Born In Caribbean, Educated In Boston, Startup In Nairobi: All Roads Led To Africa’s Mobile Revolution

By Dana Sanchez Published: February 28, 2017, 9:15 pm
startup in NairobiKenfield Griffith, founder of mSurvey. Youtube

When Kenfield Griffith was a Ph.D. student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he spent months researching how to automate manufacturing in emerging markets.

But he had a problem: lack of actionable, credible, and contextual data. Eventually, that deficit led him to the idea for his own company — a company that would help solve the data problem in emerging markets. Griffith picked Kenya as his first target market.

Enter mSurvey — collecting real-time data via surveys that use mobile phone messaging technology to interact with Kenyans.

Lack of actionable data is a problem most would-be entrepreneurs and businesses face in emerging markets, Griffith said.

Actionable data is a buzzword that seems to get tossed around casually in job descriptions and team meetings all the time. Here’s a definition from a Big Eye Agency blog:

On their own, (data points) only tell you what is happening. Not why. Actionable data transforms those data points into something you can use to guide your business strategy and make good decisions. Your data should track more than activity. It should reveal the causes, motivations, and psyches that guide behavior so you can adapt your business to meet your customers’ needs.

In the MIT lab, Griffith thought he would solve the world’s problems. “But when I first got to Kenya, I remember I stood in Kibera (a Nairobi slum) and I looked around and said to myself that even if I was Bill Gates, I wouldn’t know what to do,” he said in an interview with How We Made It In Africa.

Griffith demonstrated his mobile survey technology to reporter Kate Douglas with a kind of pop-up survey on how Kenyans source their daily news.

“I watched as he set up a multiple-choice survey of three questions,” Douglas reported in How We Made It In Africa. “The program allows him to set certain parameters. For example, he opted to send the survey to 100 random Kenyan mobile phones – from a pool of over 16,000 – and offered an incentive of 40 Kenyan shillings (US$0.40) to those who participate. This is paid immediately to respondents as either mobile money or mobile credit to buy airtime.

“Once the survey was sent out, it was just a matter of seconds before responses started to come in. The results revealed that 40 percent of respondents get their daily news via social media, with TV coming in as a close second at 36 percent.

“This was just a small example of what Griffith’s mSurvey can do. The technology provides a direct channel for companies and organisations to gather insight into people – particularly in emerging markets where this data is often lacking. In Africa, a shortage of infrastructure – like hospitals and financial institutions – has made it even more difficult to collect accurate data through traditional means. This causes roadblocks for global companies and organisations looking to better target these markets with educated decisions.”

 

From Face2Face Africa. Story by Fredrick Ngugi.

 

Nairobi-based startup mSurvey is transforming the way entrepreneurs do market research by leveraging mobile phone messaging technologies to extract previously unobtainable data from the growing community of cellphone users across the world.

Kenfield Griffith, CEO and founder of mSurvey, told Face2Face Africa that the technology is designed to disrupt the global research market by bringing high-quality, on-demand consumer data from hard-to-reach communities out of the shadows through mobile phone surveys.

“The problem mSurvey is solving is connecting the invisible consumer in emerging markets. It is giving businesses in these markets the ability to engage these consumers at scale all through agnostic mobile messaging,” Griffith said.

By giving businesses and other organizations unprecedented access to high-integrity data from the emerging world, mSurvey allows them to relate with their target markets more effectively and identify societal needs and opportunities.

With the new technology, mSurvey can capture the voices of consumers on the streets – from the largest cities to the remotest villages – offering companies new and ripe business frontiers.

According to Griffith, the reaction to mSurvey has so far been extremely positive, with an average of a 60 percent response rate, which is three times higher than traditional methods of market survey.

Companies are able to measure the impact of their investments on different communities and make necessary adjustments.

“Before mSurvey, businesses and organizations tried to fill the dearth of data using pen and paper, person-on-the-street methods, or traditional survey tools that are expensive, time-consuming, subject to low response rates, and largely unreliable,” Griffith says.

As a Ph.D. student at MIT, Griffith researched how computer-aided design (CAD) and manufacturing could streamline automation and development. He started mSurvey in 2012.

At the institute, Griffith spent months experimenting with geometric models, computations, and algorithms.

After dealing with several setbacks, Griffith decided to reinvent the way information informs decisions, solving a problem that he and most would-be entrepreneurs and businesses in emerging markets face: a lack of actionable, credible, and contextual data.

Instead of running the company in Boston, where he was educated, or the Caribbean, where he was raised, Griffith opted to establish mSurvey in the heart of his first target market: Nairobi, Kenya.

He put together a team of talented local personnel and fellow MIT alums with decades of combined experience in research, mobile telecommunications, and technology.

“In 2016, mSurvey closed its seed funding round led by investments from Safaricom (Kenya’s largest telecommunications company), Silicon Valley’s Cross Culture Ventures, and the Caribbean’s Alpha Angels (backed by the Virgin Group’s Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship),” Griffith says.

“This was alongside angel investors from Salesforce, the Abraaj Group, and others.”

The company is now open to partnerships with potential investors across the African continent and other emerging markets, such as the Caribbean, Latin America, and Asia.

Read more at Face2Face Africa.

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