Interview, Mobile Technology

EXCLUSIVE: All Amber’s CEO, Matthew Dawes on Mobile West Africa 2014 conference and more

Lagos will be hosting all of West Africa for the 4th edition of the Mobile West Africa conference which is set to focus on expanding mobile data usage and driving monetization through industry collaboration. It will also see for the first time in Nigeria Mr Tomi T Ahonen is a best selling author of 12 books, the world’s most influential expert in mobile in 2012, and a leading consultant in mobile with a global client base from the Fortune 500.

No doubt the 4-day conference which runs May 13-16 at the Four Point by Sheraton hotel will be packed so we caught up with the CEO Matthew Dawes of All Amber, organizing company behind the conference, to discuss mobile continent and what to expect from arguably Africa’s biggest event on mobile.

1. Can you tell us about your journey so far from the first Mobile Web West Africa to the upcoming one?

Great question – the journey has been a really good one both personally and for the event itself. In 2011, we entered into very much unchartered waters and there were a lot of doubts that we could achieve our objectives, but we did. The following years have been incredibly satisfying both in terms of the development of the conference, which I believe is a good illustration of the development of the industry, but also watching the interest in the Nigerian market rise. For a long time the attention was on Kenya, which is obvious as it’s an amazing country with at least two massive successes (M-Pesa and Ushahidi), but slowly that’s changed.

At the events I have spoken at, and also generally when I’m out and about, people are very interested in Nigeria, about doing business here and getting an understanding of what’s happening. It’s always been my priority to make the event as progressive and positive as possible, and likewise in terms changing the perception of Nigeria as a country. Year on year we have seen an increase in the number of international attendees, which again is another illustration of the growth of the industry.

2. What’s the objective/mission of this conference – Mobile West Africa and any accomplishment and milestones so far?

The mission is to create a platform to facilitate growth and enable progress, both through knowledge transfer and information exchange. I always say it’s the responsibility of the attendees to be proactive and to get as much value as possible from their time at the event. My job is to make sure that the environment is as high quality as possible.

In terms of what we’ve achieved – the thing that pleases me the most is that the feedback has been so consistent; each year the overwhelming majority of attendees say that Mobile West Africa is the best event of its type. I’m really happy to have Etisalat come back on board again for a third year as a major partner as well – repeat business to me shows that we’re delivering.

3. What has been the level of reception to the conference in West Africa as well as other parts of the continent?

Each of the 3 events (in East, South and West Africa) is in a process of morphing and adapting, so they do vary. The thing that stands out regarding West Africa is that because there are more events being organised in South Africa and Kenya (mainly because they’re more established markets), its easier and a lot cheaper as an organiser to run events in those regions. However, I believe that Mobile West Africa has become more of a significant gathering. There’s also much more hustle at the Lagos event, which is great to witness.

One thing that I am particularly happy about with the 2014 conference is the number of start-ups that have agreed to partner with the event. A lot of those companies have attended in the past as delegates and have now have stepped up to become official partners – companies like Tranzit, Gidi Mobile, iConcepts and Arden & Newton. That’s the perfect scenario for me. In fact, the amount of cross-industry support we receive is phenomenal.

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4. What’s your take on Africa as a mobile continent – is this truly an African thing or global phenomena with Africa just taking the lead?

It’s neither – Tomi Ahonen will go into detail on the growing importance of mobile across the world in his presentation and workshop, but my take is that the whole world has gone mobile. It’s just that in emerging countries and continents the potential of mobile is so much higher, as it helps to overcome major issues such as lack of consistent power supply and poor fixed line infrastructure. In the UK I think mobile is taken for granted by the vast majority of consumers, although they still can’t live without it, but in countries like India, Nigeria, Brazil and Ghana a mobile device can truly be transformational.

5. What’s your response to this statement – “Africa is not a mobile-first but a mobile-only continent”?

It’s certainly a great sound bite. I got my head around the importance and impact of mobile technology in emerging markets back in 2006 when I was working at the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation. It was obvious that for the consumer, mobile was going to have a massive impact on societies across the continent. Laptops and PCs will always have their place, particularly in a business environment, but one thing is for sure: if you’re building a website or you want to embrace “digital” then you need to make sure that everything is tailored to the mobile device, otherwise you’re not serving a massive segment of your target market.

I want to see smartphone penetration rise; their capabilities understood by business, government and the consumer; the full capacity of feature phone capabilities embraced; and to develop the consumer’s mind-set so that a phone (either “smart” or “dumb”) isn’t just used for voice and SMS. It can deliver so many more benefits.

6. Why the transition from Mobile Web West Africa to Mobile West Africa?

There are two main reasons – to effectively develop the event’s brand, and also because I think it’s time that mobile services, content, apps and internet take centre stage. Data revenue is now a vital part of a network operators’ P&L sheet, so I thought that this slight rebranding would bring the event’s focus out of the shadows of voice and SMS. This isn’t a niche subject anymore, this is vital to the future.

7. What should we expect from this year’s conference?

Well, it’s not just going to be all about Tomi Ahonen, although I think he will deliver first class insights to the proceedings. I’m really happy to introduce the “Leaders of Mobile” session and to have individuals like Dr. Ernest Ndukwe and Segun Ogunsanya involved as they’re so respected and experienced. On a personal level, I’m looking forward to the mElection session – I hope that it brings the stakeholders together so that projects aren’t taking place in silos. For example, I believe that taking advantage of mobile social communities such as Eskimi can have a positive effect. In short, I anticipate that Mobile West Africa 2014 will be a significant step up from previous years in every way. That’s the plan!

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