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:
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.
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:
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.
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…
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:
Onto Sasai now:
“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: email@example.com Twitter: @shamu_shingai website: https://danho.co.zw
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