Mocality aims to be ‘largest’ mobile business directory in Africa

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If you’re in downtown Nairobi before the 4th of August, be sure to pop in to the Barber Q Hair Studio and get yourself a free head massage. The studio is on the 2nd Floor of El-Roi Plaza, close to the Odeon Cinema. This is just one example of the thousands of snippets of information that are at the heart of Mocality, a free-to-list, hyper-local mobile business directory in Nairobi, Kenya.

Mocality offers a free business suite of tools to all listed businesses, such as the ability to upload customer mobile numbers into the Mocality platform, a free mobile website and 400 free SMSes each month to message their customers about new products and promotions.

Mocality’s CEO Stefan Magdalinksi sees Mocality as becoming “the largest, most successful, business directory in sub-Saharan Africa by expanding the market via internet technology to include millions of businesses that previously never appeared in a directory, offline or online”.

The business is based in South Africa and is part of the Naspers stable, but they took a strategic decision to begin operations in May 2009 in Nairobi, for a number of reasons. As Magdalinski explains: “Kenya’s a good place for doing business, has good internet penetration and a lot of mobile phones. Also, it has M-PESA, the mobile money platform, which makes paying our agent network very easy”.

The M-PESA system, which began as a microfinancing initiative, has developed into an acceptable system for peer-to-peer money transfer via SMS. Mocality uses it to pay their agents, to add businesses to the directory, as well as to validate other entries into the system, using camera-phones to do so.

Mocality also believes that it can learn a lot more about what works and what doesn’t in an African context by starting their operations in Nairobi.

“If we launched first in Cape Town,” explains Magdalinksi, “we wouldn’t learn so much that would help us in Kampala or Lagos. South Africa is too developed, and too different from the rest. But we will launch here later.”

Mocality’s intelligent search allows users to search and discover businesses by keyword and/or location and provides detailed information on every business. Anyone with a mobile phone in Kenya is eligible for the program and can sign up at www.mocality.com/money. The company believes that hyper-locality is the key to its success. Magdalinksi explains that this means “’we know exactly where you are, at this point in time, and what’s happening right around you, and we’d like to help you get stuff done better, whether you’re a business owner or a consumer”.

At this point, the company is focussed on building the database and getting customer usage.  They are playing their cards close to their chest when it comes to the issue of profitability, but they claim to “have a number of innovative ideas for generating revenue.”

Their philosophy is that “we’ll make money when we can consistently generate more customers for our member businesses, and help consumers find what they want more efficiently.”

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