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When the founders of the startup M4JAM (Money for Jam) secured a rare meeting with legendary banking innovator and investor, Michael Jordaan, he threw down a challenge to them. He encouraged them to stop the talk and build their product in 90 days. Just 105 days later, the company’s new micro-jobbing platform is now set for launch, with more than 100 000 jobs lined up, supported by more than 10 brands.
M4JAM has lofty ambitions, aiming to solve one of South Africa’s biggest problems. We all know that South Africa’s economy is unique; its crop of entrepreneurs even more so. Often referred to as a land of contrasts, the country is riddled with complex issues but also ripe with innovative opportunity.
M4JAM is described as a micro-jobbing service that brands, NGOs or government branches can use to break up a bunch of small tasks to fulfill bigger ones. Relying on mobile social networks, the Stellenbosch, South Africa based startup uses crowdsourcing technology that provides — as its tagline reads — “easy work, for easy money” to spur collective action.
In the run-up to the launch, Ventureburn had a chat with M4JAM to find out more about the company and its plan to change the way organisations can engage with people.
Co-founders of M4JAM, Andre Hugo and Warren Venter, share a vision of using the opportunities found in crowdsourcing technology to further the concept of micro-jobbing — the reliance on independent contracts to fulfill short-term tasks.
It’s an inspiring concept. Registered M4JAM users (whether a student, pensioner, unemployed or opportunist) can earn money by doing simple tasks via their mobile phones. It’s almost like what Gigwalk or Fiverr does but more geared for organisations, especially in emerging markets.
The possibilities for these jobs are nearly endless but, and could include the following: Taking a photo of a restaurant entrance to confirm the name of the business at a specific location, speed limit and road name confirmation for mapping companies and government; merchandising display checks and stock control for retailers; or surveys completed via your mobile phone to gather insights or refine product innovation.
Clients of the platform simply confirm a batch of micro jobs, funds the project, and M4JAM posts these jobs on its behalf. After completion, M4JAM sends the finished work package to the relevant business. They approve the quality and data package from a completeness perspective and M4JAM pays the jobber.
The initial roll-out will begin on 11 August with the mobile social network WeChat (which people can use to sign up) being M4JAM’s first platform, with more to follow. A standalone app would be really great.
A unique tool for a unique ecosystem
M4JAM believes it can be a real game-changer for emerging markets. Given the statistics, the environment seems perfect for such a product. As Hugo explains:
“Traditional models of end consumer engagement are not yielding the results. Therefore did some research and looked at products like Fiver and Gigwalk that are similar to our offering in terms of the job dynamics yet we believed that the application route was not the answer.”
On the one hand, South Africa’s official unemployment is brewing at ±25%, on the other, there are 69.2 million active SIM cards, and an estimated 14.1 million smartphones, according to M4JAM. A mobile solution that aims to bridge these two extremes seems a good fit.
Hugo has a strong background in innovation as well as consulting industries. He was Director of Deloitte Digital for nearly four years, and worked for the company for nearly two decades locally and internationally. But he decided that the corporate world wasn’t for him, so it was a case of either taking up consulting or starting a new business. The choice was pretty obvious.
With Hugo’s background in innovation, data, digital, and Venter’s experience in location technology and startups, M4JAM came into existence — with the attractive philanthropic edge of aiding job creation. “I wanted to find a way of creating behavioural breadcrumbs of people,” Hugo says
Easy work, for easy money
Using MTN’s Mobile Money platform, all the money accumulated doing jobs will be stored in a secure mobile wallet. Users are charged R4.00 per withdrawal and can cash out at a Pick ‘n Pay or Boxer till point – Southern Africa’s most widely spread and popular grocer. They just need to present their unique code to the cashier who then hands the user their cash.
Apart from commercial brands, M4JAM is in the process of getting both NGOs and public services on board. For instance, there is an opportunity for people to take surveys about Aids awareness, clinics locations and opening hours. People are then not only rewarded with R15 upon completion, but also left more informed about nearby clinics and other critical information about HIV/Aids.
“The value proposition includes completing tasks at a significantly lower cost than outsourcing to a traditional supplier, as well as directly accessing a unique and positive channel for continuous engagement with customers in real time,” says Hugo.
Rollout and platform implementation
WeChat was a clear choice given its ecosystem primarily built around brand engagement. Besides, Hugo argues, launching through WeChat initially fits into the plan of targeting the smartphone demographic aged between 18 and 30.
“I have more than 20 apps on my phone, though I only actively use about five of them,” he says. Hugo says that he wanted to launch its service where people are most active, within the social media conversation.
There are plans to roll out to the feature phone market but that will need to wait until we have stabilised the system and learnt our lessons in the feature phone market. Hugo notes that the service won’t be limited to smartphones. “Most feature phones don’t have cameras so they’ll be limited in that extent.
However, people will still be able to do survey jobs, and location-based jobs can also be completed and verified by leveraging cellphone towers. USSD technology could be leveraged for wider engagement should there be the demand.
Security, treats and rewards?
The system relies on algorithmic authentication whereby various differentiators by the user are verified before M4JAM and the brand ultimately pays out. Someone can’t just take a picture of a screenshot from his friend’s phone, for instance. There are measures of quality control which will prevent users from trying to cheat the system.
The system additionally relies on a bunch of factors to perform due diligence on the tasks, including matching the time and place of the action performed. When users sends incorrect or gibberish inputs, the system will automatically notify them about what’s being done incorrectly. If this persists, the user will be flagged.
There’s a very interesting gamification component to M4JAM. People will be rewarded when they share their completed tasks. For example, after completing a five-minute survey about household items, Bob not only now gets R20 but will further be encouraged to tweet and share his task completion to get an extra R3 to R5. Moreover, in order to encourage customer loyalty, there are rewards and discounts involved if the certain brand is supported.
The more jobs done by an individual, the more M4JAM’s recommendation engine can allocate relevant jobs. To add to the incentives, people can earn badges for good behaviour, climbing the leaderboard. This will be calculated by measuring the quality, quantity, as well as the frequency of the jobs performed.
Road to the future
The service will appeal to the majority of South Africans — ranging from those who want to make enough money to buy extra airtime, to those who really need to earn money to make ends meet. The only requirement is a smartphone, and up to 10 minutes of your time to complete the job.
M4JAM is also aiming for the greater developing world. “It’s a real solution for developing markets,” Hugo tells Ventureburn. All countries with a similar GINI coefficient rate to that of South Africa are the company’s target markets. Specifically, these include Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, India, Malaysia, as well as South America.
“Right now our focus is to build the community as fast as possible and demonstrate the value of the solution to the greater market. We are in discussions about geographic expansion but need to crawl before we can run,” says Hugo.
The company has been self-funded so far. Current figures are hush-hush, but Hugo says the team will be looking for investment after the initial roll-out phase.