A Kenyan Startup is Showing Global Businesses How to Talk to Their Customers

Lily Kuo | Quartz | May 25, 2016

A florist chain in Argentina, a food delivery service in Hong Kong, and a Singaporean travel agency—these are a few of the companies relying on a Kenyan startup to help them talk to their customers on WhatsApp, WeChat, and other messaging apps. Ongair, a Nairobi-based startup, says instant messaging could and should replace the traditional channels of customer service—frustrating phone calls, inefficient e-mail exchanges, online chats that don’t work well on a smartphone, or SMS messages that costs businesses per text.

Photo credit - Ongair“If your customers are on instant messaging, let them be there,” says co-founder TrevorKimenye. Last year, three times as many messages were sent via WhatsApp or Facebook messenger a day than SMS. Ongair helps companies use those apps for customer service by aggregating messages from the various platforms into one dashboard.

Ongair is a small operation, less then two years old, that occupies a single floor in a house in central Nairobi, East Africa’s so-called “Silicon Savannah.” It wouldn’t be the first time that technology has emerged from Kenya, where one of the most widely used mobile money systems, M-Pesa, and the crowd-sourced mapping software Ushahidi, were both invented. Where Ongair, whose name is a play on the Kiswahili word ongea, “to speak,” differs from many of its peers in Nairobi is its focus. It is not a social enterprise working on one of the many humanitarian issues East Africa faces...