The Sasai mobile app, a chat and payments app developed by Cassava Fintech International, was officially launched last week. I’ve talked about the app in a couple of recent articles. It’s a mobile app that’s like WhatsApp but has payments features incorporated into it. The target market for the app is the African continent making it a potential game-changer. In this article, I explain why and how the app was developed plus I’ll also talk about the recent claim made by Artwell Makumbe that the Sasai app idea was stolen from him. All I shall discuss herein is informed by Strive Masiyiwa’s recent remarks on his Facebook page.
Why Launch Sasai When Ecocash Is Already Dominant?
Just some brief reminders, Cassava Fintech International is a subsidiary of Econet Global. Cassava is the company responsible for the development and running of the Ecocash platform. It’s common knowledge that Ecocash dominates the mobile money services space in Zimbabwe (around 90% of the market). Let me also remind you that Sasai has payments features incorporated (Ecocash being the one supported so far). Putting all these together you might up wondering why they would launch another business in the same space with Ecocash which is already resoundingly successful. This, Strive says, is borne out of the quest to either reinvent a business or to invent the future. Here’s what he means by that:
The crux of this is demonstrated in that Sasai combines instant messaging, social media and mobile payments into one thing. So they’re reinventing their mobile payments platform by blending it with instant messaging and social media.
The concept of disruptive tech or innovations is widespread these days. So their development of Sasai is meant to disrupt the normal way of doing things since the app will be the first-ever of its kind locally and across the continent. That incorporation of the 3 features I mentioned earlier will disrupt marketplaces (in this case, even the very marketplaces Econet dominates). So as a matter of principle Econet is behaving as if they have powerful competitors in order to bring out exceptional products and services.
Inventing The Future
There are perpetual progressions in the evolution of smartphones, network generations (5G now imminent) and new-age tech such as artificial intelligence (AI). This means going forward businesses that prepare for leveraging on 5G and AI will meet the future well-prepared. The development of the Sasai is true to that endeavour to have a smooth transition into a future that’ll be mostly driven by AI.
Eyeing The Whole African Continent
The design principle for Sasai was to come up with an app that can cater for the whole African continent. This means that such an app wouldn’t necessarily need Econet to own mobile networks across the continent. Relate that to how chat apps like WhatsApp work; they operate on any network in the world. As of now, it shall be accessible to those on the continent but the long haul aim is to make it accessible to anyone in the world. Strive points out that that’ll be strategic to linking up diasporans with their loved ones back here in Africa.
The fact that it’s for Africa and ultimately shall be global is a testament to the desire for inclusivity. The app will enhance and reflect the youthfulness and diversity of Africa. Strive also said that the app will accommodate the various local languages.
How Was Sasai Developed?
He pointed out that Sasai was developed by a team different from the one that developed Ecocash. Remember I talked about the concept of disrupting themselves right? The idea is bringing in a new team (with no prior attachments to the current innovation) leads to healthy disruption by the introduction of fresh perspectives and approaches. The inspiration for Sasai was to develop an app similar to WeChat from China but being a solely African platform. This simply means they put together a team to observe and learn about WeChat. The team assembled conducted research (and also met potential partners) in countries like India, China and the US. He says that all this and other processes cost tens of millions of dollars and a tiny handful of people Econet were privy to this whole exercise.
When the app was now usable it was unveiled to some staff members. This was done to collect feedback over several weeks. Necessary changes were incorporated after which the app was unveiled to ‘friendly customers’ for the collection of more feedback. Now that the app has been launched he emphasised that they still welcome more feedback and every few weeks they will update the app based on that feedback. Strive also highlighted that there are many features they would like to add and many places they would like to go but they will do this gradually.
His Response To The Allegations That They Stole The Sasai Idea
He indicated how amazed he gets when someone claims that they would have stolen their idea. Artwell Makumbe alleges that Econet stole his Sasai idea. This isn’t the first time someone has come out making such allegations against Econet though. It’s, however, important to appreciate that you can’t own an idea. I wrote an article, how to protect your business ‘ideas’ – there’s something important to learn from it. Strive says you can’t talk in terms of theft of ideas in business. He says you would rather talk about the infringement of patents, copyrights or binding agreements. He didn’t go into detail pertaining to the story made by Artwell Makumbe but his remarks on Facebook put quite a lot into perspective if you read in between the lines.