Over 15 years ago, Kirusa, which is today, reckoned as one of the leading mobile social media and value added service providers in the world, was established with the aim to transform people’s experiences with their mobile phones. With its range of mobile services, Kirusa is helping people in the evolving markets take full advantage of the value they derive from their cell phones. The company’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Inderpal Singh Mumick, a serial entrepreneur, in this interview with Mary Ekah, talks about the company’s strength, challenges and what has kept it on top of its game over the years
You were recently named one of the Outstanding 50 Asian Americans in Business 2017, amongst other awards. What philosophies drive you?
I always strive towards excellence in everything I find myself at, and attempt to bring out excellence in people around me. I believe in bringing together a great team with great aspirations, aligning them to a singular vision, and setting a platform where the team can plan, execute and win. Experience has taught me that people have dreams and they have the capability to work and realise them, if given the opportunity. If we can match the business goals to individual dreams, we have a winning team. This philosophy works everywhere – whether it is Africa, India or USA. I believe, to develop business in a country, one should hire locally and grow the local talents to build strong businesses in their countries. The success of Kirusa’s Nigerian team is a fine example. At each of Kirusa’s international offices, we have ensured there is a country leader, who understands the pulse of the market and was hired to take the business in the country multiple notches above. It may also interest you to know that Kirusa is a global leader in providing communication solutions that enable customers to have a voice and connect seamlessly. We provide the technology and platforms through which our partners in the mobile telecommunications, entertainment and enterprise space provide innovative services to their customers. Kirusa started in 2001. Armed with experiences and skills honed from companies such as AT&T Labs and Bell Labs, a few people came together to revolutionize the experiences people have with their mobile phones. We invented Voice SMS, and have since filed 70 patent applications covering a broad array of multimodal and voice technologies. With 50 carrier partnerships in emerging markets and our portfolio of mobile innovations, Kirusa is helping people maximize the value they derive from their cell phones.
Kirusa obviously has a global footprint. What drove the decision to set up a Nigeria office?
The African continent is of great importance to us. We set foot in the Nigerian market, because of its size and opportunity. Our partnerships with the Nigerian operators, and incredible adoption of our services by the Nigerian consumers, have driven the need for local support and business development in Nigeria. This led to a strong local team and office being set up.
What is the level of reception of your services by the Nigerian populace?
Fabulous! InstaVoice is used by over 50 million people in Nigeria every month. Beyond numbers, we are excited about creating a voicemail culture in Nigeria. We are thrilled to see people utilise this new messaging medium to communicate with each other. The service is available on MTN, Airtel, and 9mobile (formerly Etisalat), and our user base continues to grow with each passing month.
The mobile VAS space in Nigeria is a growing one. Are there any peculiarities in the Nigerian market, compared to other markets?
The market is similar to neighbouring markets, especially that of Ghana. Mobile VAS in itself, is undergoing a transition. Internet penetration and affordable smartphones, point to a future where content, messaging and other services are largely consumed over smarter devices, and data. Nigeria is at the cusp of this transformation. It’s interesting to note that banking is well entrenched in Nigeria, which has led to slower adoption of new mobile money wallets. The regulator, NCC, is strong in regulating telecom services, and has set up a strong approval process in place for all players.
As an operator within the telecom, mobile and VAS space, what are the potentials of the market and where do you see it headed?
Increasing Smartphone and data penetration will play the pivotal role in this space, and provide huge opportunities. While West Africa today has a smartphone penetration of 27 per cent, this is estimated to double by 2020, as per GSMA reports. While the OTT services will continue to grow, new services based on hybrid-OTT will become available and provide opportunities for growth. InstaVoice App is a stellar example of hybrid OTT in messaging, which takes advantage of internet, while still utilizing the existing messaging modes. The enterprise communication solutions, will see a transformation with new technologies like chat bots, voice bots finding their way to making enterprise-customer communication more enriching and meaningful. With this, ‘customer engagement’ will find a new definition all together.
What would you say are the challenges facing operators like Kirusa in the Nigeria market?
The Nigerian market is a very dynamic market. Though there is a peculiar economic situation in Nigeria currently, occasioned by the falling oil prices on the one hand, and reducing tonnage on the other, these realities (both international and local) have brought about huge devaluation of the Naira, and this consequently creates repatriation issues. Constant change in regulatory framework has been an issue for concern for operators in the Nigerian market, as well as technology partners like Kirusa. Like every dynamic market, there is also the situation of increasing competition and declining margins for the operators.
What are the long term plans for Kirusa in Nigeria?
We believe the Nigerian market is poised for explosive growth, and we are excited about the possibilities the market opens up Kirusa to. The Nigerian consumer seeks strong value in his/her purchases/experiences, and appreciates innovation. Winning the hearts of the powerful Nigerian consumer has been our benchmark success bars, and this pursuit has always been highly rewarding and motivating. In line with our growth plans for Nigeria, we will proliferate the communications and enterprise market with new products, which are in sync with our vision as well market expectations. An exciting new range of unique services will be made available to mobile operators, which can be leveraged by the networks for customer loyalty.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I co-founded Kirusa with colleagues from Lucent, and Airtouch. I am a serial entrepreneur; I previously co-founded Savera Systems, where I was the CEO and the CTO. Before Savera, I was a Principal Technical Staff Member at AT&T Laboratories. I have a B.Tech in Computer Science and Engineering from the IIT, Delhi, India. I have a Ph.D. in Computer Science from Stanford University in 1991. Currently I have authored eighteen issued patents, over ten patent pending applications, and over 40 technical papers in leading journals and conferences. I’m also the co-editor of a book on Materialized Views. I like reading novels, especially legal thrillers by John Grisham and medical thrillers by Robin Cook. I am a fan of Kindle and iBooks, they have made reading so much more convenient especially when travelling.