Tech Giants Discuss Opportunities and Growth Strategies in Africa

Last Thursday’s Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST) panel event, part of their The Next Frontier event series, brought out expert panelists from large tech companies: Google, IBM, and Microsoft. All three of these companies have a presence in Africa (indeed, around the world) and are actively developing strategies for offering their products and services in African countries and other developing nations. The panelists, top executives who specialize on African growth opportunities and Africa’ technology and innovation challenges, were asked “What Is Your Africa Strategy?”

That complicated question—which seeks to better understand exactly how they and their partners anticipate offering products and services to the more than 1 billion citizens of Africa—prompted interesting answers that highlighted why Africa is prime for growth, innovation, and success.

Related: Joshua Stern, Telerivet CEO, at the last MEST event

Africa’s massive economic growth, large working-age population, rapid urbanization and acceleration toward mobility and connectivity, are arguably all important factors for determining a strategy for success in African markets. Given these factors, the panelists shared their insight and unique perspective on how they’re approaching Africa:

  • Wendy Lung, of IBM’s Venture Capital Group, discussed the vast opportunity in Africa. She noted how the prevalence of mobile phones throughout the continent is an indication of how Africa has been able to leapfrog from PCs to mobile devices in a non-linear way. She also discussed the growing need for local entrepreneurs to build local solutions, and how her team is focused on skill building in the local startup community.

  • Ivan Lumala, CTO for Microsoft’s 4Afrika initiative, shares Lung’s view on the importance of African entrepreneurs building local solutions for their communities and regions. For companies like IBM and Microsoft, one particular strategy is not only get Africans to “consume technology, but to also build relevant solutions.” Lumala said that Microsoft’s initiative focuses on enabling “Africa to be competitive, because it can be.”

  • Kendra Commander of Google agrees that there are great business opportunities for Africa as it becomes more fertile for technological growth and innovation. Google’s strategy focuses on connecting more Africans to the internet. Commander also discussed how Africa serves as a great model for emerging markets to test solutions: if critical issues can be solved in African nations (such as reliable connectivity), it can be replicated in other emerging markets.

Africa is a hotbed for opportunity and innovation and it’s no longer a question of whether the tech space in Africa is significant—few deny the magnitude—but how we best develop, tap, and nurture the space.

What was perhaps most important, revealing, and inspiring theme of the conversation was the universal recognition of Africa’s capacity for local entrepreneurship and innovation.  The road to realization of the Africa opportunity is to enable local businesses and organizations to thrive on their own terms.

SMS polling, now even more powerful

One of Telerivet’s most popular features is the ability to easily conduct polls and surveys via SMS or missed calls, anywhere in the world. For example, Farm Radio International, in partnership with dozens of radio broadcasters, has already used Telerivet to gather over 150,000 votes from radio listeners across Africa.

With thanks to feedback and input from our great community of users, we’re happy to announce two new tools that make Telerivet’s polling feature even easier and more powerful.

Do more with your data:  Browse and filter your response data online

Telerivet makes it easy for you to create and run mobile polls.  Now, we also make it easy for you to explore the results of your polls.

While you’ve always been able to see a basic overview of your poll responses on Telerivet, if you wanted to get more insights from your data, you needed to export your data (to CSV).

With this update, Telerivet now shows you all your poll responses in a data table that you can sort and filter in your browser. To view the data for any statistic, simply click that statistic in your poll results. For example, to see all the responses for a question, just click on the number of responses to that question, as shown below:


For our example poll (with two multiple-choice questions "q1" and "q2"), the data table of responses looks  like this:


Telerivet makes it easy to combine multiple filters so you can spot trends in your data.

For example, suppose you're conducting a poll with two "yes" or "no" questions, and suppose you want to find the people who responded "no" to question 2 and "yes" to question 1 in the last 10 days. To see how to do it, take a look at the image below, where we combine three different filters to to find responses that match all of the following conditions:

  1. The response code for question 1 is "yes", and 
  2. The response code for question 2 is "no", and
  3. The response was received on or after March 5.


And of course, you can still export your data to CSV (under the “More” menu).

Track and remind people who haven’t responded to your poll

If you’ve ever sent out an SMS poll, you may have found that not everyone responds. For some people, it might take a little extra nudge in order for them to reply.

Now, Telerivet makes it easy to remind people who haven’t responded to your poll yet.

Next to your poll service, click on the “More” drop-down menu, and click “View contacts in progress”:


The “Contacts in Progress” page shows contacts who you’ve sent the poll to who haven’t responded yet. If your poll has multiple questions, it also shows contacts who have started your poll but not yet finished it.


The “Current State” column shows the ID of the question that the contact is currently answering.

Like with the response data tables, you can easily sort and filter these contacts to find just the ones you want.

To remind people to complete your survey, you can select one or more contacts and click “Resend Question”. If your survey has multiple questions, this will send the current question for each contact, so your contacts pick up right where they left off. Or, you can click “Send SMS” to write a custom message. You can message everyone who hasn't completed your poll yet — possibly hundreds or thousands of contacts – or just certain contacts matching a particular filter.

For more advanced users, the “Set State” and “Reset” actions also let you manually change the question that a contact is currently working on. Under the “More” menu, you can also export the data from this page to CSV.

Try it out!

To try out the new poll features, head over the Automated Services page on your Telerivet dashboard. If you don’t already have a poll, try it out by adding a "Poll / Survey". Let us know what you think!

Telerivet has an amazing community of users, and we find ourselves ever impressed by the creative and inspiring ways you use the platform. If you have any more suggestions for new features and improvements, drop us a line at  Stay tuned for even more big updates coming in the next few weeks.

WhatsApp for business? How international organizations are getting in on mobile messaging

Originally posted on VentureBeat

Although it had not received much attention until recently, the global mobile messaging space has long been a high-growth, high-value space. After last month’s $19 billion acquisition of WhatsApp by Facebook, it’s undeniable.

With a 55-person team ($345 million per employee), 450 million users ($42.20 per user) and $20 million in annual revenue (950x revenue), WhatsApp’s acquisition has been feverishly sensationalized, debated, and analyzed worldwide.

So what made WhatsApp so incredibly valuable, and what does it mean for the mobile messaging space?

The WhatsApp deal demonstrates the importance of connectivity by means other than the Internet: The use of text messaging on mobile phones. WhatsApp pioneered a non-paternalistic international approach that facilitated easier connectivity in the developing world. And finally, WhatsApp’s focus has been on personal use, allowing the company to rapidly gain momentum. Together with an advertisement-free experience, WhatsApp created a perfect storm that led to its incredible success.

The question on everyone’s lips: What’s the business model? After all, it’s “business use” that has a history of proving the long-term sustainability of technologies and offering new ways of generating scalable revenue. No doubt businesses, organizations and communities in emerging markets would find value in connecting with constituents, customers, and partners on mobile devices.

But before we talk about businesses using mobile messaging, let’s examine the role of connectivity and how people can access the Internet and other digital services. It’s here where we see the beginning of the divergence between corporate uses and personal uses for mobile messaging technology.

Mark Zuckerberg recently explained how WhatsApp aligns with his and Facebook’s vision to connect the world. He pointed out that only a third of the globe’s population is currently connected to the Internet. He stressed the importance of increasing worldwide Internet connectivity, and noted that emerging market connectivity (such as, places like Africa, Southeast Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and rural and disaffected communities around the world) could bring and improve essential services in areas such as healthcare, education, and financial systems.

But “connectivity” means different things to different markets. For most of the world, connectivity means a basic mobile phone, not an Internet-connected device as it does in the U.S. and Europe. While 2.7 billion people may have internet connectivity, an estimated 4.5 billion people in the world have at least one active mobile device, meaning that mobile messaging is accessible to the majority of the world in a way that many other internet services are not.


Indeed, mobile messaging has become second nature to billions, particularly in the developing world where it is the primary form of electronic communication.

At the same time, non-Western technological adoption has progressed in a non-linear way, offering solutions like WhatsApp an opportunity to capitalize in ways that incumbent carriers and telcos hadn’t realized. In the west, our technological progression is linear: mainframes to PCs to laptops and landlines to mobile phones to smartphones to the wide range of mobile and wearable devices available today.

For a variety of reasons (much of it due to the relatively recent emergence of necessary infrastructure) much of the developing world went from having no technology at all to having mobile devices. WhatsApp recognized that while smart phones with basic internet access were finally becoming affordable in emerging markets, carrier SMS rates remained expensive. Their solution? Save people money by enabling them to message each other through their data plans. WhatsApp made messaging less expensive, simple to use for those who aren’t accustomed to technology (imagine someone who’d never used a computer or phone before), and as device-agnostic as possible.

If WhatsApp highlights the need for frictionless person-to-person messaging, the need for frictionless business-to-business and business-to-person messaging is even more clear — especially since barriers to running mobile communication services in most of the developing world have been prohibitively expensive and, for many, too technically complicated. Some of the challenges typically associated with business mobile messaging (particularly internationally) include paying for an expensive short code from a local mobile carrier and hiring a development team to build out a communications service. All too often, business mobile messaging is out of reach for businesses and organizations without the necessary resources.

At Telerivet, we’re working to help make mobile messaging accessible to business and organizations around the world. And the unique ways in which these businesses and organizations are using mobile messaging are incredibly surprising and inspiring:

  • Clinics in rural areas send automated, scheduled mobile message updates to pregnant mothers to remind them to get periodical check-ups, reducing pregnancy complications and infant mortality
  • Radio networks send timely SMS notifications to local farmers with critical farming information and collect real-time weather and condition updates from farmers who on the ground, enabling them to compile mission-critical farming data and advocate on communities’ behalves to end hunger and poverty
  • Humanitarian organizations use SMS to collect representative data from families and displaced people in challenging environments to get real-time updates on rapidly-changing humanitarian and security situations
  • Banks provide credit scoring and financial literacy training through SMS to unbanked individuals around the world
  • Trucking and logistics companies in the developing world streamline their operations and keep track of packages as they move across rural or geopolitically unstable environments

There are virtually endless scenarios in which business to business (B2B) and business to consumer (B2C) mobile messaging is practical.

We’re living in a time of constantly accelerating technological change, and each iteration expands the possibilities of economies, businesses and ultimately, societies. The mainframe era made it possible to gather, collate and manage information, giving way to the PC, which allowed everyday businesses to bring computing power into their operations.

The rise of the cloud made it possible for businesses of all sizes to utilize and leverage powerful, scalable technologies without the cost and complexity of on-premise software.

We are now witnessing the ways in which the affordability of mobile devices have enabled people in emerging markets to finally have connectivity and services like WhatsApp have made that connectivity affordable for personal use anywhere on the globe. The continued democratization of mobile communications in emerging markets is a similar narrative to the cloud’s democratizing effect on business software in the West, and the implications of the rise of mobile communications that we can already see (not to mention those we haven’t yet) are boundless.