BIZAO is the new pan-African digital platform that will serve as a commercial, technical and financial one-stop shop for companies wishing to launch digital services in Africa.
In 2014, Aurélien Duval-Delort joined the Africa and Middle East innovation team to build new B2B2C offers and open up Orange’s start-up and business ecosystem in this fast-growing region. He found there were many marketing obstacles. That’s why he took on a new challenge: to create his own start-up within Orange as an intrapreneur.
“We’re working to make it easier for start-ups to access our APIs. They’ll soon be able to subscribe via a self-service digital platform.”
“Orange can meet two key needs of African start-ups. Firstly, they are looking for billing solutions in countries where there is very low banking use. We can offer two solutions to this problem: Pay With Orange, a micro-payment solution where digital products and services can be paid for via mobile credit; and Orange Money, an e-wallet that enables payments to be made online or in physical shops.
Secondly, start-ups need to communicate with customers. Today in Africa only 30% of customers on average have access to websites and mobile apps. For others, traditional channels remain essential: SMS, Voice and USSD services – which are a little like WAP but without the Internet. It is a dynamic interface that enables you to display multiple choice menus eight times faster than via SMS. By typing #303# in many African countries where Orange operates, the user can access a contextual menu where we can refer them on to our partners’ services. It’s now a mainstream way to recharge mobile credit and access information (weather, medical advice etc) in Africa.
We have also opened up our SMS platforms to enable companies to send their customers automated and personalised messages (payment confirmation, appointment reminder, new password etc). More than 1,000 start-ups have already subscribed to our SMS offer via developer.orange.com.
Using these services, start-ups can create smart solutions to make people’s lives easier. In particular, there are numerous platforms for connecting with professionals, for example to find a job, doctor or carpool service, but also to publish classified ads. African start-ups are great at innovating in the health and education sectors, for example developing a vaccination schedule for infants via voice and local dialect, and an exam registration service. Digital communications represent a real leap forward for technology and efficiency by giving start-ups an opportunity to innovate freely on Orange’s platforms.
Nevertheless, operators are struggling to respond to all start-up requests, particularly those concerning billing services, as these require a complex validation process. That’s why we’re launching a new pan-African digital platform in a few weeks that will serve as a commercial, technical and financial one-stop shop for companies wishing to launch digital services: www.bizao.com. Our APIs, which are the interfaces that connect the start-up’s software to our services, will be available in self-service mode. We’ll offer local support and a network of local contacts in our subsidiaries. The platform will also help us to identify, encourage and support the most promising start-ups.”
Vaumi Ezechiel, founder and CEO of Webshinobis, a start-up specialising in web and mobile solution development (websites, apps…) to respond to specific community issues.
“We’ve reached a wider audience with these solutions, and gained 8,000 new customers in the last six months!”
Vaumi Ezechiel, founder and CEO of Webshinobis
Why did you decide to launch your start-up?
Creating a start-up in Africa, especially in Cameroon, is complicated. There are no support mechanisms in place and it was very difficult to find funding. I started, however, when I realised that failure wasn’t a problem. Even if, of course, I do what I can to succeed! Our aim is for our services to reach 20 million people by the end of 2018.
Did you benefit from specific Orange support?
We use Orange APIs to develop innovative services via SMS and USSD, which allow us to send a lot of information to customers without Internet access. Our football platform sends match results and game updates via SMS in real time. We also give schools the opportunity to send targeted informative, administrative or educational content to students or candidates. In addition we use Orange Money to make it easier for our online customers to pay for our services, regardless of where they’re from.
How has this impacted your business?
We’ve reached a wider audience with these solutions, and gained 8,000 new customers in the last six months!
How do you think it will accelerate start-up growth in Africa?
The innovation system in Cameroon is one of the most dynamic on the continent. Support programmes and easier access to funding would allow even more young entrepreneurs to get going.
What advice would you give to a young entrepreneur wishing to create a start-up?
I always say to a young person if they have an idea to go for it. Without dependencies such as a family you have time to try the adventure … and start again if you fail.