Kenya’s Safaricom has launched a new Bonga platform, which is described as a “conversational and transactional social network.”
The move will also leverage its M-Pesa mobile money product as a social network.
“It’s focused on pay, play, and purpose…as the three main things our research found people do on our payment and mobile network,” Shikoh Gitau, Alpha’s Head of Products, told TechCrunch.
Gitau went on to offer examples of “pay,” where M-Pesa and SMS could be used to coordinate anything from tuition payments to eCommerce; “play,” which could span from online sports betting to gaming; and “purpose,” which includes SMS or WhatsApp chat groups that raise money for weddings, holidays, or Kenya’s informal investment groups.
“In our [Bonga] research we’ve said, ‘what can we do to build upon those three network behaviors in our network that is Safaricom?,’” she explained.
As a telco, Safaricom boasts 69 percent of Kenya’s mobile subscribers. Its M-Pesa FinTech app — which accounted for $525 million of the company’s $2 billion annual revenues — has 27 million customers across a network of 136,000 agents.
Safaricom will offer Bonga to a test group of 600 users starting this week. It will then update the product, allowing the initial group to refer it to friends.
The platform will eventually launch in three phases: Bonga Sasa will offer messaging and money transfer between individuals, “enabling users to send or receive money while conversing with each other.” Bonga Baraza is expected in mid-2018 and will allow users to collect money for purpose-driven events, including Kenya’s harambee collective fundraising drives. And Bonga Biashara will build on the use of social networks for commerce.
In addition, users will be able to create business profiles linked to their personal social media profiles and M-Pesa accounts so they can sell online, while the nation's creative class can upload, shape, and distribute artistic products and content.
As for a Bonga monetization plan, Gitau explained that the company will “offer it for free for now, and it’s connected to M-Pesa, which is already monetized. The more these services grow and grow small businesses, the more they grow M-Pesa ... which is already profitable.”