Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Information via mobile phone

Tamas is a project intended to provide crops and market prices to farmers. I was earlier talking with a few of people about it. It is a brilliant idea but they are not doing it right; I am not impressed by the people who had designed the project there is not much enthusiasm on their side – not a good attitude to start with. I was surprised by a predominant attitude that expects it to fail…

Tamas have a few sever shortcomes – apart from crappy attitude. They don't have a good user/client base. The number of people who use tamas falls in 0.000X figure of the people who need the information. The number of people with technical capacity to extract such information is between 15-20 % of those in need; given cellphone ownership. this line of thinking is valid for planning the user base but the project should be based on specifics; the inflow of user numbers within the first quarter and subsequent timeframes. I don't know what they originally planned but they can't readjust that to the reality and revise the figures. Reality for Tamas managers is more like we are not sure. The key to success of this enterprise is creating a user base and the inflow of users. I am a big fun of anthropological theory of innovation diffusion in this regard. It explains who and how the user base will expand. Many e-commerce enterprises used the concept, for instance paypal was giving free credit to attract experimenters when it first started.


Second problem with Tamas is the marketing approach they have. Mass advertising is not efficient for promoting technological innovation in communication chain. We need to provide knowledge to bridge the understanding gap. Projects such as cellphone innovations need education for end users. The efficient way to do this is through direct marketing,1.  it gives a virtual product a living face 2. Interactive information for user and step by step guide. 3. Targeted . Moreover technological innovation need to focus marketing effort on previous customers; to keep them engaged – so they are not there for a one time shop. This is all I have learned with a similar project I am working on. The radio advertising and print campaign didn't work out for us. Our marketers on the ground are drawing clients by dozens; with this inflow we are creating the customer base we need in a quarter.


The third problem with Tamas is the availability of price index. I texted for banana and apple price in Kabul and they didn't have it while now is the season for both. This is like having a radio station but it is not on air.


The failure of tamas doesn't mean text or voice based cell application doesn't work. For the starter it means that USAID and its partner did a lousy job in doing it. they need to have people who believe in texting and have entrepreneurial spirit , not the type experimenting on Afghanistan. "Tamas doesn't work" or "mPaisa doesn't work" are the common type of arguments I hear on daily basis when people want to oppose mobile phone applications. All of the above arguments also apply to mPaisa but I have to say they are getting better at it and will have a larger user base especially if the could successful enroll the entire police force for salary transfers.

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