The story of how the popular instant messaging app WhatsApp was born reads like a fairy-tale or one straight out of the corridors of Hollywood fiction writers.
innovators’ hub with John Mokwetsi
Innovations are born out of necessity and a narrative is offered on how over coffee one of the WhatsApp founders, Jan Koum, who then was out of work, looked at his mobile phone’s address book and immediately thought of making it a bit exciting.
Forbes magazine offers the vivid light bulb moment: “Jan was showing me his address book,” recalls friend Alex Fishman. “His thinking was it would be really cool to have statuses next to individual names of the people.” The statuses would show if you were on a call, your battery was low, or you were at the gym.
Koum almost immediately chose the name WhatsApp because it sounded like “what’s up,” and a week later on his birthday, February 24 2009, he incorporated WhatsApp Inc in California.
These stories inspire generations to solve problems the way WhatsApp solved our SMS exorbitant charges complaints and made sharing of audio and video easier than typing our names. They even added cheap calls to that menu.
This week an eloquent and assured Tawanda Chikosi reached out to me with exciting news on a sun-drenched week to tell me about his award-winning Road Rules app.
Road Rules impressively came second out of 12 innovations at the world recognised Seedstars World Zimbabwe competition. Computer-aided diagnostic system; CADx were the winners and will be in the finals in Switzerland next year.
We will be talking to CADx in our next column.
I asked Chikosi on the motivation to come up with the app: “The company was set up in 2014 while the app was deployed for testing in October 2015. The app was designed to help youths save money in their endeavour to obtain provisional driver’s licences (PDLs).
“The failure by youths to get PDLs does not come cheap because one has to pay $20 to sit for a PDL. When you fail, you need another $20 and in some cases, people lose more money as they engage private teachers for oral PDL lectures.”
He added that research showed that people fail at least three times before they finally obtain a PDL. Statistics from the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructural Development show that in 2014, of the 243 000 people who sat for the PDL test, 60% failed the first time.
Chikosi believes that innovators have to be supported to achieve great things for the country, citing a critical point raised already in earlier installments of this column.
The question of monetisation of apps is an on-going business concern in Africa where downloads are limited by bandwidth and smartphone penetration rates. This has impacted on continuity and many ideas have died before they fully bloom.
“First, we offer prospective users of the application an opportunity to use it free of charge for 15 minutes. Once they are happy with the application, they then pay $2 for three months via mobile money transfer using EcoCash, Telecash or OneWallet.
“The moment one taps on ‘ok’, the money is deposited into the company mobile money merchant account and the user becomes connected. So when you look closely, you find that the price is the same as the yellow book but our app has a much better value proposition,” the young innovator explained.
Currently, the app has been downloaded by over 22 000 users.
It has, however, not been smooth sailing for the fledging start up.
Chikosi explained: “We are still facing funding challenges. Currently, we are operating on $25 000 which has been internally generated. We also got $7 000 from Total Africa through its Start-Up Challenge for 2016. Road Rules Solutions emerged as the third runner-up and got $7 000.
“We also seek arrangements with mobile phone companies to send a message to their subscribers at least once a month, informing them about the Road Rules application.”
Road Rules will soon explore the regional market where it seems to have been appreciated and add ons like schedules for traffic offences for the benefit of the much abused driver on Zimbabwe’s roads are being worked on.
Do you innovators deserve a day in the sun? E-mail: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow me on Twitter @johnmokwetsi and Facebook John Mokwetsi.