Interview with Nfrnds: “Connecting the unconnected. Today”

Lys Mehou-loko
By on August 29, 2016

Nfrnds provides a sophisticated managed cloud solution enabling businesses of all sizes to connect to the 4.2 billion people who are currently ‘unconnected’ to the digital world at rates as low as $1 per month per user with no data or software required. We asked Dorron Mottes, CEO, to tell us more about the venture.

Dorron MottesTell us about nFrnds?

“nFrnds is a software company that makes cutting edge software solutions accessible, affordable and useful for the 400 million Micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) who lack the resources (infrastructure, finance and proficiency) to access the internet enabling them to leapfrog directly into the cloud and access a wide range of enabling software at rates as low as $1 per user per month, via any mobile device and requiring no installations or data.”

What Sustainable Development problem is nFrnds solving?

“MSMEs are crucial drivers of economic growth, accounting for more than 45% of employment and 33% of GDP in Africa and up to 90% of all businesses in some countries (AfDB, IFC).

nFrnds provides a broad range of ICT-enabled modern business services (e.g. CRM, inventory management, POS, loyalty programs) designed to take into consideration the unique needs and constraints of emerging markets. Such tools have been found to significantly improve income levels and transform MSMEs, allowing them to become more efficient and effective economic players and supporting the sustainable development of the economy and helping these MSME to gradually move into the formal economy, gain access to finance and enjoy more stable livelihoods”

What challenges or barriers has nFrnds faced in its development?

“Often investors and partners are not sure how to classify us – those that know USSD know it as a very basic and limited interface while others challenge us to understand how nFrnds remains relevant with the rise of smartphones. We therefore often face a marketing challenge where it can take time for others to understand that nFrnds is an extremely sophisticated cloud-based platform that offers a broad range of functionality and features never previously available on USSD (e.g. dynamic menus; search capabilities; user groups etc.) that is also accessible from any mobile device including smartphones or PCs.

The shift to smartphones is in fact built firmly into our business model where today we are able to reach the 4 billion people who cannot afford internet or data and can provide them with a broad range of platform agnostic services. Since nFrnds is a cloud-based Software as a Service (SaaS) and all business logic, processes and information are stored on our SaaS solution, users can seamlessly access the service via a smart phone and mobile data once they can afford such a device and access method. Therefore, this ‘challenge’ is actually an opportunity core to our business.”

nfrnds group picture

What lessons can you share from your successes?

Patience and the Ability to Pivot: It has taken the equivalent of 60 human years of development to build the nFrnds platform, this time and investment required a lot of patience from our early investors and there have been many pivots along the way. Today all those years of development are paying off, with 18 patents and by far the most advanced and sophisticated USSD platform on the market, we have over 750,000 users and are growing rapidly each month. We are confident that it was worth the efforts.

Build Partnerships
: Partnership is core to the nFrnds business model and we do not believe we would succeed in emerging markets without our strong partners who are embedded in the local ecosystem and understand the local environment, particularly in the Base of the Pyramid (BoP) markets in which we work. We partner with mobile operators, enterprises, local governments, non-profits and technology partners of all shapes and sizes. Whether it is Microsoft or MasterCard, two global companies that have selected our platform to reach the BoP, large banks, agricultural companies or MSME’s, we place a tremendous value on our local partners and try to ensure our incentives are aligned at each step of the way so that we can work together to achieve shared goals.

Empower Local Talent
: We recently launched the nFrnds Young Entrepreneurs Fellowship to train young Rwandan graduates in marketing, sales and business development and provide them with practical experience while driving adoption of the nFrnds platform. On one hand this is our way to give back and empower the next generation of young entrepreneurs but it has also played a crucial role in providing us with ongoing and extremely valuable feedback about our platform, how customers are using it, adaptions and new ideas, thus ensuring we remain relevant and responsive and closely to connected to our end users. We plan to expand this program to the various markets in which we operate.”

How do you foresee the role of technology in relation to the Sustainable Development Goals?

“We believe technology offers the only truly sustainable solution to rapid economic growth and development. Technology enables people in emerging markets to leapfrog to more sustainable and advanced solutions and services. We have seen this happening with renewable energy, mobile money and of course the tremendous role played by mobile phones in driving connectedness. We believe nFrnds is enabling a similar opportunity allowing users with any mobile device to leapfrog directly to the cloud thus empowering them with a broad range of business and financial software services that were previously beyond their reach.”

Interested in nfrnds? View their profile and get in touch here