__“Innovation is the ability to see change as an opportunity, not a threat.” Steve Jobs
Last Thursday Cassava Fintech International, the company in our group that controls our highly popular mobile money service, EcoCash, released a new super App called Sasai under the tag line: “Pay, Chat, Explore”. I want to discuss this with you as an entrepreneur, not as a potential customer.
You might be asking yourself the question: “If you have a very successful business called EcoCash which enjoys 90% market share, why would you launch another business in the same segment?”
This is a good question, which I believe is best answered by one of the most admired CEOs in the world today, Satya Nadella of Microsoft, who said the following:
__“Longevity in this business is about being able to reinvent yourself or invent the future”.
The technological platform on which services like EcoCash and M-PESA are built was for feature phones, but now more and more phones are Smartphones. These new phones are powerful micro-computers which drive sophisticated services using algorithms, that we have all come to know as “Apps”.
The mobile networks themselves are evolving from 3G to 4G, and now 5G is coming! 5G will open the door to the most powerful computer programs the world has ever seen, which we are now calling Artificial Intelligence.
By launching Sasai — which combines #Instant Messaging, #Social Media and #Mobile Payments into one simple, secure, reliable (and awesome) App — we are hoping to do five principle things I wanted to see achieved:
#1. “ReInvent” ourselves;
#2. “Disrupt” ourselves (even if you don’t have strong competitors, you must always act as though you do!);
#3. “Invent the future” by migrating the services we have onto a smarter, faster, more powerful platform that uses Smartphones that will be able to run on 5G, and AI! We have created a #Pathway to AI driven services. This means we will be able to seamlessly go into the future.
#4. We also wanted to build a platform that we can take anywhere in Africa, without having to own the mobile network. EcoCash operates on Econet networks, but Sasai works on any network, anywhere in the world, just like the popular WhatsApp, Instagram or even Facebook. When we are done you will be able to use it from anywhere in the world. I believe and hope that Africans in the diaspora will eventually use Sasai as their link back home!
#5. We wanted the platform to be inclusive, and yet global in look and feel. It must be vibrant, reflecting the youthfulness and diversity of Africa.
It must also be able to accommodate local languages, an exciting feature that will emerge by Christmas.
__Every day you must innovate or die!
Now let’s look at our pathway briefly:
The team that developed Sasai is not the team that run EcoCash. Do you know why? There is a profound reason for that!
A small team of people were put together that worked away from the glare of any activity. Some of these young people are super smart, with degrees from the world’s top universities. They were led by a proven leadership team that knew how to plan and develop a new product.
They had access to research and could travel to places like India, China and the US to study services, and meet potential partners. The type of computer programming required hundreds of specialists in the countries I have mentioned. You don’t buy something like this off the shelf. It also cost tens of millions.
We knew exactly what we wanted: Something similar to the “We Chat” platform in China, which has 1,2bn users, but it had to be an African platform. We could not go to WeChat and say, “Please give us your platform!” So we built it from observation. This is how @Fast Follow works. It is what Jack Ma did after seeing Yahoo, and went home to build Alibaba.
It was sometimes agonizing as months gave way to years. Yes, it was a number of years. We never talked about it, and 99% of people who work in Econet did not know about the project. It is hard to keep something like this going, when it is not making any money at all. This is where the entrepreneurship comes in: “You bet the farm”!
Once it was ready we unveiled it to staff members to try out for several weeks. Their feedback led to radical changes. Then we released it to “friendly customers” who began to use it and gave us further feedback. Again we went back to the drawing board.
By then rumors about it were flying around it. The teams were now working in overdrive to make changes coming from the feedback. Then finally we had a product for the market!
It is a good product, but it is not perfect. We don’t allow “perfect to be the enemy of good”.
Now that Sasai is launched we will continue to listen from the feedback of the people that really matter: the customers! Every few weeks or so we will release an upgraded version based on the feedback, including criticism.
# There are many features we want to have, but we will not add them all at once.
# There are many places we would like to be, but we will not go there all at once! Someone once said, “If everything is a priority, nothing is!”
The product is now in the hands of our awesome marketing and sales army. They must introduce Sasai to Africa and eventually the world, persuade potential customers to download the App for free, encourage them to #Explore all the cool things it does, and keep using it! If you’re interested, you can check it all out here: https://sasai.africa/
You want to be an entrepreneur? How much risk can you, really take? Come on, be honest…
Sometimes it feels like you have jumped out of a plane without a parachute. I have felt that for 33 years.
To be continued. . .
Strive Masiyiwa is the founder and Executive Chairman of the Econet Group. He serves on several international boards including Unilever, and the Global Advisory boards of the Council on Foreign Relations and Stanford University. A board member of the Rockefeller Foundation for 15 years, he also serves as Chairman of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). He is a co-founder of the Carbon War Room, Pathways for Prosperity, and the Global Business Coalition on Education. He and his wife, Tsitsi, co-founded the Higherlife Foundation and are signators of the Giving Pledge.View all posts by Strive Masiyiwa