For website development and web companies that rely on heavy internet usage (to push ads), Africa has presents a unique problem and opportunity because of its minimal local content online. For web developers, it’s been how to convince and be trusted by small businesses that having some web presence will deliver and make a difference to their bottom line. It’s not easy to do this especially as the SMEs have to part with some dollars.
Web advertising giants like Google have decided to tackle the problem at the root. To actually help get web users online so that businesses see the possible market they can reach via the web, hence the Google university campus & city Wi-Fi projects in Kenya for example. They’ve also gone further coming up with ‘national movements’ to get businesses to create websites for free, like WOZA Online in South Africa and similar initiatives in Kenya, Nigeria and other countries.
A year old Zimbabwean startup, Zimbile, is gunning to fill that gap too and they are thinking differently from Google. Instead of providing SMEs websites that can be set up in an hour, The Zimbile platform can help a non-techie create a website within 5 minutes. Yes, 5 minutes! And there’s more; Zimbile is mobile first and mobile only. At least for now.
Here’s a video of the Zimbile mobile website setup process:
Zimbile has received some positive press coverage on the internet so far, with South Africa’s IT News Africa ranking it number one on a Top Ten African mobile apps list they posted some weeks ago. Another report on BiztechAfrica reveals how the startup had some problems initially getting traction, before trying advertising campaign targeting African internet users through Google AdWords that earned them some 200 users within just 10 days. Having launched the ad campaign around July 2011, founder Simon Kaguramamba, says their user base is now in the thousands.
We had an opportunity to chat with Kaguramamba on where his team is taking Zimbile. The traction they have gained so far he says, needs them to move fast building in “a huge chunk of add-ons” which they are already working now and will starting rolling out in the coming weeks. One of these is allowing users the option to use their own custom domains in addition to the current userwebsitename.zimbile.com sub domains. Other features coming include templates, social media integration, website statistics board and what Kaguramamba “an interesting opportunity for developers across the continent”.
While he would not elaborate insisting the features will be announced once they are ready for market, the opportunity for developers here may be a partnership. Something of along the lines of getting website developers that have already been working with SMEs to sell the idea and platform to SMEs for a cut of revenue (or visibility to more potential customers) made from the transaction. Talking about revenue, the service so far is free, but we expect the custom domains to cost users something or Zimbile to provide some extra features at a price in a freemium kind of model. Domains are not given out for free anywhere, unless like Google, you can buy them in advance and dish them out gratis to the first 10,000 customers.
In terms of other competition globally, Zimbile is up against companies mostly focused on creating iOS, Android, Windows Phone and Web apps using HTML5 than on just simple mobile website able to load on feature phones and entry level smartphones. Most companies in this area also emphasise the conversion of desktop websites to the mobile web and not creating a company’s first website on mobile. This may indeed be the opportunity for Zimbile; providing the African SME an easy-to-get way to become visible to fellow Africans on mobile phones.
We couldn’t find much in terms of other startups on the African continent that are addressing the same problem. If you know of any, please share in the comments below.