Monday, February 14, 2011

A Historic Moment for Mobile Transactions

On February 2, 2011, at 18:41pm ,a Mobile Transactions agent made an order AND paid for 200 bags of roller meal for a total value of K6,000,000 (USD$1250) using their mobile phone. This might very well be the first time anyone in Zambia has done anything like this. In two years time, when every retailer in Zambia is using their mobile phone to order from their suppliers and we are rolling this product out in new countries, this will be a historic event to look back on.

Starting in December, Mobile Transactions has been quietly developing a potentially transformational product. It's an online ordering and payments system that can be accessed on mobile phones. The idea is that retailers can log on to the system on their phones, search for the products they want - anything from cooking oil to bars of soap to fertilizers - and instantly make orders and payments using their Mobile Transactions account. Suppliers can add new products, update their pricing, and offer delivery/collection options to the retailers.

It's an online, cashless marketplace where everyone wins. Retailers save the hassle (and danger) of running around town with cash in hand, searching for the right price, making orders, and paying for transport to get the goods back to their shop. Suppliers get access to new retailers, have the opportunity to increase sales, and save on the huge risks involved with handling cash. Smaller retailers and suppliers, in particular, stand to gain a lot, as the system opens up the market and makes prices more transparent.

The vision for this product is a grand one, but the process of getting there will likely be more subtle. Our job is to build a complete solution for retailers and suppliers that is so good that they propagate it themselves. It's a bit like Facebook in that way - we want to create a product that initial clients gain more value from by bringing their current business contacts on board. Going viral, creating network effects, whatever you want to call, that's what we're aiming for.

We're at the early stages now, starting with a product that is ubiquitous in Zambia's urban economy - mealie meal, the country's staple food. From there, we hope to bring on basic household goods and agricultural inputs and eventually any product that can be bought and sold. The possibilities are endless but the challenge immense. Can this technology disrupt a cash-based economy? I think it can, if we get the product right, so that's the goal for right now.

Thulasy Balasubramaniam
Ordering and Supplier Payments System Manager

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