Can you tell us about Simpu and what business solution exactly are you trying to achieve by building this application?
I first started out trying to develop communication application programming interfaces or APIs, what this means is that for you to make a phone call, computers would be communicating at the back right? if you want to take phone calls on your computers or on your WhatsApp you need those APIs.
So we started out trying to build those APIs that software developers can leverage on to build really cool apps like WhatsApp and voice calling apps or even chat apps but we quickly discovered that there is not a strong developer community out there so you need to not only develop the APIs you would also need to develop the co-applications that people would use so we had to develop the APIs and we still had to develop the apps.
Simpu started out as an API first so Simpu in essence is a communication platform so it would fit under the category of communication platform as a service, that is the category we fall under so it could be the ability to chat with your customers across any channel which Simpu allows.
Imagine if you are running an Instagram store and you have people that have bought something from you so you may have a product category where you have pictures of bags and clothes and their amount and you also have people that have bought stuffs from you which are also customers so you don’t just chat with them on Instagram you also have a record of these guys so Simpu syncs not just the chats but also all the records, then you can really do cool stuffs with your data so you can say if you haven’t bought something from me in the last three months send a message and automatically Simpu says I have 10 people and sort of bring them back, so you use your imagination to craft out what in best case fits your business.
Why is this app better than WhatsApp or Instagram as a means of communicating with potential customers for small business owners?
It is not a direct competition with these guys, we could have taken a different approach by saying we are going to launch another chat app, we could have taken that approach but what we are doing is you already have customers on WhatsApp and Instagram, there is no point creating a new alternative, why don’t you just sync all of them together so there is no direct competition with these services so as a business your users are chatting with you but they are chatting with you like they would chat with you on WhatsApp, they don’t know that you are using Simpu to sync all of these things together so that is the difference.
We are not launching our own chat application, we are just bringing together all your chat applications, just think about it like another operating system that just brings all other apps in.
For a potential user or small business owner without a smartphone, how useful is Simpu to that person? Are there any USSD functions available?
There are two device you need to get clearly if you are a small business owner you cannot use Simpu if you do not have an internet enabled device but your users don’t need to download Simpu, they are talking to you on the channel that they prefer so if your user sends you an SMS you are supposed to sync your SMS to Simpu and receive the SMS so your users don’t have that internet problem, you as a business guy you need to have a sort of system that brings all these together so Simpu brings all these channels together.
Is there any Ussd function available?
Like I said in the early days we started with APIs, we did help one really huge company deploy we helped Mojec international develop their Ussd for you to be able to top up your meter and request for people to come and do stuffs so for a business owner they have to have a smartphone or an internet enabled browser to access these things.
As a startup how have you been able to get funding for the growth of the business?
We have raised some initial seed capital and we are still raising capital, it’s been interesting because the market is opening up, people are beginning to see that there is power in technology startups, there are good stories flutter wave, raising a 100 million dollars, with $1 billion dollars’ valuation, there is paystack, so people are very open to the idea that tech may just be the future.
So what are your expansion plans?
Simpu wasn’t developed to be working only in Nigeria, right now you can use Simpu in the U.S, Europe, in five minutes I can set you up you can get a foreign U.S number which you can use to make calls.
Do you have to set it up or do you download the app from the app store?
There are two categories, if you have a business it is preferable you set it up on your browser but on the go you can just download the app.
So if you are getting messages from customers or people are chatting with you, you get a pop-up on your phone regardless of the app?
Yes, just think about it like your WhatsApp on your phone, there is also Simpu that is like WhatsApp.
So it is not an app?
There is a platform and a mobile app so the platform is pretty much based on the size of your business, if you are a small Instagram merchant, using the mobile app is preferred you don’t want to be opening your laptop to do stuffs but if you are like 15-200 people you are not going to run that business on your smartphone.
If you are an Instagram guy you just download the app and connect all your channels together and you will start receiving your messages and you will start to reply on Simpu and just like the way you sign in on twitter you will sign in and also WhatsApp and all the messages start dropping and the interesting thing about this is that you can not only use this to chat, you can also take payments directly from Simpu, if I need N5000 from you and if you agree the money will be taken from your account and sent to me.
It is like our cards or?
Yes, Simpu sets up a bank account for you, we work with two banks and you have to approve or decline and if you decline the money sits in your account and if you accept we just send it to the other person.
That mean you need to have the other person’s data?
It works two ways, if you two are Simpu users then you use the app to accept or decline but if not, one person gets a unique link that they can click on and make the payment directly.
How old is this application? What is the uptake like in terms of usage?
We are still in closed beta and we will be going out of it at the end of the month, what closed beta means is that we just have pre-selected users that we are working with and we are just opening it up bit by bit to the market.
I will say that for example we have about five fairly large enterprises on Simpu and they use it every day and it is to just give you some insight on what people are using Simpu for, there is a non-profit using Simpu to teach over six thousand children in the North over SMS and we have six thousand families in the north and they use it every day so these guys get questions on SMS and answers and all of that and all of that is powered from the Simpu platform so there are about 70 companies on our wait list.
A major feature of Simple is the ability for analytics so how is this different from analytics businesses can get today from Google analytics or paystack backend analytics?
All of the systems that you use right now are sitting in Silos, paystack sits somewhere, your bank transactions sit somewhere, Google analytics sits somewhere now the problem is that all of these systems are not integrated.
This is because you don’t have one comprehensive dashboard to know what is going on in the entire business, you have to jump from paystack to your bank and so on so imagine you don’t have to jump, imagine all of those data are presented to you in one view, that is the power, right now it is something that you cannot measure but you don’t know how many messages you have sent to someone on WhatsApp neither Instagram because you can’t keep tabs.
So Simpu actually keeps every data?
Yes, so you can look at your dashboard and know that you have had 360 new conversations on WhatsApp today and out of the 360 conversations, 250 people said they requested to make a payment, those are things that are in your head that you have spoken to a lot of people today but what is the exact number of people you have talked to today so these are some of the quirks of an application like Simpu.
Is there no danger of re-inventing the wheel?
No, the whole idea of Simpu is to not really re-inventing the wheel that is why we are not building our own WhatsApp, that is why we are not building our own telegram from the scratch, that is why we are taking what already exist and making it better for businesses and there are a couple of cool things that if you are a power user of email you would prefer on WhatsApp and so on.
So how do you plan to make money on the app? Is there any subscription model?
Yes, we already make money actually and there is a subscription model, right now we have not finalized our pricings but we have people on our early bird plan, we have two business models subscription and we have transactions.
In subscription you pay like a monthly fee, while transaction is when you want to send out like 20 thousand promotional SMS’, we will allow you to top up your account with the value for 20 thousand promotional SMS’ and we take a fraction of that and also when you do like money transactions we take some percentage of it as well so it is two ways.
Nigeria has very vibrant tech/start-up hubs, primarily located in Lagos. However, there’s a feeling that innovation is not happening as much as it can, when compared to other global tech hubs like Tel-Aviv, Dublin or Hong Kong. Nigerian tech firm’s valuations are still puny compared to these other hubs. What can be done from a regulatory and industry point of view to change this?
The Nigerian tech space is very young, it is coming up, the tech firms in Africa and many in Nigeria do not have high valuation because business is about profit and loss here so you can’t just wake up and say your valuation is 100 million dollars like where is the data to back that up? How many people do you sell to?
We don’t have that but I feel that if you have a market that is willing to pay for stuffs you can have crazy valuations, the Nigerian market is a little poor at the moment and that is why you see the kind of businesses that come up here are the businesses that work with the low end, things like the N100 businesses so betting is huge because we have a poorer market.
From the regulatory economic standpoint I think that the government should not only focus on oil, Paystack and Flutterwave have shown that in the space of five years you can create a company that is worth a billion dollars so you just need people to be able to justify that so if both of us can spend a thousand dollars on computers, it’s easier to create stuffs that works on computers if people can actually spend a thousand dollars on computers everyone is using sophisticated phones so it make sense when you use phones like this to create apps for them but if everyone is poor and is using a button phone there is always no innovation there so from the government standpoint we don’t want them to ban twitter, these are some of the things you could do like don’t ban internet enabled companies just like that.
What could create frameworks that works with businesses so there has been this conversation whether Nigeria is over-regulated or not, I don’t have a problem with regulations, I think that you should just come up with frameworks for it and say if you want to create apps, create it like this, apps that don’t do this or this so when people mess up you step in but in Nigeria there is no framework and they step in and say shutdown in the next 24 hours so those are some of the things that government need to do and that is why if you look at the trend Nigerians are very heavy on crypto currencies, Nigerians are second or third reason is because there’s no regulations there and people can determine their fate without government and these are some of the things but you will also realize that you need a sort of regulation in crypto currency because you will hear stories of people losing money to fraudsters so it is not straight forward.
Are there restrictions to the kinds of phones to use because there are some apps that you cannot find on the Apple app store and there are some apps that you can only find on Google play store so is it for all kinds of phones or?
Yes, Simpu works for everybody, we are not against any app store policy, I think Apple and Google have rules and policies like no pornographic apps, gambling type apps and we are not in those categories, so we are available to everyone and you can always access us on the web as well.
How can technology and innovation help broadly solve more of the intractable problems in Nigeria and Africa such as food security, lack of electricity or water? Or even more higher end issues of the future like AI, cybersecurity, machine learning and autonomous vehicles? It seems the tech space in Nigeria is mostly skewed towards payments? No?
We have a very poor economy, the problems are like two, one you have to first solve the bottom of the pyramid, sometimes technology is not some of the answers to those types of problems like how do you get somebody rich?, things like education, some kind of government empowerment, what apps like Simpu can do is to give an alternative and I used the case of Uber as an alternative, when Uber came to Lagos it made everyone who had a car that was not using their cars regularly earn income.
What we had prior to that time was the yellow cab guys, what technology can do is to sometimes give another outlet but there are certain fundamental problems like people are poor, technology can only try, it will just give options for example on Simpu right now if you have creative ideas you can start your own business, if you are smart, like one can start a customer support business right out of the box just using Simpu.
If you run your own brand and she runs her own brand I can say let me do support for both of you, I am just going to take your data and when somebody responds I have not seen this thing you will respond to them and I will take some money from you and her and that is what technology can really do like it can give people options but structural problems like people not going to school, if you don’t go to school or you cannot read and write then you cannot use a smartphone, that is not the problem that technology can solve.
So when you solve that problem then you can talk about AI and machine learning and you also have to put it in context like there is a database of everybody in this country but it is not comprehensive so I can be Collins in four different people’s databases so if you want to use AI or machine learning it will be in those context like they help to identify that this guy is this guy and those ones can be really expensive because it will need data so we’re still like at the bottom of the pyramid, we are looking at 10-20 years to get people out of the bottom of the pyramid to where you will be talking about self-driving cars you can’t talk about self-driving cars when there are no roads.
What is your end game with the Simpu app and what do you expect in future?
There are like two possible outcomes, we either die or we make it right so I would like to be optimistic and say that we have a fair chance of making it, I think that my end goal will be to have exited in the stock exchange possibly make some money out of it and possibly make my investors happy and essentially give value to my users, if Simpu can sufficiently reduce three hours of every worker using the application, that is three hours with your loved one and family.
How well integrated in the Nigerian S.M.E and E-commerce space are you expecting to become?
I think that before the next six months Simpu would be the most used platform for Nigerian businesses, on one of our waiting lists we have about 350 E-commerce businesses that sell local stuff and low key we have been powering these transactions.
What we want to do is to help increase the GDP of the nation so small businesses are the power houses so these are some of the things we will try to do over the next couple of months while we are also trying to look outside the country as well.
Aside from work here, how do you occupy your time?
Maybe because Simpu is quite new I spend an average of 16 hours working.
I go out sometimes but it is boring quickly, one of my co-founder is in another time zone, we are trying to do stuff in the U.S, but now work and personal life are mixed so our hands are always busy, it’s very difficult.
What I do sometimes is hangout, sometimes my investors drive me out to clubs, one of the things I did until last month was driving at midnight really fast from mainland to the island to Ajah and back like really fast until when there was curfew and sometimes I used to go swimming, take walks.
I can’t see a movie. I don’t have the patience, especially those seasonal ones I wish I could just sit down and watch. I am also learning how to cook, I have had some very good success.
Why the name Simpu, where is it derived from?
I have never thought of any other name in my life, it is something everybody knows realistically you have heard of Simple so when we get into conversation and you ask “what is the name of the app” and we say “Simpu”, and then you go with it from there so it is a very good conversation starter.