Alain Nteff cofounded GiftedMom in response to the high maternal and infant mortality rates regularly witnessed in his home country of Cameroon. As thousands of deaths could be avoided with basic health information and services, he partnered with a doctor friend to develop a digital service that would provide sorely-needed education and facilitate access to care. Alain recounts how the company got started and how participating in a developer challenge gave him access to APIs that were crucial to scale up and reach a large population.
We started from the simple assessment that many if not most of maternal and infant deaths could be easily preventable with the right information and access to care. People in remote, rural areas, however, can’t rely on the internet for information and rarely receive prenatal check-ups or vaccination follow-ups. GPS service is widespread, at least, so our service first went live in 2014, as a Web platform that sent SMS notifications to connect patients and doctors.
We were trying to take things off the ground when we met the CEO of Orange Cameroon, who gave us insights into developing our service. We then competed in the 2016 RFI Challenge. As one of the finalists, we integrated Orange SMS, #303# My Store and Billing APIs into our platform and got support from the Orange Fab Cameroon. This was a great experience, and a great boost: we didn’t win the RFI Challenge but we had the technical means to scale up very fast.
APIs are an amazing asset to scale up: for start-ups, they are the future of telco. Our service has grown by over 20,000 subscriptions.
For SMS, we used to face technical and operational challenges: it was hard to get paid for our service via SMS and we had to purchase SMS bundles in advance and anticipate needs. Now we benefit from an arrangement with Orange whereby they provide the SMS directly to us. Integrating the Direct Carrier Billing Service enabled us to charge users a weekly fee for the service, which, combined with USSD versions of our services, is also a great step towards monetization—it’s much easier to process than mobile money.
Today, our services include follow-up for mothers, infant vaccination, family planning & contraception, teen health & reproductive education.
We’re working on a tablet version of our services but, as we have a solution that is ready to scale, popularizing our product really is our number one objective. Both inside Cameroon and in neighboring countries by leveraging on the Orange footprint. We receive support from Orange for marketing campaigns and advertising costs. Meanwhile, we also contribute to popularizing the APIs themselves, as ambassadors of the API program; we regularly help other start-ups and developers with integration if they lack the technical expertise or to save on launching costs. APIs are truly a great opportunity for start-ups and I can only encourage Orange to continue making them available!