Footprint to Africa in this exclusive interview with Kenfield Griffith, co-founder and CEO of mSurvey, unveils the transforming impact of a trail-blazing technology that has significantly reduced costs of obtaining much needed data for the public and private sectors in more than five countries, including Kenya, the Philippines, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and Haiti.
Based in Kenya, the company’s innovation has brought to the data landscape mind-blowing speed and accuracy in data collection plus an average response rate of 60 per cent – which triples those of traditional surveys. Consequently its remarkable success has attracted equity investments from notable investors such as Safaricom Spark Venture Fund, Silicon Valley’s Cross Culture Ventures and the Virgin Group-backed, Caribbean-focused Alpha Angels network. It plans to expand into West and South Africa.
How did you and your co-founder come about the idea of starting a mobile tech survey firm?
I was doing research at MIT in 2011, so the idea pretty much popped into my head around that time, but implementation and getting it into the market was in mid 2012. I was trying to collect data from Kenya and Trinidad while trying to complete my PhD at MIT at the time and realised that I couldn’t get access to the most necessary data, or demographic information on the problem and that was the defining moment when I realised that there was a lack of data to make decisions.
The idea came to me to create a technology – some means of getting real time data from many people not just 1 – 200 people but thousands of people; to really get to the most rural parts of this country so you can get the voices of consumers and that was how it came about.
Then I met Louis Majanja and we pretty much thought it was a great idea and we tested it out to see if folks would actually purchase this product and realised that everyone was having the same problem that we were having and there wasn’t a tool to do this.
What were some of the traditional challenges of gathering data that mSurvey solved and what innovations have the company created so far?
We solved the problem of cost and access associated with traditional data gathering. We are really creating a brand new market.
Before mSurvey, the way you get data was through pen and paper and we have fundamentally changed the way of accessing real time data.
Then the cost of putting a competent team together to understand what questions to ask, to ask the questions correctly, to print paper, to go out into the field to ask people these questions and come back and then enter these into some software and then try to analyze the data and make sense of it .
So you are looking at cost, time and also inaccuracy – the human factor of error we are now solving all that with technology.
We are going beyond solving problems to creating new opportunities for small businesses in emerging markets so they can now get feedback from their customers.
At what point did investors like Safaricom and others begin to take interest in mSurvey?
The real challenge for start-ups in getting portfolio investors is to show that you are solving a real problem and that customers are buying the product – that is the key driver of any start-up and investors saw that we were solving a real problem and that our product was relevant to the market, it is scalable and that folks need the solution for their businesses.
I think that was the pivotal point for them to realise that lack of data was a problem that cuts across most emerging markets and they were attracted – not only because they see it as an opportunity to really grow businesses in this context, but it also solved some inherent problems in emerging markets.
What are your growth and expansion projections for Africa beyond Kenya?
I have to say that because we are solving an inherent data problem across the continent we would definitely like to be in West Africa which is a key point for us. We are in Kenya already making headway in East Africa – Uganda and Tanzania but we’ll like to be in West Africa, whether it’s in Ghana or Nigeria and look at the opportunity just to solve this problem.
Nigeria for example is a big market and solving the data problem in the country would have a significant impact. So I think West Africa and also South Africa presents a good opportunity.
Technology appears to be gaining much traction on the continent, what is your assessment of Africans’ tech consumption and what does it portend for the continent?
The way I look at it, I see technology fundamentally changing life, creating opportunities for business. Technology is fundamentally solving some major problems and the consumption should not be seen as something negative, because on the continent technology has been geared to solve some of these basic problems.
This could really propel the continent forward whether it’s in mobile money or like we are trying to do – solving the data problem. So I think it is a really good thing because that could really propel the continent forward. And that would lead to building technology for the continent, building solutions with technology, there are some local nuances that need to be solved and folks who really understand them can embrace technology in fashioning solutions.
Apart from the private sector, how can mSurvey serve as a tool for policy making?
We are a technology company trying to solve the data problem in the emerging markets and whether you are in the private or public sector and you have a data problem trying to get feedback from the population we are there to help.
An example is a regulatory body of the Kenyan government trying to get feedback on cyber security; we are solving that problem because they were able to get feedback from citizens on the issue. Because we are skilled in technology we want to help and facilitate those conversations between businesses, entities or organisations and the population we are there to help you have these scalable conversations.
mSurvey is fundamentally changing how surveys are done, specifically in emerging markets, so we are looking at how we create conversations to scale between a business and their customers, we are going from a non-existing market and we are creating one that empowers conversations to scale.