Sembuse: East Africa’s First Mobile Social Network

For 15% of the cost of a normal 160 character SMS message in Kenya you can now send one with 1000 characters in it.

sembuse160_logoSembuse is a mobile social network. It’s a way for East Africans to connect with each other via short messaging, cheaper than normal SMS messages (much like it’s counterpart Mxit in South Africa). It’s a new release by Symbiotic, a Kenyan firm that specializes in making mobile phone related applications. To get the application on your phone, point your device to to m.sembuse.com (or s.zunguka.com). It’s a free download for anyone with a GPRS or 3G enabled phone, and you can try it out immediately.

Making Money

Mbugua Njihia is an entrepreneur, I’ve known him for a little while, and he’s focused on running profitable enterprises. There are two revenue streams at Sembuse.

Maneno Ads by Sembuse1. Value added services:

“Customized news alerts, real time stock market alerts and news, rave crave – that gives users a snapshot of the nightlife in their location, the gossip channel – that allows users to submit and share gossip with their friends, the sports bar – where sports fans can keep up to date with the happenings in their favorite sports and a video section with mobisodes across a variety of channels.”

2. Advertising
There is a proprietary hyper-targeting advertising platform – SembuseConnect that allows businesses to connect with their target market directly on their handset. They can book their ManenoAds (text adverts) and choose their desired target group on the Sembuse network from the ease and comfort of their mobile phone wherever they are. The advertisements are served immediately the order is confirmed.

I asked Mbugua about the advertising, and he got back to me with the following statement:

“Going into launch we have two advertisers on board on trials – Standard Investment Bank and Royal Media Services. For the larger FMCG’s and cooperates the approach is to use their ad agencies to book and manage the medium for themselves and the rate cards have already been dispatched. This however doesn’t prevent us from having a direct engagement with clients. The biggest source we hope will be individuals and small to medium sized enterprises who can place their own adverts through their mobile phones.”

In Summary

I’m really interested in seeing where this goes. The guys behind it are ambitious, and they’re doing something that I’ve thought for a long time needed to be done. I’m particularly glad to see that they’ve taken a two-pronged revenue approach. Relying on advertising alone in this economic environment wouldn’t be that promising, but by tapping into the end-user as well, there is added potential.

Finally, I wonder if we’ll see more people moving from their older SMS-only phones, with no data capability, to GPRS enabled phones. I know we saw this happen in the case of Mxit in South Africa, so I wonder if the same will be the case in East Africa.

Screenshots

28 thoughts on “Sembuse: East Africa’s First Mobile Social Network

  1. jke

    “For 15% of the cost of a normal 160 character SMS message in Kenya you can now send one with 1000 characters in it. ”

    - This actually is the core message and can not be emphasized enough. Ppl jumping on the data line to avoid the rather expensive SMService.

    Now that looks like another classic example of how things work – much like m-pesa being used for temporarily storing money. It’s not the product or service, but how ppl use it for their own needs. Great!

  2. tms ruge

    This is fantastic news. Yet another example of great innovation coming out of Africa. These guys need to be approached to present at Maker Faire. Thoughts?

  3. Ukwelii

    This is fantastic, and really innovative. I agree with @tms ruge it would be great if they could present it at Maker Faire. More exposure for them.

    @HASH I think people have started to see the viability of having data enabled phones, and with tweens and college/career it’s fast becoming a necessity for data enabled phones. I think even the timing of Sembuse reflects this.

    Mig33 gained a huge amount of popularity,but has been eclipsed by Facebook as a platform, though remaining the chat medium of choice locally.

    Sembuse’s definitely got the right ideas.

  4. Salim of Sembuse

    A new feature we have added to day is the Ability to send an actual 160 character SMS (From Sembuse Application) to Any Network in Africa. Download the just uploaded new version and see.

  5. Salim of Sembuse

    Send SMS too!
    Send your Sembuse message as a Sembuse (1000 Characters) or as an SMS (160 Characters @ KSHS 2.50 to ANY network in our beautiful Africa).

    Get Paid for Refferals
    Invite a friend and get 10 Credoz when they join and start using Sembuse.

    Share Experience and get Rewarded
    Become a tester. Email your phone make, Sembuse username and you experience to sembuse@symbiotic.co.ke and get 50 Credoz if your phone make is unique.

  6. sokari

    This is so exciting – I am imaging all sorts of uses for this application and hope similar will be developed across the continent.

  7. Pingback: Sembuse: East Africa’s First Mobile Social Network « Africantech’s Blog

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  9. nelson kelem

    “Going into launch we have two advertisers on board on trials – Standard Investment Bank and Royal Media Services. For the larger FMCG’s and cooperates the approach is to use their ad agencies to book and manage the medium for themselves and the rate cards have already been dispatched. This however doesn’t prevent us from having a direct engagement with clients. The biggest source we hope will be individuals and small to medium sized enterprises who can place their own adverts through their mobile phones.”

    MARK MY WORDS Mbugua Njihia, Read My Lips My Name is Nelson Kelem and am based in the UK.
    The statement am citing above is the very DEATH of your enterprise. never ever make this mistake again. This is a great business and it could work very well, but by thinking that foreign investors will let you walk scot free you messed up. They know a good thing and they will let you do the dirty job, am sure their terms of investment are very well written in a way that they are investing in YOU and not the product, anything you create they own part of it and you will never run or sale to a competitor. You did not need BIG cooperators to succeed it with such a product. You needed patience. This is how bright minds are drained away. Ukoloni Mambo Leo.

    And you would think people with smart asses like you would see that. Get Real people. When they smear money in your faces they mean to blind date you into a signing a marriage certificate and when they want a divorce, they take 80% of it. How many are they? How many shares do they own? do you think they are two separate entities? Nah! they are one, that’s what they do best.

    Believe in yourselves for once.
    Am an on-line entrepreneur and I see stuff from a businessman point. Am Kenyan in all rights and I can see how stupid that decision was.

    One more thing, you need a better visual designer for your products. Packaging is poor.
    Kheri Njema Lakini….

  10. Mbugua Njihia

    Bwana Nelson, I hear you. Been around the VC block a number of times and understand your perspective. We have not sold our souls :-). On the UX and UI, the new version is out q1 OF 2010 and you will be impressed. Out of the blocks first time round was to gauge market reception.Asanta

  11. nelson kelem

    Hi Salim and Njihia,
    Am encouraged to hear that you have seen NURU GIZANI. Am sure you have had a tatse of the game and looked at the players squarely. It pains me sometimes when bright ideas from HOME are lost in this type of battle. Keep doing good, and keep your heads afloat. MOST IMPORTANT => whatever happens, DO NOT SALE THE COPYRIGHT. Thats your SOUL.

    Do you mind posting a few screen shots of the new UI?

    Just wanted to share something you probably have read. Incase you haven’t its worth reading as a passtime when marketing meetings start boring or on your way to one. You should have the book at the office for your team to read. Its important you BUY the Book. Its what I call ‘best practice’. GETTING REAL is for those who create Software to solve problems.

    Thanks again and Kheri Njema za Mwaka Mpya.

  12. nelson kelem

    Why is the book relevant?

    37signals used the unconventional Getting Real process to launch five successful web-based applications (Basecamp, Campfire, Backpack, Writeboard, Ta-da List), and Ruby on Rails, an open-source web application framework, in just two years with no funding, no debt, and only 7 people.

  13. nelson kelem

    What’s in it for me?

    Anyone working on a web app — including entrepreneurs, designers, programmers, executives, or marketers — will find value, fresh perspectives, and inspiration in this practical book. At under 200 pages it’s quick reading too. Makes a great airplane book.

  14. nelson kelem

    Hi Salim na Njihia,
    Do you know of any good kid who is good in PHP, JS, AJAX stuff, and sure this stuff must come along with XHTML and CSS2+. Like really good or just out of school. I would prefer one with firm knowledge of a PHP and JS Framework preferably Kohana or Codeigniter and JQuery or Mootools.
    Let them email me at studio at safarista [.] com

    we should speak sometime.
    Cheers

  15. Salim of Sembuse

    I know a Kid called Salim who is very good and has rich industry knowledge. He can commit 2 days a week to you and codes really fast.

    Just google ‘Idd Salim’ or ‘Cdr Idd Salim’ for more info.

    However, if you still insist on another Kid, we can source.

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