Elo Umeh, CEO of Twinpine, on the explosive growth of the African mobile ad market – and why Google doesn't like using blind networks...
Speak to all the big mobile ad networks today and they'll all say the same thing: emerging markets are key.
The BRIC countries, Indonesia, Mexico, the Middle East… you know the drill. They're all setting up operations in these fast-growing regions.
But what's less often reported is the competition they're facing from local organisations with the benefit of local relationships and cultural knowledge.
Organisations like Twinpine in Africa.
Twinpine was founded in Nigeria last August as a premium ad network, and has since extended to Kenya and Ghana too.
It's gone rather well.
The firm had set a target of reaching 100 million monthly impressions within a year, but has easily surpassed this. It now handles over 500 million a month and predicts the number will reach one billion by January 2013.
In the process it has built an inventory of over 40 premium sites and a customer base comprising Nokia, MTN, Pepsi, Autodesk, Guinness and local firms including Guardian Nigeria, MTN, Bytesize, Nigerian Breweries, Interswitch and Enterprise Bank.
ME caught up with Elo Umeh, CEO at Twinpine…
The world's foremost ad networks are blind. Why did Twinpine set up as a premium network?
For us, it's all about relationships. That's where we can really build a business and value for our customers. I really feel the whole blind ad concept can not carry on as it is.
Who are these customers? Are they global brands targeting the rising African continent or locals?
It's interesting. There's no doubt that at first the advertisers and publishers were mostly international. They tend to have sites that are optimised for mobile and so this is where consumers would go for the best experiences. But we've worked hard to reach out and educate local brands. And that's why we've seen local partners go from 20 per cent to 40 per cent since the start of the year. And I think locals will be in the majority by 2013.
How have you reached out to them?
Well, we have built apps and sites for publishers ourselves. One example is the newspaper Guardian Nigeria. They are focused on print still, and we're helping them engage with mobile quickly. They know they need to do this because it's where younger consumers are going. The apps and sites are free for now, but we can build in subscriptions options, which is important as some of these firms are worried about what might happen to print revenues.
Who are your top advertisers?
We work a lot with Amobee, who have brought us some big brands like Nokia. But our top advertiser is Google, who are very keen to reach African consumers but don't want to go down the blind advertising route as they're concerned about where the ads might end up.
But wait a minute, doesn't Google operate the world's biggest blind network?
It's hilarious. We said: don't you want to advertise on Admob? Obviously not.
What do Google advertise?
They have a text-based product for accessing Gmail. That's the main focus.
How active are firms like AdMob in your regions?
The big firms are all present, especially AdMob, Buzz City and InMobi. InMobi are closest to us culturally, as they came out of India. But as I said, we have the relationships which is a big advantage. And we're not interested in being a global player: we want to be the African mobile network.
Do they want to buy you?
We get approached. But it's more likely we'll look at strategic partnerships. There are two offers we're considering now.
What are your plans for expansion?
We're aiming to be in ten more countries by June 2013. We're aware of the need to expand into Francophone territories like Cote D'Ivoire so that's going to be a hiring challenge for us.
People would say that for all the potential in Africa, disposable income is relatively low and that this might deter advertisers…
What I'd say to that is that Africa is leading the world in mobile payments and that this is a key reason why advertising is so important. There's so much innovation going on in that area. Mobile is so much part of daily life that if you can find a way to combine advertising with payment, then you would have a market of huge potential.
Twinpin is live in Kenya. Can we assume you're looking at integrating ads with M-Pesa?
Well, I don't know how that might work, but it's an obvious idea to look at.