“The USSD interface offers us endless possibilities”
For many people in Cameroon, buying second-hand goods is an obvious and practical way to save money. “But the problem lies in trying to match supply with demand,” explains Martial Nodem, founder of NodCorp and the e-commerce platform buzigo. “Second-hand retail centers are few and far between, and access to information is far from perfect.”
Likewise, many people find it difficult to start a personal business, offer their services for part-time jobs, and/or recruit help.
Solving the information problem
Martial is remedying this issue by offering two services that attempt to bridge the gap between supply and demand:
- BuziFlash, for peer-to-peer and B2B sales of second-hand goods
- JobFlash, which offers to do the same for freelance jobs
“Unemployment in Cameroon is quite high,” Martial says. “But part-time and/or freelance jobs are very common. Often, it just comes down to connecting the right people!”
The wider reach of USSD
With a user base of more than 50 retailers and 450 customers, Martial set his sights on expanding the reach of his services. While Internet access—including via smartphone—is fairly widespread in Cameroon’s larger cities, that is not the case in rural areas.
Martial says that rural areas do, however, enjoy near-universal GSM coverage. “With this in mind, I was looking for a way to make my service more widely available. A friend suggested I look into USSD. It seemed like the perfect solution as an alternative interface for people to interact with our service.”
Martial requested access to the Orange #303# My Store API – the only provider offering USSD integration in the region – to make his services available through the Orange #303# My Store.
Getting the code right
The code’s strict structure can prove a bit unwieldy at first, but Martial’s contact at Orange quickly came to his aid. “The Orange France team helped me with how to code for the USSD interface. They also put me in touch with Giftedmom, another local partner who’d integrated the service successfully. After comparing notes with them, things got a lot easier! By the time I ran the final tests with Buziflash, I was able to take care of integrating JobFlash on my own with what I’d learned.”
A realm of possibilities
The hard work paid off – and then some. “We launched the service in early November, and it’s very exciting. The USSD interface offers us endless possibilities – for instance, we can integrate an entire application into the USSD service and enable full interactivity with the user. We’re very happy with this range of capabilities.”
A survey of Nod Corp’s user base showed a high level of interest in a USSD service, and left Martial and his colleagues with high expectations: “Between our users’ enthusiasm and our market projections, we’re looking at a baseline growth of 1,000 extra users a month.”
Next up: monetization and expansion
Martial is also currently working with Orange partner aggregator Digital Virgo to integrate the Orange Middle East & Africa Direct Carrier Billing service, to be able to bill each USSD request – something they do not have the technical capabilities for yet. Here as well, expectations are high, with a projected 75% increase in USSD-based revenues after integration.
What’s next? “We plan on expanding to Ivory Coast and Morocco if all goes well in Cameroon,” Martial says. “Our services were created to address issues that are widespread on the continent, so we know they could be useful anywhere!”
As for other projects, Martial is also the co-founder of the social network Waggstar, where talented individuals advertise themselves and gather fan communities to monetize their activities and earn sponsorship. For an entrepreneur like him, there’s always more than one way to expand people’s opportunities.