “the sooner you realise life is not fair, the happier you will be.”

At first it seemed a cynical perspective, but over the years I’ve recognised the wisdom in her words. We all encounter setbacks and missed opportunities - pining for the ‘what ifs’ will only lead to frustration. Accepting imperfect realities, while retaining a sense of hope and agency to shape our future, is a mature outlook that breeds contentment.

If you had to work in a different industry, which would you choose?
I would go back to landscape gardening. I retrained many years ago and had a great little business helping women create a garden. I had a trailer, a concrete mixer and plenty of energy. They would take a couple of weeks of work, and we would build brick retaining walls and lay paving slabs. Then we would have a day out buying beautiful plants to plant together. Many of these women honestly had never done any DIY and often felt very empowered by their achievements, even going onto decorating and of course they had a lovely garden to take care of and enjoy.

I remember one garden I did with my husband and children, who were quite young then, for an elderly friend who I did Reiki training with. She went away for the weekend, and we borrowed her garden gate key to build a teak deck at the bottom of her garden under an apple tree. I will never forget the look of wonderment on her face when we welcomed her home.

The Rolling Stones or Beatles?
As a child of the 60s, I have to go with the unrivalled cool of the Rolling Stones. Their gritty, soulful rock and rebellious attitudes spoke to me more than the pop perfection of the Beatles. To this day, I have many memories of dancing to tracks like ‘Can’t get no Satisfaction.’

What would you do with £1 million?
I would invest every penny into Alchemy. We’re expanding across the Sahara so it would no doubt come in handy!! My business partner Malick and I have built a business that provides vital digital solutions across Africa, not least of all our SMS transactional services to financial institutions, that are reliable, timely and charged in local currency. We have ambitious plans for expansion that our current funding can’t fully support. An infusion of £1 million would accelerate our ability to serve millions more people across the continent and would go a long way towards our mission of bridging both the financial and digital divide in Africa and beyond. That would make every struggle we’ve faced well worth it.

What is the greatest technological advancement in your lifetime?
I can remember us getting our first TV, working on a computer using the old DOS operating system and then the internet. However, I think the mobile phone is awesome. The technical developments that have led to smart phones which enable us to run our lives wherever we are. Here in West Africa, there seem to be more mobile phones than people. SMS is used widely, and the functionalities are really closing the digital and financial divide. Let us see in the next years where 5g and AI will take us…