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Before I talk about this, I know that this is basically a really late analysis in most of your eyes. And in some ways, it is. Sasai is a platform that was released with fanfare late July although it was officially launched for use on the 1st of August, and it all went downhill from there…
Despite all the good intentions from Econet and Cassava Smartech to promote the App, I’m still not sure whether the ~50k downloads in 2 months can be considered a success for the Sasai team, but what I am pretty sure of is that the number of active users on Sasai is nowhere near that amount and that should be a concern for Econet (unless we’re all part of a massive beta test, but I don’t think I was given the opportunity to give feedback so I’m doing it by writing this). Oh yes, about the biggest questions I haven’t gotten around to answering yet:
- This is a pretty late review: Not exactly. When the app first launched it was extremely rough around the edges, with a lot of features downright unavailable from the get-go. When it comes to things like this the first few updates can give you a taste of the overall direction something is taking. I fully expected a mega update in a month or 2, and that did happen…kinda. Whilst it did fix a few minor annoyances I had with the system and there are a few less “coming soon” sections, overall the major issues that make it near unusable for me are still there and in full effect. It’s also the reason why 90% of the people I invited to Sasai didn’t bother using it after a few days either.
- So…why should I care? Well, maybe you like Sasai but generally, want a better platform. Maybe you’re busy working on a project of your own (like the next “Whatsapp killer”) and seeing analyses on other approaches could massively help you think about what you want to achieve. Maybe you have contacts at Econet/Cassava and have managers working there who do care (and maybe want to hire me as a product consultant)? Maybe you really shouldn’t care about this but want to read it anyways to which I say, go for it!
The story of Sasai
Sasai is a platform which didn’t launch without a little controversy (like a lot of Econet/cassava platforms). But that’s a story for another day (and also the fact that it’s a white-label app, just saying). It was announced in late July to a lot of fanfare and the claim by a lot of press that Sasai was going to be the “WhatsApp killer”. Well, I’m sure Cassava themselves don’t think of it that way, although I’m sure any company would be more than overjoyed to want that to happen. Sasai then subsequently launched on August 1, got a lot of hype and press coverage and then… the reviews came in.
I remember telling my friends to download it so I could test it (and because it was free) only for them to give up a couple of days later and uninstall the app. I’m sure a lot of people did the same because Sasai’s day 1 app wasn’t the…best chat app that most people had used. Even then, reports came in from Cassava that they were aware of how rough around the edges the application was and that the next versions for the next year would follow a roadmap with Artificial Intelligence, Business Mode, Desktop versions and all that nice stuff being released.
I kept tabs on most of these developments because, for me, Sasai had the potential to be an amazing application. No, I definitely knew it wouldn’t overtake WhatsApp in the slightest – better chat apps have tried and failed. What I did know was that if they managed to make Sasai a decent chat application and focused on its potential strengths and goals, it could easily be on a lot of people’s phones as a near essential app.
So what is Sasai’s immediate goal?
Simply put, to make a lot of money! But I guess you already knew that. To understand where they’re coming from and where they’re going to we need to look at their current business model and features and figure out where they’re going with this:
- Cassava is mostly a fintech company
- Sasai has instant messaging similar to Whatsapp/Wechat
- They have in-app payments facilitation, where you can attach your wallet and send money inside a chat
- They have biller and merchants support (similar to what’s already on their Ecocash and banks USSD)
- They have an explore tab, which seems to have ads and service providers from both Econet itself and other common internet apps like Ownai, Yomix, Youtube, Fly Emirates etc.
- Their payments integration include all of their Africa payments solutions, and their vendor for Sasai happens to already have Visa/Mastercard support as their default payments solution.
- Ecocash (A subsidiary of Cassava) is now a bureau de change, which means that any foreign currency transferred to Ecocash Nostro can now be changed inside the App
Is the picture clearer now? I’m sure for a few some dots have been connected, yet for a lot of other people, it still needs a bit of clarification. Cassava’s goal isn’t to miraculously beat every instant messaging platform in the world – that’s probably a side goal at best. It’s to become THE universal payments solution for Africa. Their competition isn’t Whatsapp or Even Wechat, it’s Golix.
The Universal Payments App: The Perfect Scenario
Imagine this scenario: You’re chatting to a family member outside Zimbabwe on Sasai. The conversation is going okay (as it should) and the person outside decides to send a gift/donation your way. The family member has their Visa card linked to Sasai and meanwhile you have your Ecocash wallet linked to your account as well. They open the transfer tab on the conversation, enter the amount (say 50 USD) and tap transfer. Voila! You receive 50 USD in your Ecocash Nostro and simply convert to Ecocash ZW before going on to using it to buy things locally. You say your thank yous, continue the conversation and go on your merry ways until the next time.
Sounds like a wonderful scenario, no? Your relative sends money with instant confirmation, you get it without any pressure and can immediately put it to use (or wait, after all, Ecocash Nostro can be converted anytime with a relatively competitive rate) and buy whatever you need here hassle-free. In terms of remittances, very few interactions are half as smooth as the scenario described above.
Cassava has the perfect storm with Sasai. Remittances are a multi-billion USD industry in Zimbabwe and with how fragmented it is, a solution like this would be welcomed by many. In fact, it might increase the overall amount of remittances with how convenient and easy the transactions would be. Imagine a situation where hundreds of thousands of transactions of that sort happen on a daily basis with hundreds of millions of dollars sent from across the diaspora to the country. Also with the digital economy that’s starting to bloom everywhere, having such easy sending would be a Godsend. Imagine having digital media you’re selling across the globe, with people from anywhere being able to send money and getting their value in return…but we’ll get to that some other time…
The Not So Perfect Reality
In reality, Sasai the app is…..not the killer universal payments app they tout so much. There are a lot of reasons why this isn’t the case but the major point is this, the app sucks. That’s it. Now there are some good points to it, mostly the payments stuff and the biller stuff (but honestly it’s not like Ecocash doesn’t offer it) which is okay. But the experience of the app as a whole is quite lacking, period. As for specific examples, why not make it a case by case example going through all the things I’ve found so far:
Exhibit A: The Chatting experience. This is by far the most disappointing and worst part of the app. I’ve tried this on Econet, Netone, sometimes with data, sometimes with Sasai bundles and with various friends who I managed to convince to try out the app. I’d say there are 3 basics to making any basic instant messaging application, and Sasai fails miserably on all 3 accounts.
Shingai Shamu’s 3 Fundamental Laws of a chat app:
- You can send a message
- You can receive a message
- You can reasonably tell when any of the above 2 has happened.
Onto Sasai now:
- Sending messages is as good as rolling a dice and hoping for a 6 to land. The first time I tried it, I’d taken for granted how quick and easy sending messages has become in this day and age. Even sending SMSs is within a couple of seconds. With Sasai, actually let me check the last message I sent…still hasn’t gone through 1 hour later. This is, of course, using the “Sasai bundles” that come extra with every bundle purchase (mine happen to be Whatsapp) which seem to have a hard time doing their job. In fact, Netone seems to be more reliable when it comes to sending and receiving messages from Sasai than even Econet with data (true story). The first time I tried the app, I sent a message and it seemingly didn’t go through only to be sent 4 hours later when my friend tried to send a test message to me… Oh boy, there’s a ton of stories therein and of itself but let’s just give this a massive fail and move on to the next one.
- You can receive a message. Remember that first conversation I was talking about? Turns out I needed to be actively on Sasai on that conversation for my friend’s test message to be even sent to me. I double-checked to make sure it had background permissions and it did, only for the same thing to happen multiple times. Then one day, it miraculously worked! All for 15mins before it started being hit and miss with receiving messages again. Some messages were never received on my end even when some of my friends would claim they were sent. Then sometime later some of them would suddenly appear on your end and you’re like “huh??? Why is so and so asking me to an event that happened 2 days ago?”
- This is the big one. I’m sure you can already tell with 1 and 2 that this is definitely not going to be better at all. There are times where it will unequivocally tell you a message has not been sent yet (the clock symbol, one which I am very well acquainted with now) and then suddenly transform to a read when you see the reply to that message. I’ve had friends receive messages on their notifications, only for them not to appear in the conversation thread itself and vice versa many times. I will never forget there were 20 mins around 9 pm in August where it actually behaved like a normal app and I managed to have a smooth conversation without any of the 3 Laws being broken. Yes, it was so amazing at the time that I remember it vividly to this day. You know your chat app has a serious problem when it becomes a cause for celebration that it’s working as intended.
“What about calling and video chat?” Someone might ask. Let’s just move on, please…..
Exhibit B: General User Experience. This is more or less the experience from when you first try to log in all the way up to starting a conversation and adding people. This was once pretty awful but is now serviceable. You scroll or search to see if your contact is on Sasai, then send a message to them. There’s also friend requests, but I still don’t understand the difference between normal chatting and that so I won’t say anything about it. The app is now in a pseudo-state where you can now reasonably find what you’re looking for in general, but it still doesn’t feel as intuitive as I’d like myself. But props to them on realising it themselves and improving it bit by bit.
I have a lot more to talk about, especially on how Sasai could be as big as the internet if they play their cards right, but I guess that will have to be a part 2 kind of thing. But needless to say, Sasai is an app with a lot of potential. And this is only factoring the remittance and peer to peer money sending. But for Sasai to grow to be the giant they want it to become, the overall experience of what the app has to initially offer needs to improve significantly and fast. Who doesn’t want a chat application that costs practically nothing (at the moment), enables you to get money from anywhere and also enables you to chat with your friends and family? Sasai is definitely not a Whatsapp killer (for that you’d have to be cheaper than Whatsapp and have the same features as Telegram at minimum to even have a shot) but it’s got the right ingredients in their pot to be a dominant player in Africa, and especially Zimbabwe. Oh, and close to another hour and a half later, my message went finally went through. Guess it’s going to be a long road….
Shingai Shamu is a junior software consultant, with a passion for technology, business and everything in between. When not thinking of ways to make everything a million-dollar idea, he’s usually absorbed in his own little reading or writing on a wide variety of topics. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @shamu_shingai website: https://danho.co.zw
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