How a local software firm has impacted many people’s lives
Hanging out with local software developers, you’ll often hear the following statement: “Rwanda is a small and landlocked country that doesn’t even have natural resources; but there’s one thing we can boast of – we are computer-literate, and the field will never be landlocked.”
And indeed, the country is full of the same computers and software used by people like Apple’s Steve Jobs, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Google’s Larry Page and Sergei Brin. We have also the Internet’s infrastructure laid everywhere.
One of the local companies that has exploited that potential is SMS Media – a company that’s proudly 100% Rwandan. It was started as a web design company, initially called Rwanda Online Network, by Jeff Gasana in 2003 while he was still a student at KIST.
After getting his degree in management in 2004, he went to the UK to attend mobile application development courses. He then hurriedly came back to Rwanda to apply the new acquired skills with goals of taking his company to the next level. SMS Media was born.
Initially it offered content to MTN Rwanda, which was the sole mobile operator at the time. The operators’ subscribers would send an SMS keyword to 123 to receive different types of information (e.g. “amakuru” to 123 for instant news).
Five months later, the company developed another product, SMS Broadcast, to enable people to send bulk messages to the public. It was a big success with companies and institutions, who adopted it mainly for marketing and invitation to events.
In 2007 SMS Media developed software that facilitated EWSA, then Electrogaz, to sell power by decentralizing the system – contrary to the situation until then, when people often spent a long time in the queue at an Electrogaz branch. Indeed, with 73,000 clients in Kigali, the electricity company had only 4 points of sale throughout the city. Thanks to SMS Media’s service, cash power could be sold anywhere in the city. Today, it has contracts with 500 active dealers – around 30% of all EWSA stock.
Not only did SMS Media financially changed the lives of its employees (most of them being part-time university students), it had also helped different dealers, throughout the country, attract clientele. And the dealers are the ones responsible for the success the company had over the last year.
That’s why the company organized an award ceremony in August to thank their dealers as well as partners (EWSA and banks. “We awarded the dealers who have sold at least 300,000 units during the last month. We highly value what they are doing,” says Jeff Gasana, CEO of SMS Media.
“Even though I gain something from selling electricity itself, I‘ve also started to have a remarkable increase of customers in my supermarket. People come asking for electricity and leave with other items.”
The software, with an attractive and easy-to-use interface, is the same that was designed by SMS Media itself and sold to EWSA. Very soon it’s going to be updated so that it sells water also.
“The first thing that made me become SMS Media’s dealer is that I was curious about the new technology of buying power online without physically going to EWSA. For me that was a revolutionary move for people to benefit from the work of developers,” says Havugimana, who installed the selling point in his supermarket in 2008. “The second is money. Even though I gain something from selling electricity itself, I‘ve also started to have a remarkable increase of customers in my supermarket. People come asking for electricity and leave with other items.”
That is also the experience of Albert Gatsibo, another dealer. “There’s a good interest in selling power through SMS Media. With their technology, they have done a tremendous job in improving peoples’ daily lives,” he says. “I have a men’s saloon and there’s a selling point there that attracts so many other customers.”
That is not to forget the main beneficiaries, which are all the cash-power buyers, who now have the satisfying experience of being able to buy electricity in just a few minutes, instead of having to spend half a day in the queue.