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.

Farm Radio helps smallholder farmers connect using Telerivet

Farm Radio International, a nonprofit that uses Telerivet, was recently featured in a New York Times article about Tanzanian farmers gaining important farming information and techniques through local radio. Farm Radio has partner radio stations in 38 radio stations throughout Africa to “deliver effective programs to serve smallholder farmers through radio.”

Farm Radio uses Telerivet to help these local radio stations boost the interactivity of radio programs by engaging directly with listeners via SMS messages, polls, and subscription services.


The picture above is from the first ever live Beep2vote poll at Radio Nkotakhota in Malawi earlier this year. Using Telerivet, two Android phones were set up to correspond to two different responses to a poll. Listeners simply called the number that corresponded to their response and hung up to register their vote. This system makes it easy for listeners to share their opinions free of charge. For example, a radio station could ask listeners to answer a poll about how they store their maize.

Farm Radio has an open session next week at the 6th annual Information and Communication Technologies and Development International Conference (ICTD2013) in Cape Town. The December 10th session is a hands-on demonstration showcasing how Farm Radio and our Android App can make radio more interactive for listeners. More information about ICTD 2013 and Farm Radio’s open session can be found here.


MAMA’s global learning course

At Telerivet, we always enjoy sharing our technology with new audiences. So Jesse (our CTO) and I were thrilled to participate in the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action global learning course last week and share a tutorial video we created to show how MAMA programs can create their mobile messaging campaign with Telerivet. Our cloud-based platform makes it easy to set up and deploy a wide variety of mobile messaging programs — including maternal health campaigns, polling, community organizing, sending appointment reminders, and much more.

The video we presented last week focuses on the steps for creating a mobile messaging campaign within Telerivet. For maternal health campaigns, the easiest way is to use any spreadsheet program (like Excel) to quickly generate a schedule of messages to send according to each mother’s due date, then simply copy and paste those messages into Telerivet. To download an Excel template that you could adapt for your organization’s messaging campaign, click here.

View our tutorial video to see how it works:

Update 1/23/14: We just launched improved features for message scheduling, so the above method is no longer the easiest way to conduct maternal health campaigns. See blog post and updated tutorial video

We're rapidly improving and adding capabilities to Telerivet, and we’re always looking to our customers for suggestions on what we should build next — so let us know if you have ideas about new features that could help your organization.

Thanks again to the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action for including us in their global learning course and we hope to work with the MAMA community to support maternal health through mobile messaging!


Africa’s rapid growth: 2 discussions

Africa’s massive growth in tech and mobile is gaining attention, and Silicon Valley is taking note of this opportunity. Our CEO Joshua recently spoke on two panels that focused on mobile payments and innovation within Africa.

The first discussion was part of Meltwater’s The Next Frontier Africa event series. The topic focused on how Africa is leading the mobile payment charge. According to Meltwater, “Africa hosts 6 of the 10 fastest growing economies and and has the second biggest mobile market in the world. With rapid urbanization and an ever growing middle class, now estimated at 300 million consumers, there is a large and rising demand for new technology products and services.”




Joshua commented that "The mobile money opportunity in Africa now is similar to the early days of Diner's Club card in the US."

Joshua also joined a panel on frugal innovation in Africa at m-NEXT at GMIC this past Tuesday. The main focus of the panel was on the rapid growth of Africa’s mobile market and how this expansion continues to present unique business opportunities across the mobile value chain. Panelists discussed how limited resources can lead to extremely innovative and creative ideas. The panelists also talked about how their companies have seen the expansive growth of mobile money and m-PESA within Africa.



To learn more about a user experience breakout session on Telerivet’s unique opportunities and challenges with designing technology for the developing world next month, read more here.

Hope to see you there!


New updates to contacts, groups, and dates

We just launched four new updates to Telerivet to make it even more user-friendly and efficient. Read on, try them out, and let us know what you think!


Dates in your local format

Does 10/9/2013 mean October 9 or September 10?

At Telerivet headquarters in San Francisco, we write dates in mm/dd/yyyy format, so Telerivet has always formatted dates that way too. But if you’re not from the US, Canada, Belize, Palau, or Micronesia, that’s probably not how you normally do it.

Now you can specify the order of the month, day, and year in dates within Telerivet. Just click on Settings and then choose your preferred date format.

When entering dates in Telerivet, feel free to use either slashes, dots, or dashes.

By default, your date format should be set to the most common format used in your country. If we picked the wrong date format for your country, let us know!


Editing contacts without leaving the page

When you’re using Telerivet to track contact information for hundreds or thousands of contacts, every few seconds spent editing each contact can easily turn into hours.

To save valuable seconds each time you need to edit a contact, we just changed our contact editor to open in a modal dialog — meaning you can edit contacts without ever leaving the page you’re on.

Each custom contact field has a "gear" icon if you want to edit the field name, type, or variable name. Previously you could edit those settings by clicking on the field name, but that wasn’t very obvious!

You’ll also notice that editing contact groups now uses a tag-based text field with autocomplete, instead of having a checkbox for every group. If you have dozens of groups, this really makes a difference!

But what if you’re on the Messages page, and you want to save details from messages into contact information? Previously you had to leave the Messages page in order to update contact information, so if you needed to do that 100 times in a row, it was not very fun.

So now, you can edit contact details without ever leaving the Messages page. Just “long-click” on the contact name next to any message — in other words, click and hold the mouse for at least half a second.

Less back and forth means more time for everything else you want to do.


Viewing group sizes at a glance

When you’re sending a message to a group, you’ll probably want to know how many people you’re sending to — it makes a big difference if you’re sending to 10 people or 1,000.

Now, the “Send SMS” dialog shows the number of contacts in each group you're sending to, so you can easily see how many messages you're about to send.

Also, you can now see all your group sizes at a glance on the Contacts page  – there’s no need to click on each group to see how many contacts at has.


“Set contact variable” rule

If you’re using Telerivet’s Rules Engine, one of the things you may often want to do is update contact information automatically from an incoming message.

This has always been possible by using the “Set variable” rule, but the “Set variable” rule is perhaps a little too powerful — if all you want to do is update contact information, it requires a few too many clicks.

In order to make this easier, we just added the “Set contact variable” rule to the Rules Engine (underlined below):

For example, to set the contact’s email address from the content of an SMS message, you could create a “Set contact variable” like this:


Try these improvements out, and let us know what you think!