Africa’s number of mobile phone subscribers is the fastest growing in the world, according to a report released last year by GSMA, an organisation that represents mobile operators globally. Although mobile penetration still remains low when compared to other regions in the world, the platform offers opportunities for multinationals and brands looking to connect with the continent’s growing consumer base and their increasing spending power.
One company that is building a business around this opportunity is Every1Mobile, established in 2010 with offices in the UK and Cape Town.
Every1Mobile builds communities, accessible via mobile phones, of people across Africa who share similar interests or goals. It currently runs eight communities – focusing on areas such as health, education, entertainment and employment – and primarily target young users between the ages of 15 and 35. The company draws its revenue from allowing its clients to access, interact with, and better understand these community users, who can offer companies and brands advertising opportunities, and/or valuable information such as consumer behaviour trends and market research.
For example, beSmart is a community mainly aimed at meeting the interests of student or learner users across Africa. It offers daily facts, quizzes, forum discussions and expert help that keep users active and engaged in the community.
“What we are doing is we are building very large communities of young people who are interested in their education, their health, their livelihoods and the education, health and livelihoods of their family and their community,” Algy Williams, CEO and cofounder of Every1Mobile, told How we made it in Africa.
“In sales terms, we are building a very qualified audience, i.e. people who are becoming healthy, educated, banked and employed.”
He added that with an expanding middle class and increasing social mobility, development organisations, brands and financial institutions are progressively more interested in communicating with this audience.
“And the reason I think we are in a very interesting space is up until very recently all of those people, or the great majority of those people, had not been accessible by conventional media… But suddenly with this massive explosion and penetration of mobile phones – where access or ownership of a mobile phone or even indeed a SIM card is across the entire socio-economic spectrum – you have the opportunity to reach people who have been inaccessible before,” he explained.
Clients include businesses, as well as governments and organisations within the aid and development industry, which Williams says is worth around US$36bn-$37bn a year in sub-Saharan Africa.
Currently, Every1Mobile has over a million active monthly users with seven countries across Africa (South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe) showing strong usage. Around 85% of their users access their communities using feature phones, which usually have basic internet access, the ability to take photos and listen to music, but do not have all the computer-like functions of a smartphone.
Interestingly, Williams added that – according to a survey they did about a year ago – a large percentage of their users (several hundred thousand) are involved in some kind of entrepreneurial activity.
Seeing potential in Africa
Prior to starting Every1Mobile, Williams was running a company in the video games industry which had global offices that included a space in Delhi, India. By the time he sold his company in 2008, he had witnessed the powerful growth of mobile phones in India and said it was not a stretch of the imagination to see the same revolution about to happen in Africa.
“And essentially, given where sub-Saharan Africa is in terms of the tremendously exciting stage that the region is in at the moment – the phenomenal growth, the great optimism, the fantastic talent, it has the fastest growing middle class in the world… So given that kind of environment, and the phenomenal penetration of mobile phones (and that is the only mass market communications medium in sub-Saharan Africa, and beyond frankly)… it seemed like a phenomenal opportunity.”
He added that seeing markets in Africa that were showing GDP growth two to four times the GDP growth of the UK (where he is based) and the European Union, was too exciting to miss out on.
“I was fascinated by the interplay that is happening now with the explosion of mobile phones and mass markets communication devices on the one hand, and on the other hand the opportunity to build a business out of delivering products and services and content that would help this process of building social and economic inclusion.”