Mobile West Africa 2014: wrap-up of Nigeria's largest tech conference

Countries, Events, Innovators, Markets



May 16, 2014

Nigeria was an obvious stop on our world tour of innovation in emerging markets. The country with the biggest population in Africa (and growing by 10m new people every year) has recently been promoted to its largest economy as well, beyond South Africa. It’s also regularly mentionned as the cultural capital of the continent, with […]

Nigeria was an obvious stop on our world tour of innovation in emerging markets. The country with the biggest population in Africa (and growing by 10m new people every year) has recently been promoted to its largest economy as well, beyond South Africa. It’s also regularly mentionned as the cultural capital of the continent, with its Nollywood films been watched everywhere, and the sheer size of the market and its challenges make it an expected epicenter for mobile technologies innovation.

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Nigeria startup and mobile ecosystem in one place

In this context, Mobile West Africa is the conference to attend to meet all the players of the ecosystem:

and a few neighbors coming from Ghana (MEST Incubator, Voto mobile, Hub Accra), South Africa (Remitix, Stuff Magazine) and even pan-African projects such as Founder Bus

Nigeria is Africa’s India: big, mobile-only, full of challenges

West Africa has 67% mobile penetration, including 115M accounts just in Nigeria. In Africa overall, 750M accounts, more than in the US or Europe. Mobile internet penetration is 25% in West Africa, adds Sunkanmi Ola, founder and strategist at Syracuse Digital, based in Lagos, Nigeria.

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Behind these big figures, speakers revealed the challenges for near-future:

  • Still 619m people in Africa are without internet access, says Nicolle Harding, and when it comes to Nigeria, Oma Areh adds that there are 120m mobile subscribers out of a population of 170m, and only 12.7m use smartphones. Different categories of people make mobile app development both challenging and full of opportunities for niche strategies: the “mama” in the country side uses mobile differently than young executives or housework people.


  • The biggest challenges though lie with the infrastructure, notoriously inefficient in Nigeria. Power cuts are a given, and electricity is expensive, for instance, as a startup, you will need to spare a huge amount of money just to keep the place cool enough with air-con. Broadband may be the biggest second issue, with 6-8% penetration in Nigeria today. This is key, and many speakers showed how it was related to the economy with a figure from a World Bank research from 2009, which concluded than 10% more penetration of broadbandin a low/middle income country turns into 1.38% more GDP.


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Shine Your Eye is one of the many mobile powered solutions in Nigeria to help increase citizen engagement


  • A last big challenge which mobile technologies can help solve is politics. As many acknowledged within the conference, states in Africa are mostly corrupt, education is broken, and mobile technology is one way to repair the social fabric. Social movements like “Enough is Enough”, a social and mobile platform to engage youth in Nigeria to engage into politics, showed how they made possible better information and accountability online. In the 2011 elections, only 10% of the 70m+ registered voters actually voted in Nigeria. EIE offers tools such as having with one SMS only a track record and basic data of each candidate and representative.

Still, startups can bypass these facts by adapting their products. Solo for instance is a Nigeria-based company producing a smartphone full of local innovation.

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Solo, the smartphone from Nigeria

  • First, it doesn’t need data access, as 45 hotspots today allow anyone near one to download at no additional cost music, movies and games. You can download a Nollywood movie, full-length, in about 30 seconds.
  • Then, the business model answers, too, a local context. All 20m music titles are for free, and movies are on-demand for a low price of about $1. Two devices are sold today, to prices averaging $80 and $150.

Mobile marketing strategy: objectives, means, and KPIs give a frame

With many marketers and brand managers present at MWA2014, we also all had a good series of tools and methodologies to power-up our mobile marketing strategies. 

Mobile strategies need a framework, and this is one you can use to adjust the objective of a campaign with the different means you can use:

  • Gamification? Build an App.
  • Online/Offline interaction? Play with QR codes
  • Direct B2C interactions, leads and push? Go SMS
  • Brand awareness? Mobile display advertising
  • Control on content and conversions? A mobile website is more appropriate

To assess the ROI of a mobile marketing campaign, here are the agreed on KPIs to take into account:

  • KPI for mobile apps: social currency, functionality, engagement rates
  • KPI for mobile ads: reach, CTR, CPA
  • KPI for SMS marketing: relationships built, database growth, reply ration
  • KPI for QR Codes: visit duration, conversion, database growth

Two case studies shown in the FMCG and startup worlds can help you understand what can be a successful mobile marketing strategy:

  • Knorr for instance got a unique code put on each of its Soup items. People using the code by SMS were then asked to answer a few market research questions. Answers gave rewards with airtime and prizes. As a result, 3.8M people engaged on the campaign in South-Africa, which is about a third of households there. Sales increased 6% after the campaign and 95% users opted-in to keep in touch with the brand by SMS.


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  • Kaymu, the local eBay marketplace, part of Rocket Internet, showed how it adapted the app to a local, mobile-only context for buyers and sellers:
    • First, by pushing functions through the app. By segmenting a lot the user base, Kaymu was able to address direct messages from sellers to relevant buyers, bringing less traffic overall on the platform (less browsing), and higer conversion rates
    • Then, by adding a Live Chat feature. Nigeria, as Indonesia, used to be a BBM country (Blackberry messenger), and people use a lot messaging apps, so including the live chat within the mobile app made possible better interaction and higher orders.
    • Last but not least, Kaymu designed the app so as to reduce the “upload funnel” into two steps only: take picture, and upload it, rather than for a seller having to go through a computer or a description stage. It boosted sellers’ listing as a result.

Western world tech giants cannot compete in emerging markets

Another cool insight from the conference, and another reason which justifies our whole project of covering innovation and startups in the emerging markets, is how Western tech giants just can’t compete there.

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Solo phone team showed us how in India and China, for instance, Apple was already way behind local competitors, and Samsung continuing to lose ground, with the perspective to fall behind the local players rapidly. Of course, you will always have a small 10% of iPhone users anywhere, but how does it compare to leaving 90% market share to local manufacturers? Emerging markets have local needs, and the best companies to address them are not based in the Silicon Valley.

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Social media platforms as well will have increasing difficulties to penetrate emerging markets. In Nigeria, more than 11m users are on Facebook. But they’re not going on the Facebook apps to interact with their friends. 2go and Eskimi are the two social mobile networks, with respectively 10m and 8.8m users. They aggregate social media flows from Facebook, Whatsapp, Google, and offer a lot more possibilities for brand, content consumption, chat, all locally, with lightweight apps which don’t consume too much data or battery. Both startups have now entered Kenya, South Africa, Ghana and a few more markets.

This is both fascinating, encouraging, and clearly shows innovation not only is everywhere, but will pop-up differently in tomorrow’s growth markets such as Nigeria.

The future of mobile: room for disruption and… augmented reality

We cannot end this wrap-up without a special kudos to Tomi Ahonen, one of the guest and speakers of the conference, best-selling author on mobile marketing and strategy, and an energetic and friendly traveller. His session on the Future of Mobile showed how powerful this media was, and a few perspectives for the future:

  • The “grand convergence” towards mobile is not only huge, with some countries having 200% mobile penetration (Hong-Kong, Singapore), but also growing again and again.
  • There’s room for even more disruption. If the music and movies market seem to have muted to the mobile era, education, healthcare, banking, retail, all need to be more mobile, so startups can find added value there

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  • Mobile payments may not be where we expect it. Tomi shared Coca Cola experiment on mobile money in Korea, where they rewarded with convertible “points” their buyers, fans, and people filling up challenges.
  • Mobile is not mobile phone + tablets. Tablets, says Tomi, “immobilize people, with two hands needed, and a more immersive experience”. It’s in no way close to what we do with mobile phones.

Last but not least, Tomi bets on augmented reality as the next wave of innovation for the 5-15 years to come, still at an early stage, but with a promise to disrupt, again, a lot of industries.

Mobile West Africa, 2014 Lagos edition: an accelerator of meetings & conversations

innovation is everywhere mobile west africa nigeria lagos 2014 martin pasquier conference emerging world technology mobile startupsAll in all, we must say Mobile West Africa 2014 has been a fantastic conference, even if to come to Lagos from Singapore, that’s a lot of flight time! Conference-wise, the setup of “dining tables” proves very clever, as people would meet and discuss way more than the usual “row of plastic chairs” conference. Congrats Matthew Dawes and the team to have attendees to discuss. The sheer size of the event, about 100 people on the Focus Day and 200-300 people for the two full days of the conference, made it possible to see, see again, talk more than just swapping namecards in a rush, with people from Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, and a few other countries.

More to come on detailed conference and aspects of mobile in Nigeria pretty soon, we’ll be visiting a few tech hubs today before flying back to Asia.