Skip to main content

John Waibochi of Virtual City

LONDON, United Kingdom – Last week saw the launch of the Nokia Asha range with better features and services for people in emerging markets. Connecting the next billion in the world to mobile technology is about more than delivering new handsets, however good they are: it’s about encouraging the next generation of mobile entrepreneurs who get what mobile really means to people in the developing world – it’s their phone, internet, newspaper, business manager, TV and doctor’s surgery. Basically, it is their life, in one device.

[do action=”boxout”]John Waibochi is a Kenyan entrepreneur who has been in the tech industry for 11 years.

John studied Electrical Engineering at Michigan State University. His first job was selling HF and VHF radios.

Virtual City developed a solution dubbed Mobile Distributor – aimed at streamlining the supply chain in emerging markets.[/do]

“People in the West don’t get it. They already have a houseful of appliances and gadgets and entertainment systems. A new mobile that does fun things is great, but it doesn’t have the same transformative effect.”

John Waibochi, is the CEO of Virtual City, Kenya’s market leader in developing customized supply chains for mobiles. In the last five years, Kenya has seen an explosion in business conducted on mobiles, and Virtual City’s products allow retailers and distributers to take orders, keep track of sales and deliveries, and collect the cash.

Like many successful mobile enterprises in Africa, Virtual City makes a profit from the transactions undertaken on its products.

Last year Waibochi won the Nokia Innovation Challenge Award 2010 – worth $1million. Now he is back at Nokia World to talk about his experiences. He knows what works.

This year at Nokia World his ideas won the ‘app shootout’, attended by Nokia CEO Steven Elop, where developers pitch their concepts in a quick fire round of pitches.

“There is an edge space in Africa, and you see new things happening,” said Waibochi. A country with less regulation seems chaotic to western business eyes, but to Africans it is full of opportunities.

“I started my business around the dining room table at home in Nairobi. Now we’ve got an office, and a staff of people, but all around me I see lots of young Kenyans saying – ‘hey let’s become developers’, and moving to Nairobi to work in their bedrooms to try and make it happen.” 

If Nairobi doesn’t quite have a new technocrati elite yet, mobile penetration at 70% means that the country has seen a blossoming of young tech entrepreneurs building a would-be Silicon Rift Valley.

But can you make money out of mobile technology in Africa?

“There’s a great deal of money to be made. We have fewer monolithic industries and more smaller enterprises. We have less regulation. Sometimes we take a platform and abuse it way beyond the capabilities of what people think it can deliver. And Kenyan users are blunt, it’s make or break quickly. You can’t expect people to sign up for expensive contracts, but you can make money on a transaction by transaction basis.” 

Other mobile trends in Kenya involve personalized handsets, “anything that’s cool and funky, and allows people to express themselves,” and hyper-local news and information. 

If there’s one thing Waibochi knows about mobile business, it’s this – progress will not be a one way street from the West to the developing world: “Emerging markets are going to take on this and transform it in ways people don’t expect. The next billion is going to surprise people.”