Mobile Web West Africa 2012: ‘Local content, simplicity and accessibility are the key to success’

Budding entrepreneurs must make their products easy to use and accessible in order to make an impact in the growing mobile ecosystem in Nigeria and other West African countries. This was the view of Ayo Alli of Eskimi at the Mobile Web West Africa 2012 conference held last week in Lagos. The event brought players within the mobile web space to discuss the theme: ‘Taking the monetisation and content creation dialogue to the next level’.

At the two day event, it was observed that tech entrepreneurs often times become too involved and passionate about their ideas or offerings that they forget to pay attention to usability and access to the market. They believe “content is king,” a phrase often used to measure the chance of success for web and mobile startups. But content in itself means nothing if users can’t access and enjoy it, says Ayo Alli, a serial entrepreneur who works as business development manger for the flirt and social network Eskimi.

Alli says simplicity and accessibility helped Eskimi to grow 3million users under 18 months in Nigeria. With that growth, Nigeria became home to over half of the global users on the social network. Eskimi is highly accessible because of its compatibility with feature phones which are widely used across Nigeria and Africa.

He explains the approach which he says all entrepreneurs could adopt: “If you have the best content in the world and there are no users, it’s meaningless. Simplicity and accessibility to the market are the two most important things in any product offering, not just any digital product. Linking the way people consume the content with great content is what makes a great product. Take the iPod and iTunes, that’s a great simple product that works in a way that’s simple and accessible to the market. Eskimi’s success story in Nigeria is a reflection of that approach. Eskimi is an accessible product that is simple to use and fulfill a basic need or basic function in the society.”

Advice for budding entrepreneurs

Some entrepreneurs try to seek support or funding before they create their contents or products. This is a wrong move, according to Bosun Tijani, co-founder of technology and innovations center Co-creation Hub Nigeria. Bosun says budding entrepreneurs will hardly get support or funding if their proposed products are still at the idea stage. According to him, entrepreneurs should create minimum viable products before they seek support.

He explains: “Build prototypes that you can begin to show to serious minded people who can partner you to make that reality and you may discover that you may end up not being the one that will write that business plan. When you come to me to sell an idea, being just an ordinary idea, I may choose to like it or choose not to. But when you come to me with a prototype, it is certain that you are going to get one thing from me: you will engage me emotionally and I will begin to look at that your prototype. So this is what we encourage people to do: start  by taking your idea from just being an ordinary idea into a minimum viable product that you can begin to show people, then you will get to that stage when you begin to talk about it.

In a chat with VC4Africa, CEO of leading entertainment company Storm 360 Obi Asika, says budding entrepreneurs must learn to collaborate. They must also have passion, focus and integrity as traits. “If you have these three things, you can win anywhere in the world. And also, collaboration; sometimes we have challenges and issues with our partners, but it’s important to collaborate. Without collaboration, you can’t learn, you can’t innovate and you can’t transform and that’s pretty much what everybody needs to be able to do.  I think that’s also what mobile has really enabled many people to do: transform their situation, their business, their platform and their opportunity.”

Opportunities for content providers and advertisers in mobile

“60% of all searches in Nigeria are coming from mobile devices,” says Abas Idaresit, a certified Google advertising professional and founder of the Nigerian digital agency Wild Fusion. “Nigeria is Africa’s biggest mobile market. You have people with low end phones trying to access mobile contents everyday. The barrier to consuming this content is reducing every single day, the phones are getting cheaper and smarter by the day and contents are getting more and more optimized for the mobile.

Using Nigeria’s music industry as an example, Asika says the mobile platform has a lot of potentials that one can harness with the right business approach.
“I think the key issue about mobile is its ubiquity, its functionality and access which therefore creates a mobile market for m commerce and therefore the exponential opportunity for Nigerian artiste and musicians…So, if you really want to play, you need to be organized, structured with the right management and then you have the opportunity. It’s as simple as that.”

The Storm Records CEO said functionality and internet speed could revolutionize mobile commerce in Nigeria in the next 2 years. He says “once you have got speed for download, I think we will move from a market which at present that is probably generating, for some ring back tones for example, about $10million a month to about a market with a multiple of 5 to 10 of that. So there is a lot of cash in the system, a lot of cash about to be made. So any Nigerian artist who has got a huge platform, persevere.”

Mobile advertising

For digital content providers and advertisers, opportunities abound in Africa’s growing mobile space, according to Isis Nyong’o of InMobi, a global mobile advertising network that connects advertisers to mobile internet users through a network of publishers. She says: “Our experience in Africa so far is quite in its early days with the mobile space, but there is a huge potential for the long term and that’s why we are investing our time now in resources. There are 90 million mobile subscribers but within that subset, there is probably about 10 million or so that are on mobile web. So the mobile web is maybe 15% of the overall mobile users, but it’s growing really fast, growing at 200% per year in Nigeria and doubling the number of people who access the internet on their phones. If you have content that is good for mobile web and applications, there is just a huge opportunity to reach these people.

Mobile money, content and monetisation

In spite of the seeming indifference for mobile payments in Nigeria, publishers could make mobile money to work if the right content is integrated with an effective mobile payment system.  This is the view of Ehi Binitie of Rancard Solutions, an African software technology firm that provides a mobile platform for content delivery and monetizing.

“We think that if we stimulate the demand for content, people will actually have an incentive to use the mobile payment products. When people have money what are they going to buy?” We believe that giving content creators the options for payments, once they start putting the contents this will in turn stimulate users to start using the payment mechanisms,” Binitie said.

Shortage of local content

On the publishers’ side, Isis of InMobi says local mobile sites and applications are in short supply. As a result she their advertisements “are reaching mostly users who are going to international sites and consuming international sites in Nigeria for example. But getting more local mobile content out there is what we are trying to push in helping content owners and educating them on the opportunities around mobile because the users are there who are going online.”

Broadband issue and new initiatives

Reliable broadband will encourage more creation of local contents and consumption. To make this happen, ClubNetWiFi is pioneering a new initiative in Lagos.
The Chief Technical Officer of the company, Don Owonuma says the technology is there to deliver broadband right up to Kano and Sokoto in Nigeria’s north. But adds that investors are not willing to take that risk or invest in money or expertise in individuals that would take that risk. “They are pretty much satisfied with the status quo which is ‘we will charge you 10,000 Naira a month for a very slow dial up service’, labeled as 3G or even 4G.”

He tells VC4Africa how the ClubNetWiFi initiative works: “What we are trying to do is to find key locations in Lagos. If you meet our requirement we will get in contact with you. If you fit the criteria for the pilot programme, you will basically get equipment installed in your premises. If you signed up and you have been picked, effectively, what

you will get is free internet for six months, at broadband speed. I am not sure of any other person or operator that is doing this. We are hoping to take the whole market by storm when we do launch. So visit,” and put in your location and email.

The Mobile Web West Africa 2012 has shown there are increasing opportunities for users, entrepreneurs and investors in the region’s mobile space. “Nigeria is going to be massive in the next few years”, says Mathew Dawes (in picture), of All Amber, the organizers of Mobile Web West Africa with support from Blackberry and other mobile players. “2011 was an eye opener for everyone, this year people are taking it seriously, they can see the opportunity”, Dawes concluded.

See more picture on the Mobile Web West Africa Facebook page.