Chiedozie Mmobuosi is the chief executive of Tingo Mobile, a local mobile phone manufacturer. He spoke with journalists on how the business was birthed and the benefits for Nigerians. Jonathan Eze presents the excerpts:
What informed the idea of Tingo Mobile ?
I am a device freak. Nigerians buy devices, they don’t look at the functionality such as e-commerce, transaction and all of that. So, for me I don’t really see any big deal in all of these other devices. I go to Asia quite often and each time I walk into an Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) factory in China I see that the cost of a device is less than $100. You then begin to wonder why these devices companies come here in Nigeria to sell these things so expensive. It is not rocket science. It is no big deal. You walk into China and you find a manufacturer using just a 100sqm space. But he is manufacturing devices that are brought to Africa despite the size of the space he occupies.
Then I met with one of our partners, ZST in China and said look, what will it take to have it done in Nigeria. Of course it took a couple of months of research and doing some good networking. Then I said, instead of having these things imported, we might need to set up something here.
I must tell you, it has not been easy setting up here. You have the Nigerian factor where financial institutions are not supporting you. But because I am into investment banking, I am able to engineer my funding. I am not alone here, I partnered with other institutions.
Could you tell us about its history and some of its functional values?
Tingo Mobile started in 2001, we were then known as Fair Deal Concepts Limited. We were providing mobile contents from e-books, to entertainment contents. We did Naija fans in 2007; had rights to English Premiership caller tunes and other digital contents.
But now, we are going by way of manufacturing devices. When I say manufacturing, people will say, are the materials sourced 100 per cent from here. No single manufacturer can source a 100 per cent of all its materials locally, especially, in a project of this magnitude. We get components from across the world-Europe, Asia and of course, Nigeria.
You need to go beyond where you are, you need to evolve. You can’t stick to one thing. Google of 10 years ago is not google of today. Even Tingo of today will definitely not be Tingo of two years to come. We will definitely evolve. We have the first Messenger Apps from Africa, we have developed, Tingo chats. Of course, you have all sorts of smileys and moticons which can be related to Africa. Aside that we can also do e-commerce, we are looking at monetising these applications and solutions. You can do bills settlements such as PHCN, DStv and also shop with the wallet. We are not infusing an on-line store but a mobile store, we are on the go. You don’t need to log on, through the App, you can purchase.
Given the above, how many per cent of the materials are sourced locally?
70 per cent of the materials are locally sourced, then the rest we import.
What is unique about Tingo Mobile that should propel one to want to own it?
First, Tingo is made in Nigeria. So, it is your own lifestyle. Yes, its e-commerce enabled, very local. You are not typing Tunde or Emeka for instance and you are having difficulty with spellings. We have factored in local language arrangements into it. With Tingo, you can easily relate with your languages and culture. It is purely Africa. We have infused not only Nigerian but Swahili languages into it.
Considering that power instability has led people into buying Nokia which has a longer lasting battery power span, what has Tingo Mobile done to measure up to this?
We have the same quality of battery you will find in Nokia. There is what they call push-server. A message comes to your phone and you find the phone blinking, in the process, power is being drained without you knowing it. Take the blackberry for instance, it has a consistent complaints of short battery life span. With our push-server, you won’t have the problem of messages blinking. The message will come to our own server and come to you without having to drain your battery. That is the way the applications are being programmed. I think sooner than later, other manufacturers will begin to look into that. For us, our batteries can last for 14 hours with all the use. Some of the lines we produce have alternative power source. The accessories that come with it have a power bank. Depending on the range you are buying. While on the go, you can use accessories like the power bank charger.
What are your distributions channels like?
Nigeria is a special country and you need to be very creative so that you don’t run into problems. In a few days’ time, we will be found in all Slot locations worldwide and other distribution channels. We are meeting with distributors not just in Nigeria alone. As we speak, we are doing a soft activation nationwide; soft activation in the sense that we need Nigerians to also feel the product. So, within the next few days also, you will be finding more of that. Aside technology-followers reviewing some of the products, we also need Nigerians to review the products themselves by testing and seeing how they themselves will be the ones to spread the good news. While we are doing that, we are also sorting out and expanding our distribution channels.
Did you also factor in the issue of warranty while manufacturing your products as you know this will help in reposing people’s confidence in your product?
Of course! We have a one year warranty on all our products. With the level of technology and amount of research put into the making of Tingo, consumers are guaranteed of a quality product. This is the first indigenous Nigerian mobile phone. We have a reputation and image to protect. We cannot afford to fail Nigerians. That is why I said previously, that we took time out to research on the type of products that we are coming up with. We didn’t just wake up one day and decided to bring out a product. I must tell you, this didn’t come easy. But with hard work and determination, we were able to come up with this. This is our own thing; it is something we are doing for ourselves. Like I said previously also, when you consider the amount that these imported devices sell from their home base (Asia and the rest of them), you know how much Nigerians are being exploited. By providing strong, secure and trusted connections to consumers, Tingo Mobile will help businesses around the globe build long lasting, creative and affordable communications solutions. Tingo Mobile has unmatched experience as a communications device manufacturer, aggregator, mobile enabler and content messaging supplier.
What is your impression about the Nigerian business environment?
The Nigerian business environment is one of the toughest business environments you can find yourself in. There are a lot of troubles and uncertainties. You just have to be bold. The financial institutions are not there to support genuine business men and genuine enterprise. For instance, you would want a bank to participate in a funding arrangement, but you will be so frustrated because you will end up working for them. The interest rate is so high. We are not a start- up but if you are a start- up, no Nigerian bank will be ready to work with you. We have been able to creatively handle our funding process.
What have you done about after-sales-service for your products?
Presently, we have 18 after sales centres right now across the country. It is going to be a gradual process. As we talk, we are even training technicians on how to use and repair our products. We want to use Nigerians to completely achieve this. We just entered into an arrangement with the Joint Admission Matriculation Board (JAMB). They are presently conducting a nationwide computer tests in engineering, sales, technical and marketing fields. We are recruiting about 3,000 from that. I can quickly give you the contact of the director in JAMB who is handling that if you don’t mind. So in weeks to come, the computer based tests will come. Tingo has on board an experienced management team – equivalent to more than 200 years’ worth of industry knowledge.
Have you thought of taking advantage of the local content policy making the waves in the country presently?
Yes, at the moment, we have a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the federal government. And in the next two years, we will be distributing about 5,000,000 (five million) handsets across the country. You can also cross-check that if you wish. We have also designed a gender friendly application which we call Market Box, an easy to use interface, to provide solutions in the fight against violation against women in the country. We are looking at rape, infant mortality and everything that will protect women and children. We have done that with the National Centre for Women Development (NCWD) representing the federal government. You can also check that out. So we have the backing of the federal government.
We also have a solution for the agro business people, that is, people in the agric sector. It is like a commodities platform where all agro sector people meet for their agro products. Because it is what we set out to do for ourselves, Tingo Mobile is poised to becoming the leading mobile solutions provider in Africa, supplying its customers, clients and partners with cutting edge technology and services that facilitate their needs.
Could it be that your schooling in Malaysia have triggered off this entrepreneurial enthusiasm for you to come up with a truly made in Nigeria thing?
Yes, it does. I have options to either school in the West (America and Europe) or remain here or go to South East Asia. We have the same history, if you will permit me to put it that way. If you are talking of Vision 20:20:20, Malaysia is there already. They have a road map. When you go to Malaysia, from their airports to their technology hubs, you will find out that, look, Nigeria is not doing anything yet. They are just far ahead of us. It is also one of those things. I can’t be a Nigerian and exposed to all of those things and not be positively affect by them. It is not just me alone, I had to gather other young professionals from Asia too, that look, we need to come back home and do this thing. That was how it all began.
We know that most of these other devices have their slogan. What is Tingo’s own slogan?
Tingo urges Nigerians to express themselves using Tingo Mobile devices. So our slogan is: ‘Express yourself’.