In 2001, Karanja Macharia came up with a brilliant idea. He developed a system that could automatically reply to a coded text with meaningful information.
He made a pitch to his sister Nyanjiru, explaining what he had and what it meant. In 3 months, they had registered a company. Mobile Planet Ltd.
A month later, the managed to get an audience with the management team at Safaricom. The mobile network operator was also fairly a new company. In fact, at the time, former CEO Michael Josephâ€™s designation was General Manager!
A deal was quickly signed between Safaricom and Mobile Planet. Within a couple of months, the siblings were joined by Kigen Kandie.
In October of the same year, the trio managed one of Kenya’s first SMS based radio campaigns. In the same month, they commissioned a service that delivered live cricket scores via SMS. In March 2002 Safaricom launched GetIt 411 in conjunction with MPL. It was (still is) an â€œinfotainmentâ€ service utilizing SMS.
Since then MPL has worked with and continues to work for companies including Safaricom, Nokia, Airtel, Google, Royal Media Services, EABL, Unilever, Nation Media Group, amongst others.
Google Inc. become a minority shareholder in the company in 2008. This has opened doors for MPLâ€™s push into the rest of Africa and has resulted in it connecting to 26 mobile networks in 15 different countries around the world.
According to the Karanja â€œThe last ten years of MPL were about SMS. The next ten years will be about mobile Internet and mobile apps. We will take what we learnt about mobile subscribers in the last ten years and apply the know-how into building new and innovative mobile web applications that will help empower mobile subscribersâ€
2012 will be an interesting year for Mobile Planet as it sees the launch of their new range of products aimed at â€œMaking or saving Kshs. 100 billion for mobile subscribers living in East Africa by 2015â€.
These services will be under a new brand which is set to be launched in the first half of 2012.
A lofty goal 100 Billion, but even half of that would be a great achievement. The Management team was however tight lipped about the details.
I interviewed the CEO Karanja Macharia on the future of the company among other things and this is what he had to say: