18 September 2008
Posted to the web 18 September 2008
Timothy Mbugua is the CEO of Symbiotic Media Consortium. He started the company to provide a “one-stop shop” for promotions and campaigns, using a full suite of media products to engage clients. This includes print campaigns, web presence and mobile applications.
In addition to corporations, we’re also making products for the local mwananchi [citizen]. If there are five corporations we’re working for, we will have to wait three months down the line to get payment. But for mwananchi solutions, they pay before consuming the service, hence cash flow is improved for us and we have more to work with.
One of the products is Zunguka, which is pretty much a tool for collaborating. We’ve plugged in a viral aspect to it – if you refer friends you can earn redeemable points for the cinema and things like that.
Zunguka is a suite of six products: one is called TumaSMS, or “Send SMS” [short message service] in Kiswahili. There are two categories for that product: TumaSMS Mwananchi and TumaSMS Biashara. TumaSMS Mwananchi is a service to send short messages through the Internet using your own number. On TumaSMS Biashara we enable businesses to send SMSs to their client bases.
At the same time, on TumaSMS Mwananchi, you can opt to send free SMS messages by joining our advertising program. If I send you a message, for example, that says “how’s life,” Coca-Cola has bought 100,000 tags through us so that every time someone sends a message including the word “life” we attach an advertisement saying “Live on the Coke side of life.” So you can choose to send your messages either cheaply or for free through value-added text. It’s becoming pretty popular with corporations here.
A classic example of something we’ve done is a product called Esplanade for stock brokerage houses. As a client, you can access your stock portfolio account through the web, SMS and email. For example, I can send a quick message saying, “Sell my Safaricom shares at 50 bob [shillings].” But how do I know when to buy or sell? Well, I can set up my account to alert me anytime Safaricom, for example, gets to eight shillings. So I don’t have to keep track of it by constantly calling my broker.
It’s very exciting, because what’s on the market currently is access to share prices for the cost of a premium rate SMS. If you have a portfolio of 10 stocks, [it] would cost you 100 bob [about U.S. $1.60] to check them all. But if you use Zunguka, viewing those 10 stocks would cost you about 12 shillings instead.
Esplanade is pushed from the broker end. So brokers end up doing a lot of the customer education. If there’s any activity on your account, you will be alerted. This helps combat fraud on the brokerage end and increases investor confidence.
There’s another product called SMSoko where we’re simply connecting buyers and sellers via SMS and web. Not all SMEs [small and medium enterprises] can afford advertising in the newspapers. So they can join Zunguka and create their SMSoko, meaning SMS Market. It can be updated via web or SMS. You list your product, a description and a price.
If I [as a consumer] am looking for, say, black Timberland boots, I simply send an SMS and I get an SMS in return saying, for example, “We’ve found 100 traders, but because you entered via SMS we will send you the first two.” Some people have asked us, well, for those 100 traders, how do you make sure everyone gets noticed? Well, those two sellers are a random pick from the group, and all 100 traders will get a message that you are looking for black Timberland boots.
We also have a product called Kelele Mobile, which provides mobile entertainment: ringtones, wallpapers, MP3s videos – all that. It’s already a market that’s really growing, but we’re targeting East Africa by providing local content, which is very popular. Once you join Zunguka, you can share your Kelele content with friends on the network, building a full-on community.
We’re working hard at taking Zunguka international and throughout Africa. A lot of people in the Diaspora want to use our low-rate text service to contact friends and family.
We’ve designed a few other mobile services outside of Zunguka. We designed an SMS service for retrieving national examination results for secondary students. We also designed a program which sends alerts to HIV patients in western Kenya reminding them to take their antiretroviral medications. The doctor just needs to enter the patient information in a computer, and the system sends automated reminders to that patient. The patients know where that information is coming from, and they appreciate the privacy that comes with it. Another project we’re looking to do in September is creating an electronic register for political parties to prevent… electoral fraud.
Beyond that, we’re trying to work with the networks to improve what we can offer to clients. We’re really excited about location-based services. Imagine you’re walking on the street in town and you pass one of your favorite coffee joints. You then get a text on your phone telling you that you can bring in the electronic coupon for 30 percent off your cup of coffee. The possibilities are great.
Another service is called Saa Zingine, or Sometimes. It’s a dating service. We’re looking at using Zain’s One Network to do location-based services based on text. So I can just ask where the person I want to date is, and if they reveal their location to me we can meet up or chat on SMS or whatever we choose. It’s a very playful part of the portal. You can put up a profile and search others. Once you add location-based services, it takes it a notch higher. So we’ll do the Kenya launch, then the Tanzania and Uganda launches. We’ve been advised that Nigeria might be an interesting market to grow in just because of sheer numbers.
In Africa, there’s still a whole market to cover in terms of voice and SMS. But for me, 150,000 people with high-end phones provide sufficient reason to develop sophisticated applications. But I need to know that the network will allow me to take some of the 50 shillings that [a user] has made for the network by using my services. So more agreements need to come in, or we’ll be forced to continue basing everything on text, where the networks [take] more than 50 percent. The marketing is yours, the application development is yours, but the networks profit.