[Interview] Stephen Newton, CEO, biNU, South Africa
Stephen Newton is a South African entrepreneur and business leader, the current Chief Executive Officer of biNU, South Africa.
What does your company do?
We have two business divisions: Moya is our b2c service while biNu is our b2b.
We developed the Moya Messenger app to prove the #datafree model, a route that is proving to be very successful. Moya is similar to WhatsApp, except messages and the browsing of content in our Discover section are #datafree. Moya Messenger has grown virally without any marketing spending and currently has over 700,000 monthly active users (MAUs) and more than 350,000 daily active users.
Moya has been built using biNu’s unique technology platform which can be used by any organisation to run #datafree apps and websites that mobile users can access for no data costs.
biNu partners with MNOs to Zero Rate a website or app. MNOs are very receptive to our model because we present a new revenue source as they are paid for their data. However, we are MNO agnostic as we want everyone no matter which network they’re on to be able to access #datafree content.
In what markets does biNU operate?
biNu has offices in Cape Town, Johannesburg - where I am based – and Sydney Australia. We currently service the South African and Nigerian markets, although people can download Moya Messenger anywhere in the world via the Google Play store or at our #datafree site (in Nigeria and South Africa) www.datafree.co. We plan to open an office in Lagos by the end of the year.
When was biNu founded and by whom?
biNu was originally founded in 2010 by Gour Lentell and Dave Turner. Originally we worked on bringing quality content to featurephones and this evolved into our #datafree platform. Gour and David are still very much involved with biNu currently serving as Executive Chairman and CTO.
What is the objective of #datafree?
biNu’s #datafree tackles a well-documented problem in Africa and other emerging markets: the cost of data is very high in comparison to most people’s earnings, and is limiting their use of digital services.
The easiest way to understand #datafree is to think of 0800 toll-free calls: most people are familiar and comfortable with a company or brand paying for the cost of a telephone call from their clients or prospective clients. biNu does the same thing but for websites and apps. People don’t pay to enter a store or bank branch so why should they pay (with their data) to access a organisation’s services and information online?
Who can access #datafree, and how?
As well as affecting consumers, inaffordable data is a problem for companies and brands that want to reach consumers in emerging markets through their websites and apps. ‘Build it, advertise it and they will come’ simply doesn't apply in Africa or other emerging markets.
Organisations in both the commercial and not-for-profit sector, as well as Governments, are finally realising that they need to lower barriers and make it easy for people to engage with them online. And this is where reverse billing and biNu’s #datafree model comes in.
We then offer our #datafree service to companies and brands enabling them to completely lower the data cost barrier that often stands in the way of them reaching their target audience – customers, prospects, employees, partners etc.
The company or brand pays for the mobile customer’s use of data on the company’s website or app, often supporting this from their already existing marketing, communications and/or client acquisition budgets. We offer the company or brand a way to do this in a controlled fashion whilst offering them detailed insights on user behaviour. That's a very solid proposition that can be easily tested.
The mobile consumer is the biggest winner as they can now engage with the online touchpoints of companies and brands without worrying about their data balances. Even if they have zero airtime, they can still access a zero-rated website or application.
What are the growth plans of biNu?
With billions of dollars having been invested in recent years into infrastructure, the focus should now be on tackling high data prices. Of course service providers must recoup their investment and so a creative solution like #datafree is ideal, with data being paid for by the organisations that want Africans to visit their sites and apps. Our company is raising funds for a more aggressive growth expansion plan looking at any market where there is predominantly a pay-as-you-go population that is data-price sensitive. We will shortly be announcing a partnership with a pan-African operator that will be enable its enterprise customers to make their websites and apps #datafree. We are still a startup but we have a unique offering: we can make any digital touch point, any website, any application data-free and therefore accessible to everybody.
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