4 vital business lessons from Google’s snafu with Mocality in Kenya.

Finally, it seems the dust is settling after what I could only describe as a hell of a storm of controversy surrounding Google’s snafu with Mocality in Kenya over the last couple of days. I blogged about it here when I found out that Google had apparently tried to get Mocality listed businesses to shift their services to them under the Kenya Businesses Online (KBO) initiative. The full details of this matter can be found on the Mocality blog here, including the latest update that shows that Google actually apologized for what they did, directly or indirectly.

In analyzing this whole Google and Mocality fiasco, it occurred to me that there are several business lessons that one could learn from the same. This applies to both sides of the matter meaning you could benefit from some of the insights that came out of this incident. So, here we go, 4 business lessons from Google’s snafu with Mocality in Kenya from this past week.

Your friend is your enemy, and your enemy is your friend.

Google is one of the world’s largest and most profitable businesses. Google makes its money largely from running the world’s best and most successful search engine and then monetizes that traffic through advertising. However, Google’s business is more complex than this simple description as their offerings now span the gamut of possible digital services and platforms – be it their Google Apps, Android, etc. In a nutshell, Google is BIG in every sense of the word. It is for this very reason that on one hand, Mocality got given the wrong end of the stick by Google where their KBO initiative is concerned. However, on the other hand, Mocality is and will continue to be a major user of Google’s online advertising services. It’s as simple as that when all is said and done. Mocality will continue to cooperate with Google as an advertiser but will also compete with them as well. This sort of conflict of interest scenario is often referred to as “coopetition”. More and more these days, coopetition is a fact of life in business and there are numerous scenarios where it happens. Mocality and Google is no exception. Buckle up folks, this is the real world.

Do your homework first.

What Mocality did before they came out with their detailed blog post on what Google had done to them was do their homework, thoroughly. They pulled off a sting operation in a detailed and comprehensive manner. Nothing was left to chance. By the time they had irrefutable evidence of what Google had done, they then went after Google in a transparent and factual manner. They did not simply hurl unfounded accusations at their tormentor – they made sure they had all the dirt on them first. To me, this was an act of brilliance, of sheer genius. In the digital realm, it is now more possible than ever to get down to all the granular detail of evidence before going for the jugular. The forensic manner in which Mocality made their case gave them potent ammunition that probably has Google wondering how this could have happened to them. Could it be that Google was arrogant and made many assumptions that their actions or those of contracted third-parties would go unnoticed and unpunished? It would indeed seem so. Whatever the case, doing your homework is always a good idea and this would apply to both Google and Mocality in this case.

Bad news can actually be good news too for the small(er) guy.

Mocality has had a good run in Kenya for the past few years. They have worked tirelessly to create the largest and most up to date business directory in Kenya. They have spent good amounts of money to make it all work whilst not earning much yet. All things considered, they are successful and are set to really take off in the coming years. However, Mocality has been a business that is largely unknown beyond Kenya and Africa. In the context of what Google did to them, you could say that Mocality is ultimately the small(er) guy in this whole matter. I emphasize small(er) instead of small since Mocality is owned by MIH which is one of the largest holding groups in the world when it comes to e-commerce businesses and hence they are not small but a small(er) giant compared to Google. The cool thing in all of this happening is that suddenly the whole world knows about Mocality since the story broke out of the African Blogosphere and grew into a global mainstream news story. I cannot possibly calculate what this kind of visibility is worth but I would say a good amount of money, more or less for free. Suddenly, Mocality has global fame from this snafu. Bad news can actually be good news too!

In a digitally connected world, local is really global.

One of the things that has surprised me the most about the whole Google and Mocality fiasco in Kenya is how big the story became in a couple of days. I was one of the first (local) bloggers who was tipped off about what had happened which prompted me to do a blog post here and then link to the bigger story on the Mocality blog post. I had assumed at most that this would be a Kenyan story, especially on social media like Twitter and Facebook. I was wrong. Within hours, all the major tech blogs in Africa had picked it up. Within a day, the major global tech blogs like TechCrunch had picked it too. In no time, it went to credible mainstream online publications like the Financial Times. In a nutshell, this story exploded and went truly global. It goes without saying that Google being the protagonist in this drama was the secret sauce that made it so interesting to all the bloggers and media companies that covered it. Google was beating on the small(er) guy and everyone jumps at such a one-sided story. Clearly, the consequences of what has happened will become a case study of what NOT to do when the whole world has an interest in your global brand. Local is really global.

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6 thoughts on “4 vital business lessons from Google’s snafu with Mocality in Kenya.

  1. What surprises me is how none of the Kenyan (print and online) media have said a word about this issue. This kind of silence from that quarter has really got me thinking about the level of influence that they are under, given the fact that CNN, BBC, and the likes of TechCrunch, Forbes etc have all had a writeup on the matter….. hmm…..

  2. I think it is untrue to say that Mocality had all their facts right before they went after google. I’m not a google fanboy so don’t get me wrong. Mocality did a lot of work in trying to unravel the source of these ‘unethical data theft’. But there’s one thing they overlooked that would have bit them back real hard. It is possible to use google’s publicly available servers such as google translate and google cache to access or crawl a site.

    There are numerous tools out there that spoof not just the IP but also the cookie, user agent and the referer to make web servers think that its the real deal. Mocality got lucky that it turned out that one of Google Kenya’s employees was too ambitious with their KBO project. Otherwise Mocality would just have been labelled as trying to get publicity by picking a fight with the big guys. I guess the ‘dont be evil’ motto is just for their HQ.

  3. Google should pay heftily what they did to Mocality…Seriously that was just plain wrong. Build your own business from scratch and the rule of stealing is one: Don’t be caught. Period.

  4. Great analysis again. I would think that after this, many corporates will have to think hard before they think that a small entity cannot make a viral story. That story was huge and deservedly so.

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