Can this instant messaging app win the war of supremacy among existing IM platforms in Africa?

Over a decade ago, not too many people were into Instant Messaging (IM) because the only available app then was the Blackberry Messenger, only available for people using Blackberry smartphones. This has changed now with the entrance of several other apps into the market such as WhatsApp, Palmchat, Viber and WeChat. These apps are different in a lot of ways but they have been instrumental in changing the way people see instant messaging. However, trying to get the ultimate do-it-all app has been a challenge for many IM app users.

In an attempt to address this need, a team of 25 people in Finland from 14 different nationalities launched an instant messaging app known as the Jongla IM app, in 2012, in order to meet the specific needs of IM users, making it more interactive. This app will be launched today at the Mobile West Africa conference taking place in Nigeria.

Ventures Africa had an exclusive interview with the CEO of Jongla, Riku Salminen, to find out more about this app, what makes it unique and why Nigerians should care about it and this is what he had to say:

Ventures Africa (VA): What makes the Jongla app better than other instant messaging apps?

Riku Salminen (RS): We have some unique features in Jongla, some are more rational and some are more emotional. From the rational point of view, Jongla is the world’s lightest Instant Messaging (IM) application. It uses just 2 MB of the space on an android phone compared to 20MB of our closest competitors like WhatsApp. It is tailored for emerging markets where people are predominantly prepaid users with low-end smart phones. You can also save your data plan while using Jongla because it consumes less data compared to other IM apps. The other important feature of Jongla is that it is one of the only open end messaging platforms, meaning that all your address book contacts are your Jongla friends. If your friend is not a Jongla user that friend would get an SMS message from you with your name and link to our open web application where your friend can read your message and even reply, for free. Our course is really on focusing on making instant messaging more fun and more personal. We are the pioneers of introducing the interactive stickers like next generations emoticons where you can express your emotions and we recently launched’ sound candy,’ where you can record an audio message for up to one minute. You can also filter your voice with our unique filters which can make your voice sound like a thick man or a lady.

(VA): Why did you decide to launch in Africa after two years and why did you choose Nigeria?

(RS): We have a gained good traction in south East Asia and we have learnt a lot from our experience there. We learnt how to build the world’s lightest Instant Messaging app and how to optimise it as well as how much technology is required for improved connectivity. As a result of this, we think that it is time to launch in Africa as the continent is ready, Nigeria is ready and there is a demand for the world’s lightest messenger. We discovered that Nigeria has one of the highest numbers of internet users in the world with the largest group of people accessing the internet through mobile devices, so we think that this is a great opportunity for us to start from here before moving to other African markets. Also, we decided to launch in Nigeria because we want to find local partners, local illustrators who would produce local stickers here in Nigeria. We are already in talks with African emoji and we are also searching for great local illustrators and we look forward to getting great contacts from here.

(VA): What can you say about instant messaging in Nigeria?

RS: In Nigeria, just as in many other countries, the biggest rival seems to be WhatsApp. They have already gained some popularity here. But what we also discovered is that people here use many other instant messaging applications. This really shows that many of our competitors have not been able to solve the technical problems that there are locally.

(VA): Does Jongla work on Blackberry phones?

(RS): We don’t have a maiden application for Blackberry but Jongla works on any device when you send messages to your contact. It works on android, Windows, IOS and Firefox.

(VA): Do you think your company will be able to beat other instant messaging apps in Nigeria?

(RS): Yes, we wouldn’t be here otherwise. We believe that people are now locked also in a couple of ways. WhatsApp is a great application but it lacks what people really want, which is the interactive sticker that we have in Jongla. This gives people the opportunity to personalise their messages and have fun. Another thing, which is our unique selling point, is that people here are looking for the social aspect to instant messaging. With Jongla you can network with people which you wouldn’t find on other IM platforms.

(VA): There have been a lot of concerns regarding data encryption over the past few months. Do you take your customers privacy seriously?

(RS): Yes we do. At Jongla we are using the highest level of security known as the TLS encryption. Jongla is safe and we highly respect our users’ privacy. On WhatsApp I would be able to see your phone number but on Jongla you wouldn’t be able to and this is to protect your privacy. If you become friends with people on Jongla they wouldn’t be able to see your number. This means that it protects you from getting spam mail from other people. You can also protect your own application by setting up a password so that when your phone gets lost no one can have access to your Jongla messages because you have your personal access code.

(VA): Do you have plans of expanding into other African countries?

RS: Yes we do and we are taking this as an opportunity to learn, to network and to optimise. We have been gaining some organic traction in Africa especially in French speaking countries. We look forward to launching also in South Africa, Kenya, Ghana and just to mention a few.

(VA): Where do you see Jongla in the next few years?

(RS): I see Jongla everywhere because of the ‘Internet of Things’ and the beautiful design of the app. We see people being able to use Jongla on multiple devices such as the wearable smart watches and smart phones from anywhere to record a message and send to a friend.

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