By Simba Mswaka
SUPER apps are platforms that offer various services under one umbrella and they are proliferating across various emerging markets, including Africa.
Super apps bundle together frequently used services, like transport, shopping, delivery, and more into a uniquely high ‘bang for your buck’ experience to this value-conscious segment, and they also present an often underappreciated economic boost and job creation for local economies.
The Apps are also inspired in part by Chinese giants, WeChat and Alipay, who between them serve nearly 2 billion users a month across China and parts of Southeast Asia.
For entrepreneurs and investors, the appeal seems obvious: build a walled-garden ecosystem of services, so your app gets to provide almost every waking consumer need, and, thanks to captured user data, it has a competitive advantage to anticipate and then upsell even more profitable services as you build it out.
Successful super apps are driven by high-frequency use cases, often two-wheeled personal transport, but possibly also instant messaging, payment wallets, or even hyperlocal delivery and they leverage on core platform assets. The major driver of the super app fly wheel, as evidenced by global successes, are high-frequency use cases that lead to massive consumer engagement and adoption
Financial Services-driven super apps, on the other hand, are typically spearheaded by financial services institutions or large e-commerce players that have a captive audience for payments. The core assets they leverage across the super app tend to be large pre-existing client bases and pre-existing merchant/SME relationships. Examples include JumiaPay, Habari, Tingg, and Avo.
Telco-driven super apps are spearheaded by mobile network operators and they leverage on MNO(Mobile Network Operators) strengths—large subscriber bases, troves of data, and a notable degree of influence over local telco ecosystems (e.g., OEM relationships, zero-rating, etc.)—as their core super app assets. Examples include Ayoba, the new M-Pesa app, and VodaPay.
Access to financial services in one of the world’s youngest and fastest growing markets like Kenya is now a necessity and market-leading micro-financing services inventions like mobile money service M-Pesa is evidence of this. The super app helped pave the way for the rise of fintech apps as super apps almost 15 years ago in Kenya — and this has accelerated in the last few years.
This leads us to Econet and their foray into the world of creating a superapp. Econet is dominant in Zimbabwe and when they decided to create a super app they decided to go the Telco driven route as opposed to the financial services route.
Econet built a whole new platform from scratch and had to create a name and start building up users, whilst the organisation could leverage on the power of its large network, introducing a new product into the market takes time, effort and money. Another issue is that many users do not have phones that have adequate space for all the apps they want to download, so downloading this new service called Sasai is not the most exciting prospect for a user.
In my opinion Econet should have used the already powerful Ecocash platform as their superapp because it gets daily usage by its users and it is the most popular application in the country. Econet should have bundled all its services into Ecocash and then customers would be locked into the platform. Other business units such as Vaya would then be accessed directly through Ecocash and users would find everything in one place. Ecocash would be a mall of services and therefore further adoption would be easier. They would not have to create a whole new application which would still need to experience its own network effects.
All the hard work was done by Econet in building the Ecocash platform, so why start again? This is a case of a big corporate wanting to own the entire value chain but not playing to its own strengths. The chat function of Sasai is appealing but why compete with WhatsApp when an Ecocash app would only be competing with itself.
In time SASAI may become a much bigger platform but at the moment it is stuck because the application competes with companies that have billions of users and therefore it is hard to prize them towards the application. Ecocash on the other hand is used every day by users and this facilitates the upselling needed to become a super app. It’s not too late for Econet to switch strategies and make Ecocash the cornerstone of their superapp strategy.
Simba is the Programs Manager of Tech Hub Harare, Startup Mentor, Future VC and Angel Investor.
He can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org and 0777 628 936