Africa: Beem's Founder Looks to Bring Together SMS and New Digital Channels With a Pan-African Reach - Smartphones Still Under-Used in Tanzania

22 January 2021

London — This week Tanzania's digital marketer Bongo Live! changed its name to Beem. A name change is nothing remarkable but it provided a good moment to check out the state of the transition from SMS to more digital channels. Russell Southwood spoke to Taha Jiwaji, Beem's CEO and Founder about the state of the business.

The idea for what is now Beem was born out of wanting to help the marketing of his parents' computer shop. Coming back from university he saw how he could use SMS messaging to make its marketing more effective:"We started in 2011, initially as an SMS advertising platform. It was like an SMS Groupon, sending offers to customers."

Ten years later it has become less consumer-oriented and more about providing messaging services for enterprises. . The company offers a wide range of services, both on their self-service platform, Beem Reach, and through API's, including advanced SMS Messaging, USSD, Airtime, Chatbot, Mobile Money Integration capabilities, and On-Boarding Tools:"We can use all of these channels and combine both communications and transactions."

It has also gone from being just focused on Tanzania to be able to offer services in 20 countries, hence the need for a name change. Only 30-35% of his business now comes from Tanzania. Its customer base now also includes large multinationals such as Samsung, Nestle, and Qatar Airways:"For example, an FMCG brand will put a sticker on its product. The customer scratches the sticker and gets some airtime."

It also allows farmers who are browsing a farm prices platform to save the prices SMS's it sends them. It is also working with a lot of tech start-ups in East Africa,

The company is looking at combining payment mechanisms with different channels:"The question is: can I collect payment on SMS and WhatsApp? Businesses are slower to adapt new technology and there's a similar trend with these newer channels. Chatbots are very interesting. People are spending up to 2 hours on WhatsApp on these kinds of channels."

He points out that while there are between 27-30% of users now have a smartphone, only 18-20% are active data users:"Smartphone numbers are still growing but the brakes have been on because of the Corona virus. For businesses, the challenge is figuring out what channel to use for which audience."

"WhatsApp will evolve much faster and have better tools. They will combine business functions into it. We want to be data driven and are trying to build data driven tools and automation so that customers can do more analytical things like segmenting users. Better sales and marketing will build on data and AI trends. The challenge is to bring together multi-channel communications seamlessly."

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