More than four years ago, George Thugge left a big job in the hotel industry in Sweden. Mr Thugge had nurtured a career in the hospitality industry in Europe from 1983 when he was just 18.
Shortly after, he bought shares in Ironroad, the Swedish mobile technology company behind video messaging service (VMS).
By then, the company wasn’t big or well-known. But he saw VMS as having the potential to revolutionise the world of technology and wanted to be part of the dream. Mr Thugge soon became an associate.
Not long after its launch, VMS has spread to more than 20 countries. He says the uptake of the technology has been phenomenal.
“Nothing had happened since SMS. MMS (multimedia messaging service) really never took off anywhere,” he quips.
Mr Thugge says a customised version of VMS is currently being used by US Homeland Security to monitor crime. The smartphone app, Metrowatch, allows direct video interaction between citizens and Los Angeles authorities to maintain security.
In Europe, VMS has been used by charity organisations, including Save the Children and Doctors without Borders, to mobilise donations. It has also been used during the Eurovision music contest and in entertainment shows.
Mr Thugge says a Kenyan media house used the system to report the US presidential election last year. The platform has also been a success in some Asian countries, notably India, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia.
What can VMS do?
Mr Thugge believes that VMS represents the ‘next big thing” and it is one of the reasons he moved from Sweden last year and brought the technology to Kenya.
The success of mobile banking platform M-Pesa in Kenya makes him confident that VMS will gain traction in the country and elsewhere on the continent in a matter of time.
VMS technology allows one to record about five minutes of high quality video and to send it to another a person with a smartphone or a 3G-based mobile phone.
The system allows one to synchronise the content being sent so that it is published simultaneously on Facebook and Twitter.
Using GPS tagging, it is possible for the recipient to know exactly where the video is being sent from. The sender can also add comments to the video before sending.
With VMS, one can also send text messages and images to a specific mobile phone number irrespective of the location at no cost. The sender only requires a phone with data capacity. One need not have the app to receive the message, which makes it remarkably different from other popular mobile applications like Skype and whatsapp.
In case one doesn’t have a smartphone, he or she can receive a text message, similar to an SMS but with a web link, making it possible to access the content later through the web or through a smartphone.
However, for interaction across the platform, both users must have the app downloaded on their mobile phones.
All content sent through VMS is stored in the cloud, reducing the need for individual users to have extra storage space on the phone. However, corporate or business users can choose to store the data in their own servers, especially the ones with customised apps.
VMS incorporates business channels where users can subscribe to their favourite channels and receive content on a regular basis. The channel categories include celebrities, entertainment, comedy, religion, music film and television, music, fashion, sports, health and education.
The company makes money from channel owners paying a fee to be able to send bulk content to subscribers. The application is available as a free download for Android, iOS and Blackberry platforms.
Mr Thugge says that globally, more than 60 million downloads have been made across the platforms. In Kenya, the app has had only about 5,000 downloads, but he is optimistic that it will grow to about four to five million in a year. He is quick to dismiss the notion that he is being overly optimistic.
Under the franchise Top Brands, Mr Thugge is keen to make VMS popular in Kenya and the rest of the continent.
When he sought to introduce the product to the local market, he says it took him seven months to get a licence from the Communications Communication of Kenya (CCK) as a content provider.
In spite of the time that it took to get to market, he believes that growth is certain.
“The mobile phone is the tool for digital convergence. Companies which have relied on email will be sending video messages to market their products. Video messaging is the hottest topic in the world today,” he says.
“Companies can use it to send promotions and product updates to customers. Airlines are doing the same … If you book a ticket with them to, let’s say Kenya, they will thank you for booking with them through a video message; don’t forget your flight is on such and such a time to Nairobi. Should you have some extra time in Nairobi, these are areas worth seeing.”
Mr Thugge says he has floated the idea of video messaging to some local institutions, including Housing Finance, IEBC and NCIC.
Video marketing, he says, can get prospective customers to make decisions faster. For instance a video would showcase property for sale in a better way and show its exact location.
VMS can also be used in monitoring crime and hate speech. A user can take a video of a crime scene and send to the relevant authorities for action.
To Mr Thugge, this would be more efficient than CCTV cameras in crime control.