The founders of Metro Group came out of the telecoms and Internet business and launched one of the biggest entertainment websites in the DRC. Before long, they found themselves creating a digital agency to handle brands who wanted to get online. Their latest move is a music web TV channel that's creating content that's now being broadcast on local TV stations. Russell Southwood spoke to Metro Group's CEO Shalini Moodley about how it all happened.
Three years ago the founders of Metro Group - who were all in the telecoms and Internet sector at the time- were sitting having a drink at a bar in Kinshasa bemoaning the fact that they didn't know where to eat or go out to.
They all thought 'let's do a website' and the conversation survived waking up the next day. They started it as a website (called Voila) about the night life of DRC's Kinshasa: places to eat and drink and clubs and concerts to go to:"There's so much talent in DRC has but no-one gets to see it so we created a platform to showcase it."
Their timing was impeccable as smartphones were spreading and Internet was growing:"We started when 3G started and the market was getting access to the Internet but there was no local Internet content."
The site now attracts 200,000 uniques a week and is supported by leading brands like Samsung, Vodacom, Shoprite and Ecobank. 85% of those uniques come from mobile phones (largely smartphones) and 60-70% are from the youth segment.
In order to grow the website, the team had to acquire skills in using social media and buying online advertising on Facebook and Google. The brands who advertised on the website noticed they had these skills and started to ask them to do things.
"The first thing we did was a CSR project for Samsung, a campaign to promote awareness about ebola in social networks. We built a Facebook app for them so people could participate, using viral content." This led on to more digital campaigns for other clients including Ecobank (for its Cash Express card), RAN Bank and Shoprite.
People have got used to the idea that places like Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa are now large online markets. But perhaps it comes as more of a surprise that DRC is now becoming another of these larger African online markets. Moodley says that there are 2.7 million Facebook users and that Instagram is becoming very popular with an estimated 100,000 users, though not all are active. LinkedIn and Twitter have much smaller numbers:"the most used apps are Facebook, Instagram. You Tube and Twitter."
Moodley sees several signs of changes in behavior in the key youth segment:"They are much more engaged and watch TV series and music. A lot of youths register for online design courses and some of our designers have come to us from that route. Access has grown exceptionally. They have access to the outside world. When I worked on the telecoms side, I could see the data side was growing. They were hungry for data."
But there are still no online services like Jumia and Uber, which are found in the other developing African online markets:"It may be that we're not getting enough online traffic and there are so many logistics obstacle. Mobile money is not well used yet and the market still needs to be educated."
There are also still problems with the stability of the Internet connection:"The pipe's not stable. It comes from a mixture of fibre and satellite and the latter have dropped their prices. We have the highest data prices in the world but it's cheaper than it was 3 years ago."
Its latest venture is to take the online content it's generating through the website and create Voila TV. This is a regular programme covering music and entertainment that started as an online show but is now showing on 4 of Kinshasa's TV channels. Online it attracts 30,000 views on You Tube and Facebook.
DRC is a huge country and most of what I've written about above is happening largely in Kinshasa. The country has almost no roads but the number of Internet users is steadily increasing in other large cities like Goma and Lubumbashi. One day DRC will join the list of large African online markets.