Info160: Location based advertising via SMS in Kenya

Also in the new year new ideas are coming in via the VC4Africa website. Let’s now meet the young Kenyan entrepreneur Nick Hargreaves Onyango, who is setting up Info160.

Can you tell us about Info160?

Info160 is a free information service and location based advertising system. Users create accounts either online or by SMS and subscribe to information categories of their choice. The categories include jokes, quotes, market prices, MDG facts, breaking news and more. The users receive the information at a daily frequency at no cost whatsoever.

Each SMS received is appended with a short location based advert. Users can also choose to create adverts within their accounts and make them location sensitive if they want. Advertising starts at $1 for 50 ad views making it one of the cheapest & effective ways to advertise.

Info160 started about 6 months ago and currently has over 1000 members. Our membership has been increasing fairly fast after being selected in October as one of the best innovation solutions at the ITU conference in Geneva.”

How does location based targeting via SMS work?

“One of the requirements of registration is to submit ones county. Kenya is divided into 47 counties that makes county-based advertising very effective. The advertiser has the option of making the advert location sensitive. In that case they have to specify which county their adverts are intended for otherwise they are sent to any user. In the future, advertisers will be able to select more than county and (with more members) we will even have village/estate based adverts.”

Why did you choose for SMS?

“While Kenya’s mobile penetration stands at over 65%, mobile internet is less than a third of that. Most of the phone owners have phones not capable of accessing the internet and some are not able to afford paying for mobile internet given the high rates. We therefore have a large untapped market to advertise to. An advert in an SMS is more difficult to ignore than ads on a webpage. Info160 also aims to give people without internet access a way to access useful information instantly.”

Who are you targeting as clients?

“Info160 mainly targets small and medium sized enterprises. However, large businesses can also find the medium effective to reach, especially people in remote areas without access to other media like TV and/or radio. The US$1 for 50 advert views makes it affordable even to peasant farmers and other low-income earners. Some of our clients include RuralNet LTD and Platinum Auto Media amongst others.”

What are your main challenges?

“The major challenge is people’s perception towards SMS services. Most assume that SMS services will bombard them with promotion messages and sell their contacts to third parties. However, Info160 only sends people information they subscribe to, and our privacy policy does not allow us to sell phone numbers. Another challenge is competition from big companies that offer similar services. Nation Media Group for example has a breaking news service. However, they charge subscribers KSH20 per SMS, which is ridiculously high. Our service is free.”

How are you funded till now?

“We are yet to secure funding. At this level our operational costs are very low and thus paid for by profits. We however intend to expand and market info160 for which we will need additional funding. We are in the process of approaching seed ventures for the same.”

How can people contact you?

“Our email address is contact [at] They can also reach us at +254 (0)70 369 4200 or via Twitter and my VC4Africa profile.”