If you can send a text message of 160 characters then why not send a message with 1,000 characters? This was the question Mr. Mbugua Njihia and his CTO, Mr.Idd Salim sought to answer in late 2008.
Business Daily spoke with Mr. Mbugua Njihia – Chief Executive Officer, Symbiotic Media at their Kilimani offices on the introduction of East Africa’s first mobile social network, Sembuse, which was launched in July this year.
Symbiotic Media Consortium launched Sembuse this year, what is Sembuse?
Sembuse as a concept and idea was born in December of 2008 as we brainstormed over messaging solutions with my co-director Mr. Idd Salim. We were frustrated by the limitations of SMS which presented challenges, both for the products that we were developing as well as on an individual level. We built the prototype through January of 2009 and did testing and focus groups slowly over the first quarter of 2009.Alot of tweaks and changes were done through that period that saw us arrive at the first public beta version of our mobile social network.
Sembuse is a mobile application that offers a messaging and content platform that allows users to communicate more affordably as well as access varied content directly on their mobile phones.
The cost of sending a message to another user on the Sembuse network is Sh0.50 while it is Sh2.50 to send a regular SMS to any GSM network in Africa, both options offering vast cost savings on messaging alone.
The mobile social network currently supports five different languages, Swahili, Chinese, German, French and English which allows one to invite their friends from all over the world.
It is also mobile operator agnostic meaning one can access the social network from anywhere in the world to send and receive messages as well as consume content from the local scene using the content discovery features.
How does Sembuse work and is it different from other social networks?
Compared to other social websites, Sembuse has a proprietary adversting platform that serves hyper targeted adversting to its users based on the context of the messages being sent as well as the more generic but still targeted adversting that allows local advertisers to set up, manage and choose their target market (age, gender, region etc) in real-time from their mobile phones as well as from a web interface. The advertiser is also able to monitor how well their campaign is doing and even get a projected reach before they place the advert. The adverts are served immediately the order is confirmed. The cost to the advertiser is very affordable, currently less than any other adversting medium.
Using this platform one can send messages, view mobisodes, get stock market updates , get the latest sports action, news alerts, rave crave and get hot gossip on the same user interface . The content is a mix of free and paid up content depending on the channel one is using. One can also update other social networks such as facebook and twitter from within Sembuse.
For example, to get unlimited breaking news for a day the charge is Sh10. The news is delivered to the custom inbox and can be upto 1,000 characters and can include audio and video. Compared to the current prevailing models where one is charged between Ksh. 5 to Ksh. 10 per news alert limited to 160 characters, Sembuse is a great deal and offers tremendous value.
The payment is done via Mpesa and Zap for those in Kenya and PayPal for Kenyans in the diaspora.
We are able to build custom mobile applications for brands that wish to connect to our platform and engage our users. An example of how this is done is the custom versions of our mobile social network that we have pushed for our local varsities.
How many users does Sembuse have currently and who are your target market?
Currently we have an install base of approximately 15,000 but an active user base of 3,160.
Our target market is users of mobile data services and this comprises users of mobile social networks, users of mobile applications and consumers of mobile content who are looking for enhanced value addition on their mobile phone.
This is because mobile has the deepest penetration with approximately 4 Million people using the mobile web locally and especially so the youth who are early adopters.
What future plans do you have for the service?
We have a lot more coming in 2010, where we will seek to push for wider adoption of our mobile social network and rollout some exciting new features. Full integration with our flagship product Zunguka has been completed, ensuring a seamless user experience across our entire service range for our users in the future. Rolling out to other high value, high volume African markets is also on the plate.