Silicon Valley eyes African mobile tech

Nairobi-based tech start-up mSurvey receives strategic investment from $1m Kenyan venture fund to turn African consumer data into gold

Data is gold dust in the post-Internet world, and in emerging markets, companies and organisations flounder in gathering insight into people.

In rural places and thriving cities alike, businesses are left to make decisions based on assumptions rather than facts. Hospitals, banks and governing bodies also struggle to collect accurate data, which makes it near impossible to plan for the future.

African start-up mSurvey was founded by MIT alum Kenfield Griffith in 2012, when he realised just how sparse and inaccurate consumer data was, even in a big city like Nairobi.

Actionable data forms a whole picture of consumers, their current behaviours, preferences, interests and so on. Not having a strong profile for the African consumer makes it difficult for local businesses to form projections of what consumers need in the future, which inevitably slows innovation.

It also essentially shuts out foreign companies who may feel alienated from local consumers.

Emerging markets tend to leapfrog in terms of technology, with mobile penetration skyrocketting across Africa, Latin America and Asia before some of these consumers even interacted with interim technologies like pagers and pay phones.

Mobile phones have emerged as the communication lifeline in most emerging markets, with usage seeing a dramatic surge over the last decade – over 84 per cent in Kenya, 140 per cent in Trinidad and over 70 per cent throughout the Caribbean.

In Africa alone, there are more than half a billion mobile phone users.

In the past six months, the platform has engaged 1.58 million consumers, asking everything from their response to Brexit, Rio Olympic Games and US elections to groundbreaking HIV/AIDS research.
In the past six months, the platform has engaged 1.58 million consumers, asking everything from their response to Brexit, Rio Olympic Games and US elections to groundbreaking HIV/AIDS research.

Realising this, Griffith decided to bank on the popularity of mobile phones and SMS to have real-time conversations with people and collect data within minutes.

Unlike traditional research tools that can be time-consuming, expensive and subject to low response rates, mSurvey connects directly to consumers without printed questionnaires, local administrators or long response times.

mSurvey can target local audiences or random, diverse populations, through structured conversations pushed as questions from a chat bots. Responses roll in on a live data stream, usually within minutes with an average 60 per cent response rate that triples the reach of traditional survey tools.

Virtually anyone seeking answers can engage in conversations on any topic via mSurvey – from gauging pop culture and political views to facilitating groundbreaking healthcare research and helping businesses build deeper customer engagement and loyalty.

For UK businesses looking to enter the African market, Kenya may be the strongest foothold, considering access to consumer data. Even mSurvey’s Griffith, however, entered the market with a local partner. When looking to new markets, local expertise is a necessity.

Four years since its launch, mSurvey has propelled global organisations right into the heart of the Kenyan and wider African economy, working with businesses including P&G and McKinsey & Co, backed by telecom partners Safaricom among others.

So far mSurvey’s biggest audience is in Kenya, its pilot market, but the company is also targeting other African countries – including Nigeria, South Africa, Zambia, Tanzania and Uganda – as well as emerging markets globally, having recently entered the Philippines.

“For too long, direct access to emerging world data has been inaccessible, but we are witnessing the power of technology – specifically mobile messaging on our ever-present smart and simple phones –to connect people to local audiences,” said Kenfield Griffith, founder and CEO of mSurvey.

Most recently, Safaricom’s Spark Venture Fund, a $1 million accelerator fund for high-potential Kenya-based mobile technology start-ups has invested in mSurvey to further its expansion.

With the investment, Safaricom Spark joins Silicon Valley’s Cross Culture Ventures and the Virgin Group-backed, Caribbean-focused Alpha Angels network as investors in mSurvey. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

“The unique combination of Cross Culture Ventures, Alpha Angels and Safaricom as our investors strategically positions mSurvey as a truly globally driven and funded startup backed by a diverse set of investors that see our value proposition and understand our vision,” continued Griffith.

“We are excited about their support and look forward to creating new markets and opportunity using data as a door-opener to economic growth, entrepreneurship and development.”

From inception, mSurvey was developed to bring hidden and offline voices into the global conversation.

According to Safaricom’s CEO Bob Collymore, mSurvey allows the telecoms giant to interact and engage with its 25 million customers in one-to-one conversations.

Some of the early angel investors include Ashish Patel of the Abraaj Group, Salesforce CTO Steven Tamm, and Bob McNeel of Robert McNeel & Associates.

Joining Safaricom in this initial investment round include Cross Culture Ventures (CCV), early investor in Uber, Spotify and Warby Parker via the Atom Factor.

mSurvey also received investment from Alpha Angels, a Montego Bay based investors network supported by the Virgin Group’s Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship.

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda was Editor for from 2016 to 2018.

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