“The greatest number of merchants and retail customers will be reached over mobile operators, not banks.”
– Ken Njoroge

cellulant logoKen Njoroge is a homegrown Kenyan technology entrepreneur. One of the original founders of one of Kenya’s top digital agencies, 3Mice, he moved on to co-found Cellulant, which has been doing some great work all over East Africa and is now active in 9 countries in Africa (Kenya, Tanzania, South-Africa, Ghana, Rwanda, Botswana, Zambia & Ethiopia).

Cellulant started in this space 5 years ago, they began by selling music via mobile devices, but really got active in banking about 3 years ago as a customer trying to make things work for their buyers. It came down to this question: How could their customers pay directly via their mobile phone? Their problems were around usability and no one yet had a successful business case for this issue. This is still true within the banking space.

Bridging the banking and mobile operator divide

Cellulant are privileged to meet in the board rooms of banks and mobile operators. They hear first-hand the issues that are being discussed, and the build solutions for thOn the mobile operator’s side they are most closely aligned with Zain, creating a lot of third-party applications for them.

The 4 Pillars

Ken spoke about the 4 pillars of the mobile payments space, briefly covering banks and operators, but then delving deeper into what he considers the really big prize at the end of the day: merchants and retail consumers. (I agree, it’s the long-tail and it once tapped it will have an extraordinary impact on the economy)

They provide technology solutions that extend banks into mobile banking, and use mobiles as a channel to provide their services. The banks and the mobile operators are coming from different business models. The regulatory area needs to be looked at quite keenly because both are large and have a big impact.

Mobile operators
They have been the most innovative and a true success story in Africa.

They have become increasingly sophisticated. They thought the low-hanging fruit was going to be urban young adults. However, they found out it was rural users, usually older in aged(!). “The consumer tends to be ahead of the technology – even us as an agile young company, we are trying to keep up with our customers.”

These are the people and business entities looking to provide services and get paid in this ecosystem. This ranges from the big power and water organizations who use mobile phone payments for millions, but it’s also the video store across the street who has 2000 customers that needs payment solutions too (the long tail). We have to find solutions for these types of smaller merchant-customers.