How a Tech Start-up is Empowering Local Entrepreneurs
Partnerships, local content, empowerment, creating eco-systems - all buzz words that I am sure are very familiar to Business Fights Poverty (BFP) readers, yet despite all the talk the quest for developing such partnerships and putting these ideas into practice often remains elusive.
Last week was Global Partnership Week and having read multiple articles on the importance of such partnerships I wanted to share the experience of my company nFrnds as a case study for putting some of these ideas intro practice.
nFrnds is a tech company dedicate to “connecting the unconnected” via any mobile device, in business jargon - we provide an end-to-end solution enabling businesses and mass market users to connect to the digital world and vertical ecosystems. In simple terms - we offer a platform that requires no data nor installations upon which anyone from large multinational companies, agricultural conglomerates, Pan-African banks or health ministries to micro- entrepreneurs, rural health workers or unemployed youth can build services. At an affordable rate of approximately $1 per month per users, we currently offer services ranging from sector specific solutions in mAgri, mHealth or financial inclusion to horizontal solutions such as CRM, Virtual Point of Sales or Loyalty Plans that can be accessed through any mobile device. This data is then stored in the cloud and can be accessed anywhere whether it be through a PC, smartphone or another simple mobile device. The beauty of our platform is that not only is it a cutting edge technology to connect the BoP (we have 11 patents granted and another 6 pending), it is also highly flexibile and dynamic, thus enabling local partners to create the content and services they need.
On one hand we have been lucky in that we have been selected by some of the largest global players such as Microsoft and MasterCard for connecting the BoP to their services. However, the partnerships that we believe are most integral to our success and rapid growth are the partnerships with local eco-system players who understand the local context and enjoy the trust of the communities they serve.
Aligning Interests and Building Local Partnerships
We ensure that our partners interests are aligned every step of the way, and this partnership-centric approach is deeply embedded into our business model. We are currently live on 5-Pan African mobile operators who benefit from our revenue sharing model and the expanded range of business solutions we bring to their customers, regardless of their type of mobile device. As a result, we gain from their broad reach and marketing, advertising and billing capabilities. Our global partners benefit from the oversight we provide them over their value chains, while our customers gain from their plug-in solutions such as Microsoft’s AX7 ERP solution or MasterCard’s payment solutions. Our local partners benefit from our highly adaptable platform that both allows them to better manage and communicate with their customers or members as well as expanding the services they can offer them (e.g agri extension services, health reminders, loyalty rewards), while our major gain is that a trusted local player, rather than a foreign “Muzungu” is the entry point for introducing our services to the local community.
Early in the process we developed a unique strategy for entering new markets where we run 2-day innovation workshops for local entrepreneurs in a tech hub in our target country. This gives us an opportunity to meet and work with young, local talent, to understand the challenges they face and the opportunities they perceive in their own markets as well as for us to begin building relationships with local stakeholders ranging from mobile operators to government, tech hubs, universities, development agencies and local businesses. We invite these players to attend the final demo event where they see for themselves how these young entrepreneurs were able to build their own solutions through our platform. We have run such workshops in Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe and are always looking for opportunities to hold further workshops in new locations. In each workshop we are inspired by the creativity, enthusiasm and broad range of ideas in the local market, ranging from transportation solutions, to medical appointment bookings to micro-savings.
Once we have established a presence in a market we begin speaking to potential partners who we believe have much to gain from the comprehensive oversight over their value chains that we can provide through our platform. We are currently building loyalty programs for small-scale farmers at their local agro-vets, virtual point of sales solutions for micro-merchants, remote ordering systems for rural pharmacies, enhanced communication channels for religious groups, early-warning systems for at-risk communities and digital resumes for unemployed youth to name but a few.
As someone with a background in international development I love the fast pace at which we work and our ability to build solutions for such a wide range of key development challenges within a matter of weeks to months. However, I also appreciate the importance nFrnds attributes to partnerships and we spend a considerable share of our time cultivating these relationships and ensuring that we are working towards common goals. As the often quoted African Proverb states, “If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together.” I welcome the opportunity to connect with others within the BFP community who are interested in learning more about our platform and its potential for your customers, beneficiaries, congregants or communities. Please feel free to be in touch! [email protected] or visit www.nfnrds.com