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Kenyan company makes business sense of Whatsapp, eyes global market

Vince Matinde | Dec. 17, 2014
With the rise of mobile messaging and social-networking apps, a wave of clever startups are providing social management solutions for companies trying to reach customers in new ways.

The idea of targeting so-called over the top (OTT) mobile messaging platforms is based on growing smartphone penetration in Africa. Brands including Infinix, Tecno and Wiko are flooding the market with smartphones priced less US$100 smartphones.

OTT services are becoming the norm in Africa, with a majority of users accessing the Internet through their phones. The Communication Authority of Kenya, the communications regulatory body in Kenya, has reported that OTT services have eaten into revenue for regular short messaging service (SMS) for most telecom companies. In Kenya, 99 percent of Internet access is done through the phones.

Kimenye says there are great advantages to using OTT apps to reach out to customers. First of all, it is more private than using Twitter and Facebook. In addition, confirmation that a customer has been served is instant, since Whatsapp uses phone numbers for users.

"Customer service representatives do not have to ask for personal numbers to reach the clients. They already have it," Kimenye said.

There have been several OTT services that have reached hundreds of millions of users. Viber has 400 million users while WeChat has close to 500 million users. Skype and Facebook Messenger are also gunning to make waves in this market.

Kimenye wants Ongair to become the ultimate platform for all mobile chat services. Many companies have social sync tools, including programs from Hootsuite, Tweetdeck and SproutSocial, but there is "no single platform that helps companies manage their Whatsapp and WeChat," Kimenye noted. "There is just a gap when it comes to instant messaging."

Kimenye also noted that social media management tools cover a very small portion of the US$40 billion customer care global market.

Ongair also has plans to expand its services to individual users. Sharing links and articles on Whatsapp from blogs and other social media platform is not common, Kimenye says, adding that more sharing can happen within instant messaging services.

For example, in August content sharing plugin AddThis added a Whatsapp button, giving Whatsapp users another way to share links.

Kimenye now says that from next year, Ongair will be looking to branch out in more African countries and eventually play on the global stage.


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