The City of Cape Town can’t keep a good startup down, Powertime is back

Powertime, the startup behind the unique mobile app that allows South Africans to buy prepaid electricity, is back on its feet.

Last year, The Cape Town Electricity Department abruptly suspended, without notice, Powertime’s connection to sell prepaid electricity to residents in the City of Cape Town. The action subsequently killed 45% of Powertime’s business and left the startup’s future in doubt.

Having taken back a key area for the company, Powertime is reporting growth of between 300 and 500 sign-ups per month. The City of Cape Town also allowed Powertime to reinstate its 2% VAT inclusive service charge, which the city deemed “unlawful” initially.

The spat started when the city’s municipality argued that Powertime’s mobile app was sending data over the internet, when — according to its own stipulations — mobile devices were in fact only allowed to send information over SMS and USSD channels. A caveat solemnly left out of the city’s tender spec, lamented Powertime MD Sebastien Lacour.

This seemingly anachronistic view of mobile communication amid rapid mobile web growth in Africa, spurred Powertime to innovate around the roadblocks. The team’s app now makes an exception for Cape Town customers to buy prepaid electricity through an SMS option.

Powertime’s Gabriel Kroes tells us that while the company faced challenges in Cape Town, municipalities in other regions of the country have embraced the service, leading to speedy growth in Gauteng. Even with a modest staff tally of three, Powertime says that it is close to becoming profitable, and with rollout for more prepaid services set for later this year, it hopes to do that fairly soon.

The company has just released its BlackBerry 10 app — its fifth platform — with the help of Cape Town-based international technology company Methys.

Following in the footsteps of its iOS, Android, legacy BlackBerry and web-based siblings, the BlackBerry 10 app enables customers from Eskom and all major municipalities in South Africa to buy prepaid electricity tokens. It also provides users with their purchase history, allows them to manage multiple meters and to use several forms of payment; such as a credit card, debit card, EFT and the PayGenius electronic wallet.

Christophe Viarnaud, Methys Managing Director, added “Powertime Users will recognize services such as prepaid voucher purchase, usage reports, energy-saving tips, Powertime’s patented virtual meter and low electricity push notifications. This new BlackBerry10 app is the best of the entire Powertime mobile apps range, with new features such as very intuitive navigation on touch screen interface and a full integration with BlackBerry Messenger (BBM).

Powertime’s virtual meter works by monitoring the rate at which prepaid electricity is bought and can predict when a household might be due.

In the coming weeks, further updates will be made to the application, to integrate the in-app purchase of electricity usage monitors, efficient lighting devices and will also add an exclusive cloud-based analytics capability to track household and appliance usage.



Sign up to our newsletter to get the latest in digital insights. sign up

Welcome to Ventureburn

Sign up to our newsletter to get the latest in digital insights.