Ghana’s Saya App Pitches at TechCrunch Disrupt

There’s a Ghana email list of tech guys that I’m on. Opening my email this morning, I was pleasantly surprised to see that a Ghanaian team was pitching last night at TechCrunch Disrupt.

Saya is an app for texting. That mixes SMS, Facebook chat and hyperlocal findability to get in conversations with those near you. They’re on Android, Blackberry and waiting for their iPhone app to be approved.

Robert’s pitch revolves around the 5.8 billion NON-smartphones in the world, and how that market has needs that need to be addressed by apps like their own. Ways to communicate via SMS in a much more elegant way.

Saya isn in a tough position, trying to get US and European-based investors to think that anything to do with old tech like SMS can be big is quite difficult. Their paradigm is set in the West’s way of thinking about being intoxicated the newest tech, not understanding how much of the world more fully uses each technology before discarding it.

Without knowing anything about how many users Saya has, I can say that it looks like an app that will really work in Africa and therefore many other parts of the world. Just looking at the app, it seems that they have a strong focus on product, and are paying attention to things like design details that really do matter.

Good job guys, and good luck!

The #Kenya365 Instagram Project

[See the pictures at]

The #Kenya365 Instgram Project

Mutua Matheka and I met up today and hatched an idea to have a little picture fun over the next 12 months. We quickly roped in Eston Whitfield and are looking for a couple more to join up. We’re going to do a picture-a-day on Instagram, and see what happens. Likely others will join in as well, so here are the guidelines:

RULE #1: You can only tag one Instagram photo with #Kenya365 each day.

That is the one and only one rule.

It starts on Sept 1, 2012 (2 days from now) and ends on Aug 31, 2013. To make it more challenging and fun we’re going to ask ourselves to find “interesting” shots each day (however you decide to define that).

Feel free to invite another Instagramer to it, especially if you think they do great stuff, or join in yourself. Just pass on rule #1 to them.

A reminder that this is for fun, and we’ll see what happens. If it’s going well we can create a site to aggregate the images with this tag on it for people to find easily.

You can find us on Instagram with the following handles:

  • Erik Hersman on Instagram: @White_African and on Twitter at @WhiteAfrican
  • Mutua Matheka on Instagram: @Truthslinger and on Twitter at @Truthslinger
  • Eston Whitfield on Instgram: @Eston and on Twitter at @Estoni
  • Jepchumba on Instagram: @Jepchumba and on Twitter at @DigitalAfrican
  • Wamathai on Instagram: @Wamathai and on Twitter at @Wamathai
  • Joseph Were on Instgram: @jaydabliu and on Twitter @jaydabliu
  • Taylor Martyn on Instagram: @Zulusafari and on Twitter at @zulusafari
  • Elvis Mutai on Instagram: @mutaielvis
  • Eve on Instagram: @eveheartsphotog and Twitter at @eveheartsphotog
  • Wachera on Instagram: @Wacherah and on Twitter at @Wacherah
  • Musa on Instagram: @moahandpainted and on Twitter at @mole_a
  • Maggianna Wanjohi on Instagram: @Maggianna and on Twitter at @Maggianna
  • Steve Kitots on Instagram: @SteveKitots and on Twitter at @SteveKitots
  • Lema on Instagram: @lemajisa and on Twitter at @jisaslema
  • William on Instagram: @nguru and on twitter @lilwaim
  • Wairimu Mwaura on Instagram: @missmwaura and on Twitter at @missmwaura
  • Ratia on instagram: @ratia_tee and on Twitter at @ratia_tee
  • Aika on Instagram: @aikawangwe and on on Twitter at @aikawangwe
  • Pendo la Mama on Instagram: @pendolamama and on Twitter at @pendolamama
  • Njeri Thande on Instagram: @njerithande and on Twitter @njerithande
  • Wambui on Instagram: @wambeauty
  • Shitawa Bah on Instagram: @eatoutkenya and on Twitter @eatoutkenya
  • Wiselar on Instagram: @wiselar and on Twitter at @wiselar
  • The Afrohemien Nomad on Instgram: @LAfrohemien and on Twitter at @LAfrohemien
  • Angela Oduor on Instagram: @angelaoduor and on Twitter @AngieNicoleOD
  • Leo Patra on Instgram: @c_Leo_patra and on Twitter at @c_Leo_patra
  • Angela Crandall on Instagram: @honoluluskye and on Twitter at @honoluluskye
  • Flora Okuku on Instgram: @maflosah and on Twitter at @maflosah
  • Mark Mwangi on Instagram: @Mwangyzzle and on Twitter @mwangy
  • eGichomo on Instagram: @eGichomo and on Twitter at @eGichomo
  • Riyaz Osman on Instagram: @ri_yaz and on Twitter at @ri_yaz

If you’re going to take part, leave a comment below with a link to your Twitter handle and your Instagram account and I’ll add you into the list.

Quick Hits Around African Tech: July 2012

Africa’s Mobile Stats and Facts 2012

Few organizations do as good of a job as Praekelt in creating well-designed applications that are used by millions of people in the continent. A couple times a year, they take that same level of quality and create new videos and resources to better showcase Africa’s tech statistics. Here’s their newest video.

Game Creators: an Interview of Maliyo Games in Nigeria

Good interview of Maliyo Games founder and the opportunity in Africa’s gaming space.

Why do you think the African audience is looking for African games instead of Farmville or Mafia Wars?

“It’s not so much what they are looking for, more what is being pushed to them. Our games ‘Okada Ride’, ‘Mosquito Smasher’ and ‘Adanma’ have far more local relevance than Mafia Wars. Nigerian music and Nollywood movies have a strong appeal to the local and diasporan consumers. We are riding this trend and thus far we are seeing traction.”

Check out Maliyo’s website to get their games.

Opera’s “State of the Mobile Web” for Africa 2012

Opera puts together a great resource of user-based statistics [PDF link]. It’s a country-by-country breakdown of mobile penetration, user growth, top domains and top handsets used. Here are a few of the interesting tidbits:

  • Across Africa, data growth seems to outpace page-view growth. This fact suggests that Africans are browsing larger pages and most likely, using richer, more advanced websites.
  • Facebook is the top domain in every country except for these six, where Google leads: Egypt, Guinea, Djibouti, Comoros, Central African Republic, and Algeria.

Mobile Reporting Field Guide

UC Berkeley has created a mobile reporting field guide, useful for people doing data collection and research as well as activist types.

Upcoming Tech Events in 2012

PyCon South Africa – Cape Town, Oct 4-5
DEMO Africa – Nairobi, Oct 24-26
Tech4Africa – Joburg, Oct 31-Nov 1
AfricaCom – Cape Town, Nov 13-15
Mobile Web Africa – Joburg, Nov 28-29

(If you know of other tech events coming up before the end of the year that you think belong here, put it in the comments and I’ll add it later.)

Some Self-Serving Links:

How Safaricom Steals Your Internet Bundle

99% of Kenya’s 6.5m internet users access it via mobile, of which Safaricom owns 77% marketshare.

In Kenya, when you buy a 1.5Gb internet bundle from Safaricom you pay 1000ksh (~$12). You’ve paid for the data, and there is no additional cost to Safaricom if you were to use that data today or a year from now. The whole concept of data bundle expiry is ridiculous, as noted by Safaricom CEO Bob Collymore when he visited the iHub:

“When you go into a petrol station and fill up your car, does the owner of the petrol station tell you to bring it back on Wednesday to take back what’s left in the vehicle? Of course not. So I ask, why the hell are we doing that?”

Bob goes on to say that he isn’t going to be an apologist for this practice, that there is a problem with leaving the data there ad infinitum. That 60 days is probably too short and that Safaricom does need to change how they handle this.

  • Until recently they just held your data hostage. If your data expired, you could recharge with just a few shillings of data, this would re-trigger your “old” data that was past the expiration, and have that available to you again.
  • Today, it is “data gone, money stolen” after expiration. They cut you off if you haven’t used all of your internet bundle in the nominal 7-90 days, no matter how much is remaining.

I brought this up with Bob Collymore, and his chief executives when they visited the iHub earlier this year (see video), at which point he admitted that it was indeed a dubious practice that would be changed to something much more open to users. You’ll see what Bob says at the 1:17 mark in the video below.

Here Bob is on video speaking to this point (I’ve saved the link to go to the right point in the video):

The other day I caught a Tweet from Sunny Bindra about some surprising changes:

Safaricom is actually very responsive on Twitter, probably the best big company on social media in the Kenya. They followed up with Sunny with this:

So, Safaricom didn’t broadcast this significant change in the way data bundles are handled broadly. Apparently, “publicized on our website” means quietly posting a PDF somewhere in the morass that is their website to notify the data using public of the changes.

If you follow the links to the PDF, you’ll find the following:

What is the Validity period?
This is the time frame that you have to use the bundles, when this period elapses it means that any remaining bundles will have expired and will not be available for use.

(Note: there is conflicting information on how long bundles will last, you can only find out by topping up a bundle. I did this for 1.5Gb and found that it’ll last 80 days, not the 30 that they say in the PDF. I don’t know if it’s more/less time for other bundle amounts.)

It’s in Safaricom’s best interest for you to keep buying more data, over and over, even if you haven’t used it. It costs them nothing to let you use it over a longer period of time, or to keep recharging it.

In Conclusion

I’m disappointed with Safaricom, especially after Bob Collymore came to the iHub and said he was going to fix this, not break it further.

This is an outright fleecing that the Safaricom team should be questioned on. In a country where they are the monopoly player on the primary source for people to access the internet, this makes them appear like a bad actor.

Basically, we’ve gone from a bad system that was promised to be made better, but which had a corrective option, to a worse system that has no option.

Other Safaricom Data Miscellany

While I’m at it, let’s go ahead and talk about a few other ways that the data service that Safaricom raises the bar for bonehead usability: buying data bundles themselves.

Case 1:
You used to be able to send airtime to a SIM card on your Safaricom modem. Then, using the inbuilt Safaricom Broadband app, send an SMS to 450 with the amount of the bundle that you wanted to buy, now 450 only seems to work for checking your balance.

With the new service updated in the aforementioned PDF you can now only use the USSD code to update it.

Solution now?
Take the SIM card out of your modem, load it in your phone and do the USSD code. Once confirmation is received, switch that SIM card back to the modem.

Yes, that’s correct. Instead of being using the software that comes native with your modem, you now have to use a phone to update your bundles. Why would you change your system to not work with everything that people use? I’m quite curious actually. I can’t understand this decision from a either the business or the product side at all.

Case 2:
Safaricom wanted to make it easier for people with modems, iPads, Android tablets and smartphones to be able to update their bundle (good idea). They created for this purpose. Let’s say you’re out of data, you have no credit on your phone. How do you get to this page?

There are none. You’re stuck because this page isn’t zero-rated. This is mind-boggling in it’s oversight. I have no data, therefore I cannot go to your page to load more data. Seriously… who is the genius that thought this up? Or, probably more accurately, what form of bureaucracy is in place that allows this mediocrity to persist?

Further, if you’re Safaricom who controls 77% of the consumer internet access in Kenya, why wouldn’t you zero-rate your whole domain and make it free for anyone to surf, even if they don’t have a single shilling on their phone?

[As a resource, here is the latest quarterly Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK) PDF report on the tech scene in Kenya.]

The Ground is Barely Scratched: Pivot East 2012

(Thanks to @zulusafari for the images today)

“The ground is barely scratched”, quipped Rebecca Wanjiku, a local tech infrastructure entrepreneur and iHub advisory board member, on stage today at Pivot East. And she’s right, there are a wealth of opportunities in the region. When asked “Why are there so many apps being built in Kenya?”, Kenya’s Permanent Secretary for Info and Comms Bitange Ndemo said, “Because we have so many problems to solve.”

While the iHub might be about innovation, Pivot East is about finding the tech startups with high-growth potential in the region and putting them on stage in front of investors, media and businesses. It’s about finding “what’s next” in East Africa’s vibrant mobile tech scene. Chances are, the best of these startups are providing highly innovative and disruptive solutions.

The startup scene in East Africa has moved wildly beyond where it was even two years ago when the iHub started. Those trying to raise funds for a new company have all of the resources they need at their disposal, including spaces to work with fast bandwidth, mentors and investors that cover the funding spectrum. If the last couple years was about building the ecosystem, this year is about the startups proving themselves and building products.


Day one of Pivot East is over, and we’ve had a lot more fun than we should be allowed to have. How to find out more and follow for day two tomorrow:

Overall Thoughts

It’s interesting to see how this Pivot East is different than last year’s Pivot 25 (by the way, we changed it to Pivot East so that our friends in South and West Africa could use the brand to do their own events). It seems like the bar has risen, that the pitches are better delivered, that the ideas are a little more sound and business plans are more thought through.

This makes sense, as there has been an influx in pitching and hacking competitions over the last year and people have seen the bar from last year and want to do better themselves. On top of that, the startups in East Africa have had a lot more face-time with investors, who provide pressure to think more deeply about the important questions related to running a business, not just building a cool product.

My friend Michael Duarte, of Duarte Design – the team behind some of the most impressive presentation designs in the world, spent 3 days with the Pivot East finalists last week helping them to hone their decks and tell a story that would resonate with the audience. It’s worked wonders in the way the decks look, as well as the confidence that the startups have when they pitch.


This year we’ve put the investors into the same area as the judges, allowing both to ask questions and grill the startups. This has turned out surprisingly well, allowing the people with the most interest to ask pointed and meaningful questions.

We’ve had some fantastic pitches thus far, but it’s only day one, so we’ll have 10 more hit the big stage tomorrow. Exciting times!

Fireside Chats

Intermixed between the pitches are “fireside chats”, our fancy term for panels of real movers in different parts of the industry. We try to keep them lively by bringing a good moderator in, and this year TV personality Eric Latiff from KTN has proved to be an outstanding one, making sure we’ve got some lively commentary and tough questions being asked.


One of my favorite panels was when we had Bob Collymore, CEO of Kenya’s Safaricom on the same stage with Hakim Moi, the CEO of Zain South Sudan. It was a real treat to hear the difference in the way an incumbent mobile operator speaks about their market versus a new one in Africa’s newest country. There’s a lot of opportunity in both countries, but they come from completely different edges of the spectrum.

A particularly interesting challenge was voiced by Bob Collymore on the difficulties of large mobile operator’s on the innovation front. He’s interested in having a “Director of Innovation” in the organization, someone that comes from the outside and on the edge, who can work directly with him to ensure that not only Safaricom, but the rest of the people and organizations within their sphere are thinking broadly about disruption and creating ways for new, small and innovative companies to better interact with each other.

Quick Hits Around African Tech (May 2012)

This last month has kept me too off-kilter to get a good blog post up. However, there have been some very interesting happenings around the continent, here are the ones that caught my attention:

Pivot East

East Africa’s mobile startup pitching competition is just a month away. We announced the top 50 a few weeks ago, and now the 25 Finalists are named as well. Don’t miss this event, June 5 & 6th at the Ole Sereni hotel in Nairobi.

Google Releases “Insights Africa”

This truly deserves a blog post of its own… Google spent a lot of money and time gathering information from over 13,000 people across 6 African countries (Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Uganda) to determine why, and how, people use the internet. This data is all openly available, with an outstanding visualization tool to see what the information really means, and compare it, at My chart below is just one example, showing how people access the internet across these 6 countries:

Donors prioritized “industrial policy” in Asia, but “social sectors” in Africa. Why?

Kariobangi writes a compelling blog post on the difference between the aid that was prioritized for Asia versus that for Africa.

TeleRivet: An Android SMS gateway

Similar what Ushahidi offers at SMSsync, TeleRivet is a tool that allows you to use your Android phone as an SMS gateway. It’s more robust, offers an API, and makes it easy for people to get started on SMS and USSD apps. Mbwana Alliy writes up a blog post on why this is important, and the business prospects involved in utilizing this type of service.

WEF: The Global Information Technology Report 2012

The World Economic Forum’s annual report on IT has some good information on emerging markets. You can read it online here. Here’s the video:

ForgetMeNot and the rise of Africa’s Smart(er) Phones

BizCommunity has a good article on ForgetMeNot’s Message Optimizer service’s growth on the continent. This service delivers internet content to users who can only access that information via SMS. Here’s how it works:

“First, a mobile phone subscriber sends an SMS to a given short code. The message is received in the mobile company’s message centre, which then forwards to ForgetMeNot Africa’s internet servers. The servers process, route and deliver the message to the subscriber, who can then respond.”

Kenya study, impact of venture capital on small and medium sized enterprise

VC4Africa reviews a report on VC’s in Kenya. This isn’t just tech, but it is interesting and surfaces some great information. [PDF Download]

“The minimum profit before use of venture capital was Ksh 34, 866. Upon use of venture capital, the minimum profit increased to Ksh 600, 000. This shows an increase in minimum profit of 94%. The maximum profit respondents reported before use of venture capital was Ksh 38, 567,951 which increased to Ksh 62, 864,152 an increase of 63%. The average profit also increased by 69% (from Ksh 7,204,653 to Ksh 12, 202,775)”

Mpesa, a 5 Year Infographic

Just how big has Mpesa become? Take a look [PDF version].

Jason Njoku, Funding and Nigerian Movies Online

In Nigeria, Jason Njoku is at it again, raising $8m from Tiger Global Management, a US-based PE and hedge fund. Here’s an interview with him on Forbes. Iroko Partners is the world’s largest digital distributor of Nigerian movies and African music. The firm is YouTube’s biggest partner in Africa, boasting over 152 million views in 2011.

Will The Real Payment Disruptor Please Stand Up

Farhad Manjoo makes a compelling argument for why the real winners of the payments revolution are the same players we already know, the credit card companies and the banks, in his, “Don’t mess with credit: Why the future of payments is already in your pocket.

“Nearly every start-up working in payments is simply creating a new front end for your credit card. That’s not a small thing; we need new ways to use our credit cards. But we shouldn’t forget the true winners in this new marketplace—whatever innovations we see in payments over the next few years, there’s a very good chance that most of the rewards will flow to Visa and MasterCard.”

This is true… if you live in the US or Europe.

It’s also why Mpesa is so important, as it represents a new form as well as a new source.

Mpesa destroys the paradigm of payments as we knew it

It’s a good thing that Mpesa happened in Africa. It offered a new way of thinking about money and payments, without the legacy baggage of banks and regulations meant for another century. The powerful banking interest were held at bay, not by great power, but by indifference – this is Africa afterall, who cares about this market?

With Mpesa, and without a bank account:

  • People can send and receive money.
  • People can store up to $1000 in the system, creating a pseudo-savings account.
  • There are no credit card companies involved.
  • There are no banks involved.

Mpesa is big now too, big enough to garner a lot of attention from the the credit card companies and banks. M-PESA has over 14 million users in Kenya, 9 million in Tanzania, and hundreds of thousands in Afghanistan and South Africa now too. It now processes more transactions domestically in Kenya than Western Union does globally, somewhere in the range of 25% of Kenya’s GDP is transacted on it.

The banks actively lobby against mobile-based payment and money systems now, globally, as it constitutes a massive competitive threat that they are unable to compete with due to a multitude of reasons, one of which is simple transaction costs. The credit card companies are watching closely too, and moving. Mastercard and Visa both are working on mobile offerings, seeking to link with mobile operators in order to bypass a would be competitor.

Mpesa isn’t perfect – we need a payment system that works across mobile operators and can be synced (easily) with any bank, if needed. While it could improve, it’s still worth pointing out the really big missed opportunity here is by Vodafone. Like I’ve said before, if Mpesa was rolled out at as an independent company led by Michael Joseph, it could battle the credit card companies of the world and unseat them in many markets.

What’s interesting to me is that in the arguments in the US and Europe on “the future of payments” the real innovation, with real numbers, isn’t being mentioned.

Update. some new blog posts on this topic:
Could we live without cash?
Payments, the more things change…

Pivot East: East Africa’s Startup Pitching Competition

Mark your calendars, buy your tickets, submit your applications!

We’re ramping up to the Pivot East pitching competition, where the best startups in East Africa come to show what they have, pitch their startup to investors, media and the judges for a chance to win the prize money.

Pivot East will be held at Ole Sereni Hotel in Nairobi, June 5th and 6th. Last year we had over 100 applications for the 25 slots, and we’re expecting even more after seeing how well Pivot25 did last year (writeups by TIME Magazine and CNN). Last year we saw startups from Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania, and this year we’re hoping to see some from South Sudan and Somalia as well.



As last year there are five categories, each of which will have five startups that will pitching in them. If you think you have a prototype, a deck and a business plan to wow everyone with, let’s see it. Applications are open.

  1. Financial Services
  2. Business and Resource Management
  3. Entertainment
  4. Mobile Society
  5. Utilities

Getting more information

Pivot East is put on by the m:lab East Africa, an incubator for startups in the mobile apps and services space. All profits go to support the facility. This year support comes from Samsung, and we’ll be announcing a few more big names in the coming weeks. If you’d like to be one of them, contact us.

If you have any questions, we’re having a meeting a Baraza at the iHub on Monday the 6th of February from 2.30pm to 3.30pm. If you’re a startup wanting to know more, or are media or an investor, come by and talk to the organizing team.

[Note: for more on last year’s here is my blog post retrospective.]

The Pivot East Team will be coming to Uganda on the 20th February 2011 at Makerere. You can book your tickets for the event on the link below:

Infographic: Mobile and Internet in Tanzania

The iHub Research team has worked up an infographic on Tanzania to match their past ones on Kenya and Uganda. We’re looking at 50% mobile phone penetration in Tanzania, with about 22 million connected, where Vodacom has the largest market share at 42%.

The crazy stat is online: In Tanzania, only 2.5% of the population has access to the internet, 80% of those on mobile phones.

Hats off to Patrick Munyi (@ptrckmunyi) for the great design!

The “Mobile Web” as text and voice

The mobile web revolution has already spread around the world. The phase of it that we live in is where we see the internet hitting critical mass based on the availability of web connectivity on mobile devices. Data is widely available, and the costs continue to decrease at an alarming rate. We’re seeing the disruption this is causing already, from businesses to consumers, and within the political structures of entire countries.

THE MOBILE WEB from Duniamedia on Vimeo.

Dunia Media, out of Switzerland, has put together a good video showcasing this change.

Interestingly enough, this video showcases iCow and M-Farm, both providing agricultural data to farmers, not in a browser, but as text or voice messages. One could think the title to be a tad misleading, as the “mobile web” term is largely applied to web interaction on a browser on a phone.

What I like about this take though is this; the internet allows for a paradigm that doesn’t care what device you have, whether PC or phone, as long as you have a database and a channel you’re in the game. As long as the device has some type of text or voice communication it is suddenly a read/write platform.

What we’re seeing in applications coming from Africa is a way to stretch the use-case of “old” messaging technology like SMS, USSD or voice into new ways of data transfer that challenge Western conceptions of what the internet is.