Kenyan innovator, John Waibochi, is best known for his Nokia million dollar award at the international Nokia World and Developer Summit in London in 2010. He has won many awards World Summit Award Mobile 2010, Moran of the Order of the Burning Spear and Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund to name a few.
Waibochi is the Managing Director of Virtual City Ltd, a mobility solutions company specialising in supply chain automation, knowledge Management and interactive solutions. The company is helping revolutionise Kenya’s growing mobile culture.
Waibochi, talked to Memeburn about mobility in Africa and Nokia’s future on the continent ahead of his Net Prophet presentation this week.
Memeburn: What is it about the mobile phone that makes it so revolutionary for Africa?
John Waibochi: It provides an automation platform similar to what the PC did for the developed world from which we develop solutions that improves our efficiencies, increase trade transactions, make payments, communicate, etc. Beyond the ability to speak with each other, the real revolution is in its use as a reliable business tool that a vast majority of the adult population has access to and is well versed in its operation.
MB: How do you explain Kenya’s remarkable hi-tech growth?
JW: The adaption rate of the Kenyan consumer and Small Medium Enterprise business for new ways of doing things is amazing. New ideas brought to market that are transformational in nature have a high acceptance rate and quick rejection rate in Kenya by the consumers. This enables winning ideas to have a viral effect across the market faster and poor ideas to drop out sooner rather than later. The other aspect that Kenya has taken a lead on is in utilising hi-tech for improving day to day transactions and local application of technology to address local environments.
MB: What did Kenya do differently to the rest of Africa to explain such rapid growth?
JW: The last eight years have seen a number of infrastructure and regulatory initiatives that have dramatically reduced the cost and increased the penetration of mobile technology. This has spawned a very high number of service providers, system integrators and software developers that did not previously exist. But more so has been the readiness of the consumers and market players that is significantly different in Kenya than in a number of other African markets.
MB: Is it making a real difference to the man in the street?
JW: Absolutely. We have noted increases in farmer deliveries to market for certain commodities increase over 12% through the use of mobile technology to record and accurately capture small holder farmer transactions in rural areas, mobile banking reaching masses that would otherwise never have entered any form of formal financial system, payment for transactions that used to take days unsafely now accomplished in seconds securely. The cost to the man in the street of accessing a service or completing a transaction has been reduced substantially in certain sectors and this would not have been possible without the proliferation of mobile devices and acceptance of mobile transactions in the market.
MB: What’s the elevator pitch for your business?
JW: We consistently innovate Mobility Solutions that Simplify Lives. Our core competence is in automating supply chains towards increasing efficiencies on how goods and services move through the various levels in a market and how the payments for those goods and services are made, primarily in Agriculture, Manufacturing and Research.
MB: How did winning the Nokia award change your business?
JW: It has taken us to a completely different level as a business in several ways. One, it has helped us better define our brand and what we do. Secondly, it has allowed us to deploy R and D resources towards quality improvements of our products to global standards that we would previously have been unable to do.
Thirdly, it has enabled us to create new business lines that we will be launching in the east African Market in Q3 of this year. Lastly, it has put us on the World Map and the effect of that through partnerships, turnkey projects and large scale initiatives that would previously have been beyond our grasp. The net effect on the business has and will be profound.
MB: With the growth of Android, do you think Nokia has a future in Africa?
JW: Certainly Nokia has a future in Africa. The very large market share it has in many of the African countries will come under threat from Android but its not a zero sum game and I’m sure they’ll not cede their leadership position with ease if at all.
MB: Where to from here with Virtual City?
JW: Virtual City will extend its presence beyond the East African borders with increasingly innovative and new products and services. Our business model and technology platforms have also been refined enabling us to reach new vertical and geographical markets by way of offering software as a service as opposed to turnkey projects and secondly utilise hosted and cloud technologies to dramatically reduce our price point in the market. Virtual City is positioning itself to be the Leading Mobility Solutions Provider in Africa and is determined to achieve this.
MB: What can people expect from your talk at Net Prophet?
JW: My talk at Net Prophet will primarily be on the trends we are seeing in Africa of the convergence between mobile applications and mobile money and the new revolution we foresee coming out of that.