Have you spotted the dawn of the new era for business? Has the penny dropped for you? Mmm… maybe that’s too fast. Let’s take baby steps and explore how it happened for me.
A few years ago I attended a meeting where a solar powered cell phone driven ATM ( a new idea then) was to be installed at the Hobeni Trading Store in what may be refered to as a deep rural area of the Transkei, in the South African Eastern Cape Province. In attendance were single parent Xhosa women from the Bomvana tribe. Donald Woods, of “Cry Freedom” fame grew up at this store, whilst his parents bartered mostly medicines and cloth, for hides and tobacco. Who would have thought that this was the site for the penny to drop! The women were mostly illiterate beneficiaries of maintenance (alimony) payments received via the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development from their former husbands who work in urban cities. The question on the minds of the assembled senior businessmen and departmental officials was - “How will illiterate women operate an ATM?”
As silently as a pin falling in the dust, in the instant when the answer to my question of who had used a cell phone was answered by the illiterate women, the penny dropped with a loud bang. We were wowed by a riveting demo of pride, when, you guessed, every women there silently but with a beaming smile held up their very own cell phone! I then took this same question to a barefooted child on the dirt road that runs past the trading store and was told that every child in his class had a SIM card but unfortunately they all shared the phones of a few. Again, I was gobsmacked!
So much for baby steps. Some 800 million cell phones are sold on this planet each year and sales growth no longer astounds. It is a simple idea - people communicating! South Africa leads African usage of the mobile web with page-view usage in the top twelve countries increasing by some 422% over last year’s usage. On average in Kenya, each user of Opera Mini, which enables their mobile web experience, browses 372 pages per month! Ok, by now the penny must have dropped for all, but what does it mean?
Hold on to your hat for there is a new fast lane opening up in Africa on the road to the www (world wide web / internet). Yip, again you guessed, it is cell phone access to the internet. For now, in the slow lane, the PC will continue to be the “bulk data transporter, and design tool” but, move over PC, the cell phone is flashing it’s lights for you to get out of the way for the cell phone browsers are moving into the fast lane! Just imagine, reading your school project on your cell phone! Estimates are that cheap cell phone data packages, powered by the East Coast Seacom Cable will, within a short few months, take our national internet usage from 6% to 60% of the population!
In the new business game, to be played on the internet playing field, small business can compete more easily with big business. What is needed is for small business to have affordable access to the www. I hawked a burning question, that crystalised for me, after the dust from that penny dropping at Hobeni cleared, to many small businesses.
After taking a deep breath, I blurted out what to many, was a mouthful: “Would you like to have an affordable eCommerce Gateway to the internet powered by an integrated website and online store that is supported by an eMarketing platform for bulk SMS and bulk eMail?” I’m sure you have the swing of it by now and have guessed that the answer was a puzzled and guarded blank stare but that after breaking it down into "bite sized morsels" and exchanging “affordable” and a few of the other buzz words for “from under R100 per month” a YES was delivered with the same spontaneous smile as those women on the steps of the Hobeni store. This established, I followed up with enquiring whether or not they would be prepared to build their own internet stores? Few businesses shop fit their stores in shopping malls and so too they are unlikely, at first, to do a DIY job on their internet trading platforms. Fear not however for an unlikely educator has stepped in. Yes, the largest single growth sector of internet usage is Grannies "stalking" their grandchildren on Facebook. Soon, they will teach their children and then the sky will no longer be the limit!
So it was that, for me, the challenge was outlined and armed with more questions than answers I set out over the next few years in search of, what was to become, Webo. In the isiZulu language uhWebo is given to mean “business” similarily kgWebo carries this message in Sotho languages as does urWebo in isiXhosa. As an acronym WEBO stands for - Websites Easily Built Online! With this for inspiration my questions have become the answers that Webo seeks to take to small business.
If you run a B&B, in these tight economic times, do you spend on eggs and bacon or on Google Adwords? Well, if you do not get bums in beds you will not need eggs and bacon in the morning. It’s a question of prioritisation. Small business must, at the very least, showcase on the internet or the passing trade that is browsing some 300 plus pages a month on their cell phones will go elsewhere. Fear not the new world of the web as a business opportunity, for you too, can take baby steps!
Yes, you can begin with showcasing your products then progress to conversing with your customer base via an online blog complete with video and product manual downloads. Alternatively, you can go the whole way with an internet merchant ID and trade medicines, cloth, hides or tobacco for cash delivered to your bank account whilst you snore in your bed. If you prefer you could auction off slow moving or demo products and your small business venture could even retreat from the mall to the comfort of your home where you could save a few hours a day by not having to endure the traffic. At home, you could use this “traffic time” to send your clients shopping vouchers for specials via a bulk SMS without the need to lick stamps and envelope brochures!
As the above scenario sketched conceptual requirements another question persistently begged attention. It was this. Why be alone on the internet? Would groups of entities not benefit from collectively marketing a single destination? In short, Webo is a hub that offers a user friendly internet presence by way of a website, an online eCommerce store and or an internet hub or portal that houses a group of independent websites or stores.
The dawn of a new business era is upon us in South Africa. Not convinced? I face a look of disbelief from many who argue that banks will never equip the “masses” with credit cards. You, no doubt have heard of prepaid airtime and prepaid electricity cards etc. Consider this. With an ABSA reloadable prepaid debit card at a one off cost of R30 for three years you can transact at till points without incurring bank charges and reload it with cash via cell phone banking, at ATM’s or over the internet. So with a staggering number of these prepaid debited cards being issued to people armed only with a bar coded ID book, how long do you think it will take for prepaid cards to give comfort to those that feel vulnerable when shopping on the internet with their credit cards? Just maybe this may all not happen, not because it shouldn't, but because cell phone banking, PayPal, M-Pesa, ePesa and a whole host of other eMoney payment options will too, be flashing their lights for credit cards to move over! Oh dear, remember the days when the cheque was in the post!
There must be a win win in it, for sustainable business success, is not just marketing pizazz but a promise of innovation in this new business era. By lowering the barriers to entry for small business, through template driven website design, that requires less skill in the design thereof, the win win lies in small business getting a more affordable internet business opportunity. This is done by website designers designing stunning sites by, inter alia, selecting and editing templates on the Webo eCommerce “internet shopping mall.” Yes, without the advanced knowledge of “Adobe Dreamweaver” or similar complex packages those that can write e-mail and manage pictures can create a business opportunity by servicing small business needs for the development and maintenance of websites, online stores and eMarketing platforms.
So, who gets an affordable small business opportunity? We all do with Webo. Suppliers of goods and services do with an internet business opportunity and a new breed of caring web designers does too. That’s the win win. If you would like to be trained to design online stores, websites etc in a few hours or if you would like to DIY your own business on the internet send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will let you know how we can get you into the fast lane, flashing your lights, as you overtake the old on the way to the future! Alternatively, go to www.webo.co.za and you will see the Webo Small Business Hub expanding in the public domain and where online video tutorials are available as is a complete How To Manual. You may get there before others but then that’s the thing about trend spotting, you tend to get there before the crowd. Fear not if you feel that you may have missed the party, for like "fashion," our job of making internet based conversations better and easier will never be done. Year on year, innovation will compound and when you do arrive the party will but be bigger and better.
The Webo Team
PS It's a true story!