The evolution of markets is something all businesses must prepare for especially if the field is rapidly changing such as the technology sector. When it was made known that two undersea cable projects were good to go with heavy capitalization from different consortia, the market hummed in anticipation of the possibilities more so after the “overnight” success stories of silicon valley based garage startups that quickly picked up venture capital funding with obscene valuations with some getting to the holy grail that is an IPO, making headlines.
Nowhere else was the fever highest than in the mobile sector where the old song that is Mpesa gave us global recognition, igniting dreams to the next big thing that would be really Kenyan, drawing to the fact that Kenya only provided an excellent test bed with a most peculiar breed of consumer, leading to worldwide acclaim of the now almost ubiquitous mobile money service.
With an arguable pseudo-monopoly that has delivered good returns for investors, Safaricom has had the daunting task of innovating or adapting services to maintain market leadership amid a most competitive environment. With ideas not mutually exclusive and catalyzed by the fever that had gripped those dabbling in technology, the operator was faced head on with numerous claims of IP theft from concept notes or proposals sent through by eager entrepreneurs. Things came to a head when Safaricom earned the tag “the big green monster”. Driven by a now worked up community, Safaricom moved to establish the Innovation Board that consisted of community proposed members. The boards’ stint was short-lived but managed to give insights to the operator on the pain points and possible models of engagement.
How things change; and slowly, arguably guided by strategy and an obviously sleeping peer group, Safaricom began engaging its publics with partnerships such as that with Strathmore and Vodafone to setup the Safaricom Academy and by hiring specifically for a newly created docket. In came the app competitions that have been loved and hated in equal measure and a more solid but proactive engagement with local companies with the structures in place to supply services to them, with a number of local entrepreneurs quietly making bank.
Riding the benefits of a maturing ecosystem and a vastly improved public image, it was now time for the big move to scale the benefits of engaging a larger number of now qualified, educated and in some instances battle-hardened entrepreneurs. Extracting value from innovation requires a process and to maintain focus and credibility, they engaged a firm whose daily do is this. Enter TBL Invest who have dirtied their hands in this market already and know the psyche of the Kenyan techprenuer. A rising tide affects all ships and while the agenda is still selfish as are all good business strategies, this move is most welcome and the execution of it, talks a lot into the lessons learnt over four short years.