Lucas works with social payments
During the last few weeks Hacker School alum Lucas has been making rounds on the Internet as Venmo’s front figure. He’s currently featured on a number of New York City subway ads and an internet version came along shortly afterwards. Venmo want to make payments between friends easier. In Valley terms, they’re social payments. Since I’m not eligible to register for Venmo I cannot say how well it works, but if taking my friends’ words for it counts, then this says a lot:
You can just Venmo me the money later.
That’s a pretty strong statement! People seem to love it.
Now, let’s jump across the pond again and back to east Africa, to Kenya actually. M-pesa, or mobile money in plain English, dates back to 2002 but its current form took shape around 2007. There are equivalents in most east african countries and the total transactions of Uganda alone reaches billions of shillings (millions of dollars) monthly.
As a visitor I can buy a local mobile number for 2000 UGX (less than a dollar) and with a sim in hand, I can use any phone including my old black and white Nokia backup phone to sign up for a mobile money account. Transferring money to the account is as easy as visiting any local mobile money dealer. In a little under an hour I have my own bank account. You cannot do this with Venmo yet.
What for you ask? Here are some things you can pay for with mobile money:
- a safari tour to Murchison Falls
- the water bill
- prepaid electricity
- (il)legally downloaded movies
- vegetables from the market
- transfer money to your friend who paid your half of dinner
- or, simply withdraw cash
That’s a lot more than social. In rural parts of Uganda owning a phone is more common than having running water. Hence, the mobile phone is already an established piece of technology in most people’s lives.
What lies ahead? As a developer, I’ve found few tools and documentation for building applications that integrate mobile money. Mobile operators are certainly in a power position, controlling who and what gets access to APIs (none which are open to my knowledge).
But imagining that this changes, and the Stripe of mobile money comes around, future businesses of the east african markets (and many more) have lots to capitalise on. There are already millions of registered users in the region and they are well aware of how mobile money works. A future where mobile money trumps the plastic cards we carry around in our pockets is not all that far-fetched.
As smart phones also slowly make their way into the market it’ll be interesting to see how the old-fashioned interface of USSD and SMS changes. It may be intuitive on older devices, but don’t feel natural at all on a smart phone.
58% of all phones sold last year globally were feature phones. In many developing countries, this is an even larger majority. If your market requires you to develop for these areas, you need to develop with this constraint in mind. These phones use SMS and USSD as a user interface. SMS is a long standing technique for sending messages, and USSD allows you to send SMS like messages in a secure session. You should look at USSD and SMS as another UI and UX platform and treat them as first-class citizens.
The user experience may be the only area where Venmo still is ahead of the curve.
Lucas might be working with social payments to gain the attraction of the US market, but I for one am looking forward to a much deeper integration of mobile payments.