Sembuse.com is angling for a slice of the social networking market dominated by Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, YouTube and Twitter.
Mr Timothy Mbugua, the man behind the social network has devised a way to marry the popularity of social sites and the high mobile penetration in the East African region.
The 26- year- old chief executive officer of Symbiotic Media Consortium, an IT firm that specialises in making mobile phone related applications has devised East Africa’s first mobile social network, which allows allow users to communicate cheaply at 50 cents per message using the Sembuse Messaging Suite, a name conveniently coined to SMS in short.
“Conventional text messages are limited to 160 characters, while the cost ranges between Sh3.50 to five shillings.
But Sembuse gives a user 1,000 characters per SMS at a fraction of the cost of a traditional text, allowing unprecedented savings and value addition,” said Mr Mbugua.
Sembuse, a Kiswahili word, means “how about you?”
According to alexa.com, social sites have one of the largest following, where facebook and youtube are the most popular, registered as the top sites in Kenya, while Business Monitor International, in its latest survey says mobile phone penetration in Kenya and Tanzania will surpass the 100 per cent mark by the year 2013.
The report also predicts a higher than 90 per cent penetration for Uganda at the end of the same period.
While the mobile average revenue per user has faced a major decline on the years, value added services have proved to be the lifeline for the mobile operators.
But it has not been smooth for the techpreneur. With a capital of Sh3.6 million, financing was a big challenge, which Mr Mbugua says does not augur well for the innovative and dynamic sector. Sembuse as a concept was ready by last November.
The innovative product allowing affordable communication comes at a time when high inflation has eroded the purchasing power of many Kenyans, resulting in a scale back of utility goods and services.
Although the East African bloc concept is yet to bear any fruits, business people with extensive links in the region will manage to cut down on their communication costs, using the phone.
Mr Mbugua told the Business Daily that the mobile social network currently supports three languages—English, Kiswahili and German — with French and Chinese due for release in a month’s time. This will allow users to invite their friends from all over the world into their network.
Users have access to customised news alerts, stock market alerts and news as well as rave crave which gives users a snapshot of the nightlife in their locations.
The business sense in the innovation for the technology company behind it is two fold: add value and premium content and allow businesses to directly get in touch with their target market.
The advertising platform can work well for small and medium enterprises due to the small or no marketing budget. An individual can text ManenoAds— words coined for text adverts, and choose their desired target group on the Sembuse network.
This innovation comes at a time when companies are looking for cost effective marketing strategies, with the global crisis forcing many to scale down their marketing budget.
The IT sector has been buzzing with various innovations that have seen the mobile phone become more than a voice device ,but also a fully fledged data avenue.
In the recent past, the mobile phone has become a financial service provider, allowing clients to save money in their accounts and ask for advanced credit.
However, research commissioned by OpenCloud, a telecommunication firm, found that mobile phone users rate phone call and text prices as more important than 3G and social networking capabilities.
In the My Mobile Lifestyle’ survey, over 80 per cent of consumers see call and text prices as the most important factors when looking for a new phone, whereas two thirds of respondents view social networking applications as luxury additions and non-essential.
To this end, Mr Mbugua says the use of 3G enabled phones is only set to rise. One can download the application to the phone from the sembuse website.
Mr Mbugua expects to attract 300,000 active users in the region and at least one million sembuses sent per day.