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Main article: Kenya

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TechCrunch’s Startup Battlefield is coming soon to Beirut, São Paolo and Lagos

11:00 | 17 June

Everyone knows there are thriving startup communities outside of obvious hubs, like San Francisco, Berlin, Bangalore and Beijing, but they don’t always get the support they deserve. Last year, TechCrunch took a major page from its playbook, the Startup Battlefield competition, and staged the event in Nairobi, Kenya to find the best early stage startup in Sub-Saharan Africa, and also to Sydney, Australia, to find the same for Australia and New Zealand. Both were successes, thanks to talented founders and the hard traveling TechCrunch team. And now we’re pleased to announce that we’re stepping up our commitment to emerging ecosystems.

TechCrunch is once again teaming up with Facebook, our partner for last year’s Nairobi event, to bring the Startup Battlefield to three major cities representing regions with vital, emerging startup communities. In Beirut, TechCrunch’s editors will strive to find the best early stage startup in the Middle East and North Africa. In São Paolo, the hunt is for the best in Latin America. And in Lagos, Nigeria, TechCrunch will once again find the top startup in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Early stage startups are welcome to apply. We will choose 15 companies in each region to compete, and we will provide travel support for the finalists to reach the host city. The finalists will also receive intensive coaching from TechCrunch’s editors to hone their pitches to a razor’s edge before they take the stage in front of top venture capitalists from the region and around the world. Winners will receive $25,000 plus a trip for two to the next TechCrunch Disrupt event, where they can exhibit free of charge, and, if qualified, have a chance to be selected to participate in the Startup Battlefield competition associated with that Disrupt. In the world of founders, the Startup Battlefield finalists are an elite; the more than 750 Startup Battlefield alums have raised over $8 billion and produced 100+ exits to date.

What are the dates? They will be finalized shortly but Beirut is on track for early October, São Paolo for early November, and Lagos in early December.  In the meantime, founders eager start an application for one of these Startup Battlefields may do so 
by visiting apply.techcrunch.com . Look for more details next week.

Interested in sponsoring one of the events? Email us at Sponsors@TechCrunch.com



Safaricom rolls out Bonga social networking platform to augment M-Pesa

18:43 | 30 April

Jake Bright Contributor
Jake Bright is a writer and author in New York City. He is co-author of The Next Africa.

When it comes to monetizing digital social interactions, Kenya’s Safaricom has its own order. American tech companies such as Facebook and Twitter offered social networks first, then moved to commercialize them.

Through its M-Pesa mobile money product, Safaricom built one of Africa’s most robust commercial webs and now aims to leverage it as a social network.

The vehicle is the company’s new Bonga platform, something Kenya’s largest telco rolls out in pilot phase this week. An outgrowth of the Safaricom’s Alpha innovation incubator, “Bonga is a conversational and transactional social network,” Shikoh Gitau, Alpha’s Head of Products told TechCrunch.

“It’s focused on pay, play, and purpose…as the three main things our research found people do on our payment and mobile network,” she said. Gitau offered examples: pay could be using M-Pesa and SMS to coordinate anything from tuition payments to e-commerce, play spans online sports betting to gaming, and purpose includes SMS or WhatsApp chat groups that raise money for weddings, holidays, or Kenya’s informal investment groups.

“In our [Bonga] research we’ve said ‘what can we do to build upon those three network behaviors in our network that is Safaricom?,’” she said.

I recently sat in on an Alpha product development session in Nairobi and talked to Safaricom CIO Kamal Battacharya on his vision for the product late last year, as reported at TechCrunch.

“Safaricom’s unique in that we have telco services and a financial services platform that connect nearly every household in Kenya largely on the basis of trade,” he said.

“We’d actually like to move beyond M-Pesa by leveraging its power as a social network to connect people to other product solutions.”

As a telco, Safaricom­—still  has 69 percent of the Kenya’s mobile subscribers. Its M-Pesa fintech app―which generated $525 million of the company’s $2 billion annual revenues―boasts 27 million customers across a network of 136,000 agents.

Through in-house development and partnerships, the company continues to add consumer and small business-based products to its mobile and fintech network. These include digital TV, the M-Kopa solar-powered lighting kit, and Lipa-Na bill pay service.

This week Safaricom will offer Bonga to a test group of 600 users, before updating the product, allowing the initial group to refer it to friends, and then extending the platform in three phases.

Bonga Sasa will facilitate messaging and money transfer between individuals, “enabling users to send or receive money while conversing with each other,” according to a Safaricom release. For example, through Bonga Sasa a parent can send money to the child without having to leave the platform to access another money transfer tool.

Bonga Baraza, expected in mid-2018, will allow users to collect money for purpose driven events, including Kenya’s harambee collective fundraising drives.

Bonga Biashara will build on this use of social networks for commerce. Digitizing Kenya’s extensive informal trading commerce is at play here. Alpha’s research found roughly “2.5 million people doing side-hustles with a smartphone in Kenya” and 12.5 million total running small businesses on smart and USSD devices, according to Gitau.

Bonga will channel Facebook, YouTube, iTunes, PayPal, and eBay in one platform. Users will be able to create business profiles parallel to their personal social media profiles and M-Pesa accounts and sell online. Bonga will also include space for Kenya’s creative class to upload, shape, and distribute artistic products and content.

As for Safaricom’s Bonga monetization plan, it’s not an immediate priority, according to the Alpha team members I spoke to. “We’ll offer it for free for now, and it’s connected to M-Pesa, which is already monetized,” said Gitau. “The more these services grow and grow small businesses the more they grow M-Pesa..which is already profitable.”

Safaricom is exploring how to take Bonga beyond Kenya’s borders, which could include markets where both M-Pesa and Vodafone are present: currently 10 in Europe, Africa, and South Asia.

Photo courtesy of Flickr/WorldRemit



African VC TLcom Capital invests $5M in Nigerian data analytics firm Terragon Group

20:30 | 29 March

The African venture firm TLcom Capital is betting on Africa’s data analytics markets with a $5M investment in Nigerian based Terragon Group, the developer of a software analytics service for customer acquisition.

TLcom’s commitment is the second from its $40 million TIDE Africa Fund for early and growth-stage digital companies.

“We liked…that the business has matured into a new platform with very strong technology behind it,” said TLcom Capital Partner, Ido Sum “It allows the largest advertisers and brands…to reach consumers in a way they couldn’t do before.”

Located in Lagos, Terragon’s software services give its clients — primarily telecommunications and financial services companies — data on Africa’s growing consumer markets.

Products allow users to drill down on multiple combinations of behavioral and demographic information and reach consumers through video and SMS campaigns while connecting to online sales and payments systems, according to the company.

“We can track across several layers — web, mobile, mobile money — and track data to do things channel agnostically,” said Terragon CEO Elo Umeh, on how Terragon captures consumer info from multiple sources.

These tracking services are enabled by a lack of regulation around data privacy in the country. “There is currently no comprehensive data privacy or personal information protection law in Nigeria,” said CTO Ayodeji Balogun of Terragon’s largest market. “A bill is being considered and we are actively engaging with regulators and legislators to create a clear path.”

Beyond government mandates Balogun highlighted Terragon’s internal controls, “Adrenaline was built using a comprehensive data governance framework to ensure data security and consumer privacy,” he said. The company is also working with Deloitte to implement ISO/IEC 27001 information security standards “across all our platforms, systems, and processes,” said Balogun.

The company has a team of 100 employees across Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, and South Africa. Top customer sectors across countries span fast moving consumer goods, financial services, gaming and betting, and NGOs, according to Umeh.

“We are helping everyone we work for to intelligently reach the mobile user in Africa,” he said. “We are providing them data…driving accuracy, and making sure they are communicating with the right person at the right time, and at the right place.”

Terragon generates revenue primarily on transaction facilitation for its clients.  TLcom Capital is their first formal investor, according to Umeh. Though the company does not release financial statements, he said Terragon had bootstrapped itself into the black. “We are profitable. We’ve been in business for 8 years and have grown to revenues of between $4 and $5 million dollars a year.”

Consumer research in Africa is emerging as a professional industry as the continent’s large informal business space—representing some 55 percent of the continent’s economic activity—modernizes.  The growth of consumer spending, e-commerce, mobile penetration, and Africa’s improving broadband landscape are facilitating this, while creating opportunities for data services.  

Big global firms such as Nielsen and Euromonitor have upped their African consumer research offerings. An American company, GeoPoll, has also built out a digital survey service and database in multiple African countries. mSurvey, a Kenyan based startup specializing in mobile data collection, developed a Consumer Wallet product with partner Safaricom in 2017 and recently expanded in to Nigeria.

Meanwhile, Umeh sees global possibilities for the company’s platform. Terragon already has a consumer data research and development team in India and is contemplating expansion in Asia and the Americas. “Today the strategy is to be dominant on the continent of Africa,” said Umeh. “At some stage we’ll look at licensing our technology into Southeast Asia and Latin America. We think our technology is relevant South of the equator. We also think we can generate interest out of large advertisers looking at Africa from New York,” he said.



EdTech is having a renaissance, powered by the emerging world

18:12 | 18 March

So-called ‘EdTech’ has seen many false dawns over the years. After being lauded as the teaching platforms of the future, most MOOCs (Massive Open Online Course platforms) have not quite lived up to the superlatives made for them, and the sector has had trouble coming up with more innovative ideas for a while.

But that appears to be changing if a new wave of startups is any indication. In Dubai this weekend I was invited to judge a number of education startups which are really trying to move the need on EdTech, and in particular on a sector with almost unlimited potential. That is, education platforms aimed at the emerging world, where the hunger for scalable education is almost incalculable.

Consider this: Ethopia, now a far more stable country that it once was, contains more people under 25 than almost anywhere else, and it has a population of over 100 million people. And consider the potential for EdTech to transform countries like India, for instance. This is going to be a very interesting market in the future, as well as being an urgent issue. According to UNESCO, 264 million children do not have access to schooling, while at least 600 million more are “in school but not learning”. These are children who are not achieving even basic skills in maths and reading, which the World Bank calls a “learning crisis”.

A taste of what is to be found in this sector was showcased today at the “Next Billion Edtech Prize,” launched at the Global Education & Skills Forum (think: Davos/WEF for Education) by the Varkey Foundation to recognize the most innovative technology startups destined to have a radical impact on education in low income and emerging world countries.

The overall winner in the competition was Chatterbox, an online language school powered by refugees

This web platform harnesses the wasted talent of unemployed professionals who are refugees, offering them work as online and in-person language tutors. Based in the UK, where there is a language skills shortage estimated to cost the economy £48bn every year, Chatterbox has now signed up several UK universities and major non-profits and corporations to use its services. Having raised a seed round from impact-fund Bethnal Green Ventures, it’s now looking for further funding to expand.

Co-founder and CEO Mursal Hedayat was three years old when she arrived in the UK as a refugee from Afghanistan with her mother, a civil engineer who spoke English and three other languages fluently. “I watched her become unemployed in the UK for more than a decade. Refugees with degrees and valuable skills still face shockingly high levels of underemployment. An idea like Chatterbox has never been more urgently needed,” she says. (Indeed, the conference later heard from Al Gore who quoted research that showed millions of people will become refugees due to climate change in the next few decades).

Chatterbox’s fellow finalists for the $25,000 prize on offer were equally interesting.

Dot Learn was almost literally the same as ‘Silicon Valley’s PiedPiper. It makes online video e-learning far more accessible on slow connections for users in low-income countries, especially because it compresses educational video so making it cheaper to access. Its technology reduces the file-size of learning videos, requiring 1/100th of the bandwidth to watch. At current data prices in Kenya and Nigeria, this means a student or learner can access 5 hrs of online learning for about the cost of sending a single text message ($0.014). The startup was a notable finalist during TechCrunch’s Battlefield Africa.

TeachMeNow is a gig-economy platform for teachers. This marketplace connects teachers, experts, and mentors to students. The technology combines scheduling, payments and live virtual sessions that can connect on any device allows tens of thousands of teachers to create their own online businesses, with some earning over $100,000 last year. In addition, schools and companies including Microsoft use TeachMeNow software to create their own-branded online learning communities.

Sunny Varkey, Founder of the Varkey Foundation and the Next Billion Prize says he launched the prize because “over a billion young people – a number growing every day – are being denied what should be the birthright of every single child. The prize will highlight technology’s potential to tackle the problems that have proven too difficult for successive generations of politicians to solve.”

Other notable finalists included Learning Machine. This using the blockchain as a secure anchor of trust makes verifying the authenticity of a document instantaneously, specifically education documents like university degrees. They are now working to put all the educational records of Malta online.

Localized is a new platform for college students and aspiring professionals in emerging economies to find career guidance, role models and expertise from global professionals who share language and roots (think Slack meets Quora for college students in emerging markets, drawing on diaspora expertise).

The Biz Nation is an EdTech startup focused on empowering youth with technology skills, soft skills, entrepreneurship and financial intelligence through a methodology that improves user’s learning about creating a business.



Uber launches a new lower-priced service called Chap Chap in Nairobi

17:06 | 13 February

Uber has launched a new, lower-cost service in Nairobi called Uber Chap Chap. Made possible by using a fleet of fuel-efficient budget sedans, Uber Chap Chap (Swahili slang for “hurry, hurry”) is currently available in several areas of the Kenyan capital, including its central business district.

Uber, which began testing the service at the end of January, may launch it throughout the rest of Nairobi and in the capital cities of Uganda and Tanzania if it proves successful, the company’s East Africa general manager Loic Amado told Reuters.

To make Uber Chap Chap possible, Uber worked out a deal with CMC Motors, a car importer based in Nairobi, to import 300 Suzuki Altos. An unglamorous but inexpensive and fuel-efficient hatchback sedan, the Suzuki Altos were offered to highly-rated Uber drivers with financing by Stanbic, a Kenyan bank, that allows them to own the vehicle in three years.

Since the Suzuki Alto can travel further on less fuel, Uber is able to offer Uber Chap Chap’s lower prices. The minimum cost for a ride on the service is 100 Kenyan shillings (about 99 cents), compared to 150 shillings ($1.48) for UberX.

In Kenya, Uber faces competition from ride-hailing services like Little and Taxify. Uber Chap Chap gives it another way to differentiate, though Uber’s Nairobi drivers have complained that launching lower-priced services undercuts their earnings.

Featured Image: Jacek_Sopotnicki/Getty Images



Africa’s SureRemit joins the tokenized race to win the global remittance market

10:30 | 12 December

Nigerian based SureRemit has launched a crypto token aimed at money sent home by global immigrants.

The startup — which is incorporated in Mauritius — offered pre-sales of its remittance focused tokens this week, before a January 2018 ICO. SureRemit will use blockchain partner Stellar’s platform.

The company is connecting its crypto product — which is not redeemable by consumers for cash — to a network of pre-approved merchants in Nigeria, Kenya, and Rwanda. SureRemit plans to launch in India and the Middle East in the second quarter of 2018.

Clients can use SureRemit’s app to present tokens as payment for things such as utility bills, student tuition, and online consumer goods. African e-commerce giant Jumia is among its merchant partners.

There’ll be no purchase or transfer fees for the tokens above face value. SureRemit will generate revenue from businesses, who pay a percentage on each token transaction, and then redeem the tokens (less fees) for cash from SureRemit. 

SureRemit’s merchant network — according to co-founder Samuel-Biyi — views the fees as the cost of accessing a new pool of customers. “We’re a big channel to connecting them to the multi-billion dollar market of remittance inflows,” he said “So our model is transferring costs of remittances to the merchant side away from the sender side.”    

Remittances — and the high fees charged by money transmitters such as Western Union and MoneyGram — represent an enormous pool of global capital. According to World Bank stats, roughly 250 million global migrants transferred $601 billion to their home countries in 2016. More than half, $441 billion, went to developing countries: $39 to Sub-Saharan Africa, $69 billion to India, and $20 billion to Nigeria.

On global remittance fees, Sub-Saharan Africa pays the highest fees — roughly 10 percent per $200 — of any other region.

One of SureRemit’s backers, 500 Startups, sees these high transfer costs as a disruptive opportunity for the venture. “The fees are horrible, and Western Union is ripping off people who can least afford it,” said 500 Startups Partner, Marvin Liao. “It’s a huge market…and a lot of these basic financial and commerce needs that people have are still not being addressed effectively,” Liao said of the potential for SureRemit’s crypto token product in Africa.

On the regulatory side, SureRemit’s Samuel-Biyi sees less risk of their crypto token product being used for money-laundering compared to other block-chain payments systems, such as Bitcoin. “Because it’s not cash redeemable and tied to particular merchants…one would not be able to transform tokens to cash that easily. This makes it an unattractive money laundering channel,” he said.

To the question of why consumers would use SureRemit’s crypto tokens versus other blockchain finance products, Biyi named “speed and cost” as competitive advantages. “Remit tokens ensure zero-cost, high-velocity cross-border transactions, which Bitcoin is not currently optimized for,” he said.

SureRemit has already proven market demand for cashless consumer payment and merchant programs through its predecessor, SureGifts product. SureGifts customers purchase digital shopping vouchers via e-mail or SMS, and use them for payment at 300 partner merchants in Rwanda, Nigeria, and Kenya. SureRemit plans to leverage this network for its new remittance focused crypto token.



Safaricom launches innovation center to move beyond M-Pesa

09:30 | 19 October

Safaricom, Kenya’s largest telecom company and provider of the nation’s mobile money service, M-Pesa, has launched a new innovation center in Nairobi.

Named Safaricom Alpha, a priority of the incubator is to identify spending patterns on mPesa and turn those insights into additional Safaricom products — according to Chief Innovation Officer, Kamal Bhattacharya.

“Safaricom’s unique in that we have telco services and a financial services platform that connect nearly every household in Kenya largely on the basis of trade,” he told TechCrunch at Startup Battlefield Africa.

Safaricom Chief Innovation Officer, Kamal Bhattacharya

“We’d actually like to move beyond M-Pesa by leveraging its power as a social network to connect people to other product solutions,” said Bhattacharya.

Safaricom has 73 percent of the Kenya’s mobile subscribers. Its M-Pesa fintech app―which generated $525 million of the telco’s $2 billion annual revenues―boasts 27 million customers across a network of 136,000 agents.

Through in-house development and partnerships, the company has been adding consumer and small business-based products to its mobile and fintech network. These include digital TV, the M-Kopa solar-powered lighting kit, Lipa-Na bill pay service, and Little ride-hail app―now going head to head with Uber Kenya. Safaricom will launch an e-commerce platform in coming months dubbed Masoko.

Noting Safaricom’s current customer driven product view, Bhattacharya hopes the new Alpha innovation center can find ways to “better adapt to our customer needs by taking a timeline view of a customer’s journey from when they join Safaricom to the present to offer commercial solutions for them.”

He sees the Kenyan company in a better position to do this than some of the social networking giants. “Facebook and others have connected people well on a social level, but are still at a fairly nascent stage in digital monetary transactions,” he said. “Safaricom already has an extensive network of people, merchants, and governments all connected through monetary transactions.”

He sees one of the innovation center’s first products “as a messenger solution with full payment integration to better support the kind of social patterns that our customers are already using informally.”

Safaricom’s innovation center will be located in Nairobi’s Kilimani neighborhood,  outside the company’s main office.

Some leadership positions have already been named. Former African Development Bank technology lead, Dr. Shikoh Gitua, will be Head of Products Innovation. Safaricom’s Veronica Ogeto-Tchoketch will head the innovation center’s Strategic Partnerships unit and David Nyamai will manage a Business Intelligence and Big Data team.

While still under construction, Safaricom’s innovation center is now operational. The product incubator will eventually connect to a VC function, including Safaricom’s Spark Venture Fund, to support investments and partnerships. “We haven’t formalized those kinds of things yet, but it will happen over time,” said Bhattacharya.



Kenyan startup BRCK launches SupaBRCK device to solve Africa’s internet equation

19:59 | 8 March

Kenyan communications hardware company BRCK unveiled its SupaBRCK this week — a waterproof, solar-powered Wi-Fi box that operates as a 3G hotspot and off-grid server.

SupaBRCK is the sequel to BRCK’s eponymous debut product, launched in 2013 to tackle two common African IT challenges: reliable power and viable internet options.

BRCK version 1 delivered connectivity and USB charging for up to 20 devices. The new SupaBRCK — with its dual core processor and a 5 terabyte hard drive — can be plopped down in just about any environment to provide up to 100 internet connections, streaming video for 50 devices and enough server capacity to run a Linux stack.

Accompanying BRCK’s hardware product is the startup’s new Moja service, which will provide ad-supported free public internet access and a content delivery network (CDN) service through SupaBRCK devices.

“We are moving from just being a hardware company to becoming a platform company, as we connect SupaBRCK to Moja and start having a network that covers entire countries,” BRCK chief executive Erik Hersman told TechCrunch.

As a startup, BRCK’s central focus has been delivering internet to Africa’s masses. Despite progress on mobile phone ownership and ICT infrastructure over the last decade, the continent remains one of the world’s most digitally disconnected. Though some countries, such as Kenya and South Africa, have attained high usage, internet penetration for the continent lingers at less than one- third of Africa’s estimated 1.2 billion people.

Improving those numbers, according to Hersman, is as much about cost as actual internet availability. “The demand on internet in Africa is largely driven by the 10 to 15 percent who can afford it. The real massive opportunity is trying to connect the 70 to 80 percent of the people who can’t. That’s where the internet race really is,” Hersman said.

BRCK’s revenue strategy, according to Hersman, includes not just generating sales from hardware, but “figuring out a business model that allows internet to work for those who can’t pay for it, while still generating a profit.”

Achieving this is a work in progress, he explained. Hersman noted possibilities to connect BRCK’s CDN network to greater advertising partners. There are also opportunities for partnerships with blue chip tech firms moving into Africa. “Most of the big companies — Google, satellite companies — are all doing transmission, they are not doing distribution,” said Hersman. “That’s where BRCK has a real competitive advantage and it makes us good partners with those companies. They provide the transmission end and we provide the transition out — that last meter between your phone and the Wi-Fi.”

Improving internet availability and affordability in Africa had become central to the continent’s burgeoning IT ecosystem. Pan-African e-commerce startups like Jumia need it to create a customer base. For global tech companies such as Facebook, Google, and Netflix — all of which increased their presence in Africa in 2016 — viable net access underpins growth possibilities on the continent.

BRCK, which is an outgrowth of Kenya’s iHub and Ushahidi crowdsourcing company, has been developing a suite of products to meet public and private internet needs.

Founded by Hersman with a leadership team that includes tech leader Juliana Rotich, the Kenyan startup is backed by $4.2 million from investors, including Steve Case and TED. BRCK moved into education in 2016 with its KIO classroom tablets. It also will offer a new PicoBRCK — an ultra-rugged device designed for Internet of Things applications — later this year. Retail sales for the $700 SupaBRCK begin this summer. The mini-server and Moja network are being deployed in Kenya and Rwanda this month.

Hersman sees global application for the company’s products “anywhere there are internet connectivity challenges.”

He notes the first BRCK shipped to more than 50 countries and views potential in markets where people have low disposable income. “The adjustable market for internet in Africa alone is 800 million people. The adjustable market throughout all frontier markets is about 3 billion. Most of those people live on less than $2 a day,” he said.



Safaricom and mSurvey launch Consumer Wallet to map Africa’s cash economy

09:30 | 7 March

Kenya’s leading mobile provider, Safaricom, is teaming up with data collection startup, mSurvey, to launch Consumer Wallet―an online platform using mobile and SMS to map Africa’s cash-based economy.

A beta version of the product goes live in Kenya this month. Safaricom and mSurvey are testing the app with potential clients and corporate partners, including McKinsey Consulting, mSurvey CEO Kenfield Griffith told TechCrunch.

Consumer Wallet will be available on a subscription and license basis as early as August 2017. “We are refining the product with a group of potential clients to design the pricing model,” said Griffith. “We are scaling it along Kenya, but also looking beyond because we are not just solving a Kenyan problem, we are solving an African problem.”

Griffith was referring to the challenge many business face of quantifying consumer spending habits and trends on the continent, where over 50 percent of economic activity and employment occurs in informal sectors, according to the African Development Bank.

Based in Kenya and operating since 2012, mSurvey harnesses Africa’s shift to digital to better track consumer preferences. The startup employs mobile phone based surveys to gather data on various topics and market segments. mSurvey has received seed and venture funds  from backers including Cross Culture Ventures and Alpha Angels. It also counts Safaricom’s Spark Venture Fund as an investor.

The Consumer Wallet partnership pairs mSurvey’s data research function to Safaricom’s internal resources and distribution network. Safaricom is Kenya’s largest telco, with 25 million (65 percent) of the country’s mobile subscribers.

In addition to its M-Pesa mobile money product―used by 16.6 million Kenyans through a 100,744 agent network―the company has been adding consumer and small business based products to its mobile network. These include digital TV, the M-Kopa solar powered lighting kit, Lipa-Na bill pay service, and Little ride-hail app, which is now going head to head with Uber.

For the Consumer Wallet beta test, mSurvey will use daily SMS and text messages to track the cash-based spending of a 1000 person sample drawn from Safaricom mobile subscribers. This will feed into the Consumer Wallet database tracking preferences and expenditures on items such as food, transport, education, and housing.

The Consumer Wallet launch follows a trend of consumer research in Africa becoming a formalized sector. A decade of growth and reform in many of the continent’s core economies along with expansion in retail sectors has driven demand for more detailed customer data.

Several global consumer-focused companies have expanded in Africa over the last decade, from Wal-Mart in 2011 to Netflix and e-Bay in 2016.

Big global research firms such as Nielsen and Euromonitor have been upping their African consumer research offerings. An American company, GeoPoll, has also built out a digital survey service and database in 20 African countries.

mSurvey expanded its core consumer research platform into South Africa in 2016 and is looking at moving into countries such as Zambia, Ghana, and Nigeria, according to CEO Kenfield Griffith. Though neither would name countries, both mSurvey and Safaricom plan to take the new Consumer Wallet beyond test market Kenya to other nations on the continent.

“To invest in Africa, you have to understand its consumers,” said Safaricom CEO Bob Collymore on the value of the new platform to businesses looking to tap the continent’s cash-based economy.



Africa Roundup: Zuckerberg’s visit, IBM’s new research center

13:30 | 29 September

Jake Bright Crunch Network Contributor

Jake Bright is a writer and author in New York City. He is co-author of The Next Africa.

More posts by this contributor:
  • McKinsey says digital finance adoption could add trillions to high growth economies
  • Iroko launches IrokoX online network to showcase Africa’s creative talent
How to join the network

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s surprise August/September trip to Nigeria and Kenya put the global spotlight on Africa’s emerging IT ecosystem. Unsurprisingly, when one of the world’s most recognized tech entrepreneurs pops up at startups and tech hubs few have heard of it draws attention.

News of Zuckerberg’s unannounced visit broke with social media photos of him visiting Nigeria’s Co-Creation Hub (Cchub) innovation center in Lagos’s Yaba District.

Zuckerberg met with coders in the co-working space and visited the incubation unit, where he talked with startup reps from Hotels.ng andLifeBank App, Cchub CEO Bosun Tijani told TechCrunch. Zuckerberg dropped in at Andela — a software developer accelerator he and his wife’s foundation invested $24 million in earlier this year — and caught some creative industry tech, touring digital media startup Afrinolly’s offices.

Zuck also hosted a Facebook town hall and Q&A session and swapped his grey t-shirt for a suit to meet with Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari.

The Facebook CEO’s Africa trip extended to Kenya, where he visited the iHub innovation space, checked out solar innovation at the Gearbox prototyping startup, reviewed the BRCK mobile Wi-Fi device, had lunch with Kenyan ICT Cabinet Secretary Joseph Mucheru, and met with local tech leaders including Juliana Rotich, Erik Hersman, and Kamau Gachigi.

So what brought Zuckerberg to Nigeria and Kenya? “I’ll be meeting with developers and entrepreneurs, and learning about the startup ecosystem…” he said in a Facebook post. On company commitments, none had been planned, Facebook spokesperson Sally Aldous told TechCrunch. “This is a trip about listening and learning and understanding the challenges,” she said.

From a tech perspective, there are compelling reasons to do both in each country. Nigeria has its share of well publicized challenges, but the continent’s most populous nation has also become a hotbed for tech activity and investment.

Lagos’s Yaba district, where Zuckerberg first visited, is a magnet for IT entrepreneurs, incubators, and startups. Three of the continent’s best funded/well known e-commerce ventures, including newly minted unicorn Jumia Group, are all headquarted in Lagos. In June eBay named Nigeria as the opening country for its Africa expansion.

In East Africa, Kenya has become a regional tech capital, dubbed “Silicon Savannah”, for its advances in digital finance, tech incubators, and local IT innovations such as BRCK and the Ushahidi crowdsourcing platform. The success of local telco Safaricom’s M-Pesa mobile money product is alsoglobally recognized.

Facebook has 84 million users in Sub-Saharan Africa, 17 million in Nigeria, 14 million in South Africa, and 5.7 million in Kenya. In 2016 Facebook launched its Free Basics program, which allows users limited internet services free on mobile in 17 African countries.

Since it is unlikely Mark Zuckerberg blocks big parts of his formal schedule for anything that’s not strategic, expect to hear about new Facebook Africa initiatives post-trip. A particular play could include updated partnerships to increase internet connectivity across the continent. Though improving, penetration still lingers low at around 30 percent.

Better connectivity and more users set Facebook up to  tap Africa’s online advertising market, which is  growing with the continent’s shift to digital commerce—expected to reach $75 billion by 2025. Unfortunately for Facebook, its global connectivity drive suffered a setback during Zuckerberg’s Africa visit when the SpaceX rocket carrying the company’s Amos-6 satellite crashed pre-launch.

McKinsey’s Global Institute, working closely with the Gates Foundation, released a new emerging markets fintech report. Among other wow statistics, it projects digital finance adoption could add $103 billion to the economies of Ethiopia and Nigeria, while creating $66 billion in new business and personal loans.

Kenyan mobile data collection startup mSurvey raised new seed capital from Safaricom’s VC fund, Cross Culture Ventures, and Virgin Group’s Alpha Angels. The four year old company will expand its mobile phone based survey business that captures and sells value-add African consumer data.

Nigerian digital entertainment startup Iroko launched IrokoX, a multi-platform Pan-African network for filmmakers, musicians, and other creative aspirants to produce, distribute, and monetize short-form content. The new medium will provide select artists production assistance and the opportunity to show their work on global partner networks such as Youtube, iTunes, and Google Play.

Some updates on past TC Africa coverage. Kenya’s Safaricom rebranded its recently launched ride hail app (and Uber competitor) Little Cab to Little, confirmed Sales and Marketing Head Maureen Chege. Safaricom has bigger plans for the service than “just cabs” and dropped the word to be less restrictive, she explained.

We reported in May on IBM Research Africa’s project to create a cognitive computing Africa equivalent to Watson, dubbed Lucy, from its Nairobi lab. The U.S. blue chip giant expanded that effort in August, opening a second research lab in Johannesburg, South Africa.

San Francisco based robotics company Zipline, covered here on its UPS partnered program for drone delivery of medical supplies in Rwanda, plans to publicly launch the service in October, confirmed co-founder Keller Rinaudo.  The company’s drones and flight kit arrived in country by UPS and Zipline is completing diagnostic testing.

And finally, former CNN anchor Zaine Verjee launched a new Africa focused digital media platform, Akoma. Writers can land a paid fellowship through the site’s Amplify initiative, in partnership with the MasterCard Foundation.

More Africa Related Stories @TechCrunch

  • Andela’s Christina Sass at Disrupt SF on Growing Tech Talent in Africa
  • Here’s What We Know About the SpaceX Explosion
  • Ousta, Egypt’s Ride Hailing App, Lands $1.25 Million Investment
  • Shine Signs Africa’s Econet to its Network Level Mobile Ad-Blocking

African Tech Around the Net     

  • Uber to Launch Chopper Services in Nairobi and Mombasa—@AllAfrica
  • innovateAFRICA Fund to Invest $1 Million into Digital Media Startups—@Techmoran
  • Regulator Restores WorldRemit, 10 Other Money Transfer Operators—@AFK Insider
  • Nigerian Regulator Restores WorldRemit, 10 Other Money Transfer Operators—@AFK Insider
  • Iyinoluwa Aboyeji Has Left Andela To Start A Payments Company—@Techloy
  • Jumia unveils online payment platform, Jumia Pay—@BizTechAfrica
  • Here Are The DEMO Africa 2016 Winners—@TechCabal


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