Ownai, the online classifieds startup from Econet has finally been officially launched.
Almost a month ago we shared news of its return (it existed briefly as Tengai) with Econet later stating how the site hadn’t been hacked on its return but was going through some testing and preparing for its proper launch.
Now, the platform is back online and it is offering the same online classifieds value proposition along with a free listing of goods and zero rated access for Econet Wireless broadband subscribers. That last bit is what got the platform (or rather Tengai as it was known then) attacked by net neutrality proponents.
Econet is looking past all of that, though. According to Douglas Mboweni, Econet’s CEO, the telecoms operator wants its customers who are running small businesses to see the operator as a partner that will help them make money. Tools like Ownai are supposed to enable this by offering free marketing of goods to Econet’s broadband customers.
Make way for a net neutrality violator and small business disruptor
Before we applaud the “enabling small businesses” rhetoric there are other realities on the ground that actually show that Econet and Ownai’s intentions won’t entirely benefit the small guy or be pro-small business.
Ownai has a lot to achieve in the market for Econet. As a tool that is meant to provide value for Econet through increased mobile money traffic for Econet’s mobile money service EcoCash, it enters the same stream of all the other Econet services that have been tapped to boost the operator’s revenue prospects.
It also has a unique role as the leading investment in online commerce and startup investment from an operator that is trying to redefine its position as a technology company that doesn’t rely on declining revenue streams like voice. In short it’s a tool made by Econet for Econet’s benefit.
The zero-rated access for Econet broadband subscribers (who are, coincidentally, the largest quotient of internet subscribers in Zimbabwe) will undoubtedly give it an edge, especially over incumbent online classifieds platforms in Zimbabwe that operate as small businesses and startups.
Such an advantage, which Econet could exploit for future startup ventures is what’s cracking eggs in the net neutrality camp.
However, in a market like ours that suffers from an absence of regulatory intervention, it looks like other startups and small businesses (for now it’s just the guys doing online classifieds that have been disrupted) will have to work twice as hard to provide a better product and service value proposition to beat Econet’s free ninety-nine offer.
So much for helping small businesses.