Yesterday afternoon I met Stefan Magdalinski for coffee at the Nairobi Java (Junction Branch). Stefan is the CEO of Mocality, a mobile-based and crowd-sourced business directory that has been operating under the radar in Kenya. Mocality operates out of Cape Town in South Africa but has been deliberately launched in Kenya first and more specifically Nairobi with over 10,000 businesses listed at this time (other Kenyan towns and cities will be added over time).
As I found out during our meeting, Stefan previously was a Co-founder and CTO for Moo.com, an online printing company that lets you create custom-made business cards, postcards, stickers and other paraphernalia on their web site (its a really nifty service by the way!). Also at the 2 hour meetup we’re Joshua Mwaniki who is Mocality’s Country Manager for Kenya and Kennedy Kachwanya who is the operations Manager for Maduqa.com, a Kenyan online shopping mall. The meetup had been more or less organized by Ushahidi’s Erik Hersman over email (thanks Erik!).
Mocality’s started aim is to generate a massive base of local content that is accessible from your mobile phone and easy to search. Itâ€™s designed to help you find whatever you need in Nairobi without having to look it up in a book or even use a computer. Itâ€™s a wealth of local information in your pocket, wherever you are, any time of the day. I happened to register Dotsavvy on Mocality prior to the meeting and it works pretty well with a lot more detail than what you would get in a standard Yellow Pages listing. What I find most compelling about Mocality’s approach to listing businesses is that it crowd-sources business listings through “agents”. Agents can sign-up online and are remunerated for entering new business listings that are then verified. According to Stefan, they now have over 60 agents working in Nairobi going around collecting business contacts and putting them into Mocality’s database. Agents are paid via M-Pesa meaning that they get paid promptly and are incentivized to get as many listings as possible.
Another aspect about Mocality is that there are a myriad of ways of uploading and accessing business listings. One can do so via the mobile web, email, a J2ME app, an iPhone app, SMS and of course via web browser on a PC. In addition, businesses that list on Mocality also have access to free bulk SMS, a mobile business card and a free mobile website. This means that Mocality is far more than a directory – its also a business toolkit with additional services that are relevant for businesses of all sizes. Listed businesses get 400 free SMS messages a month which they can use for sending promotional messages to their customers. In addition, business listings are augmented using Google Maps so that they are precisely mapped for location. One feature I really liked on the Mocality iPhone app that Joshua demonstrated is that a restaurant for instance could have its full menu on the business listing as well as photos and logos for the restaurant – its more than a basic online directory for sure!
Going forward, having talked to Stefan and Joshua it seems that Mocality have a lot of big ideas for Africa. I really like the fact that they launched first in Kenya meaning that Mocality realizes the value of doing so here first before even doing so in South Africa where they are based. Its a fact that Africa outside South Africa is very different and a Pan-African roll-out needs to factor these differences into the mix. I kept asking if they planned to offer certain features that would be ideal for Kenya like mobile money integration and FourSquare-like functionality – all I got we’re smirks and grins that indicated something is definitely cooking in stealth. It also remains to be seen how Mocality which has a whole bunch of value-added services will fare against the tried and proven Yellow Pages in Kenya who recently also launched SMS-based services and a mobile web version of their web site. In addition, not to be locked out is Google Local Maps which has some of the value-added functionality that Mocality does though not quite as extensive. Whatever the case, Mocality which is part of Naspers in South Africa could be a game changer for local business information and services in Kenya, enroute to the rest of Africa.