In the Forest Searching for Trees: How African Enterprise is Clueless on the Digital Revolution


I have no time for introductions on this particular topic. The number of times I have come across the digital divide in everyday Nairobi Living has me convinced that the tech firms that GET IT in East Africa will grace the KPMG’s top 100 Mid Sized List. Cellulant Mobile already did it. It topped the list at number one. A lay man would probably dismiss this. I noticed and it has been a while before a tech company has topped this list once more. Here is the problem…

There exists right now very huge wide-laned highways in the form of a 3G mobile platform and a very decent internet backbone in Kenya. These highways are very huge, too huge in fact for the few cars that are roaming. If an analogy can be brought to mind then one would think of a road in Turkana or Marsabit where it would take about 4 days before you ever saw a vehicle. The problem with making large highways is that the cost of building them usually means that you need many vehicles to use them so that you can charge some toll fee and recoup your investment.

Ken Njoroge might as well be an oil baron with the kind of money Cellulant is earning Photo courtesy of nation.co.ke

Safaricom and Access Kenya are two huge players in the internet infrastructure business in East Africa. The big checks that each wrote to acquire huge amounts of bandwidth on the  TEAMS and SEACOM fibre optic cables can testify that Michael Joseph and the Somen Brothers are all salivating at the huge piece of turkey that is the content business in East Africa. Now if you were to hear of oil being discovered in the early 19th century would you go search for oil or would you sell the equipment to search for oil?

Personal information is the oil of the 21st century. Facebook uses it to target various demographics for advertisers, Google uses it in a similar but more effective way. Michael Joseph has a pipeline, so do the Somen brothers, they all need oil now. Actually they needed that oil yesterday. You see the various blogs and websites written and made by Kenyans are the oil. The individual who can bring together very relevant content, a superbly executed website platform, an interactive user channel and a commerce component that is specifically targeted at mobile phone internet users as well as PC users will become a millionnaire in kshs overnight.

But do I say. The top 100 Mid-sized companies in Kenya have annual turnovers of between 70 million and 1 billion Kenya shillings. In 2008 Cellulant mobile was number one. I swear na hiyo tu ni subsidiary ya Kenya now what about the other African territories where Cellulant operates. I mean seriously is it just me who wants to own a private jet! Truth be told my friends this revolution, this opportunity is happening now, even with first movers like Cellulant in various territories(they are in Kenya and Nigeria by the way) it is still wide since the Safaricom’s and Access Kenya’s of this world bought so much highway and there are still few cars.

Content,Content content…you here everyone being told we need content. Yet Web designers are busy selling their skills to build you the next best website for your business. Admittedly it will pay the bills and if you know what you are talking about like one Moses Kemibaro of Dotsavvy then you will enjoy very good success. But lets talk about your ambitions to drive a Bentley, or perhaps you prefer sailing in yatches… whatever your fancy content is where it’s at.

Skiza, Safaricom’s content platform for ringtones allows you to get content for a fixed regular fee. (This is a precursor to the fixed monthly billing that is soon to replace prepaid phones by the way). Lets do the math please:

If they charge you 40 bob and about 40% of Safcom’s users subscribe that’s only 7.2 million users paying a total 288 million Kshs. monthly. I mean is this fare! Yes, it is. Because these gentlemen made the highways of Skiza. They created the various platforms, employed a gang of techies and ensured that each can afford a decent Audi then put these guys to work. Mind you if Cellulant continues on this trend it is ripe for acquisition going by the huge up-take of content on mobile phone platforms. Does anyone wonder why Techies can be poor? Truly people are in a forest looking for trees!

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