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Ask An Expert, Nigerian mobile directory capitalising on a critical Google limitation
One of the things I do when I’m bored is to check what people search for online. Recently, I typed “how to” into Google’s search bar and wasn’t at all surprised with the results. I concluded that many Google users don’t know how to kiss, make love longer, make love all night, or turn a man on. It appears as if this tech giant has answers to everything – but does it?
Google has become a repository of knowledge, but when it comes to real-time personal problems, it may fail the user. WikiHow and Wikipedia also have limited usage and users are warned not to rely on websites for medical help as the internet cannot replace medical consultations. It’s not just medical problems that require professional advice, but severe relationship problems, engineering issues, and even cooking procedures that require specific professional help. This is why consultation solutions are springing up everywhere.
While apps for different specialisations may be key, they can lead to users requiring too many apps based on their problem. With smartphone storage becoming inadequate and users becoming more interested in getting everything they need from one place, an interesting Nigerian startup may be on the right path with its Ask An Expert app.
Toyosi Abolarin who is tasked with the marketing and user acquisition, said Ask An Expert allows users to consult experts and get advice from them on important issues. The experts include doctors, lawyers, consultants, and others.
“It is a directory of experts. But what we have done is to verify them and ensure that we only have vetted experts; Our current mode of communication is chat, we have also included a 10-minute timer. So all conversations start from 10 minutes and the expert can set a chat price or make it free,” said Abolarin.
He added that the app also has an on-demand feature through which experts provide answers to users in real time.
“A customer downloads the app, registers, logs in and sees all the available specialities. He selects the expert he wants, let’s say he selects John Snow who is a Doctor, he reads the expert’s Summary Bio, Experience, and specialities. Then sends a consultation message to the doctor. The doctor gets the request and if he accepts, they begin consultation within a space of 10 minutes.”
“After the consultation, the customer would rate John Snow after the conversation and add a comment. So, others can view (the) expert’s ratings and comments before engaging.”
The idea behind Ask An Expert is a simple but excellent one as it has monetisation from the get go. Out of its four plans for users, three are paid-for with the customer being charged for chat durations. The free service also has a medium through which the company can make money. This is where MTN comes in.
“Customers would need to subscribe to have access to the platform. And we are starting with MTN. Subscription is like the normal value added services of NGN100 a week. NGN20 a day, or a monthly fee of NGN300. We will be integrating with other platforms few months after launching with MTN,” he said.
Through the revenue made from the subscription fees, they are able to finance the free services.
Beyond the subscription revenue, users that select consultation services requiring payment will have to pay via their card details. With the availability of numerous payment options, the company will need to strive to make payment much easier for its users, much like apps such as Badoo and Twoo have made it very easy for their users to pay for their services. One way is by enabling users to pay using phone credit (airtime).
The service is available on Android devices while others can access it via the web. And as it prepares to contend with numerous challenges, the brains behind the app will also need to say why and how they are different from Google and Wikipedia among others – something that Abolarin succinctly described thus:
“Our platform is different from Google as you are getting direct answers from an experienced individual and you can always ask follow up questions etc. This is also private and you can discuss any issue. Get career advice, relationship advice etc. I personally won’t want to ask Google what to do when I have symptoms of malaria. But would prefer to actually speak to a doctor.”
Value added service for telecoms operators
The fact that MTN is already on board attests to the platform’s prospects in the value added services market. Luckily for the company, they are not just looking at making it exclusive to MTN – they want it to be on other networks too. It should be a no-brainer for operators to approve since the networks were the ones that saw it good enough to launch annoying services like the one that gives relationship compatibility advice based on first names. There are several other services that provide tips and information no one needs. This is why a service that actually provides value to the users shouldn’t encounter many bottlenecks.
“What actually brought up the whole concept was that we wanted to change the way VAS operates. We thought it could be better. People pay NGN100 subscription fee to get tips on finance, relationship and others. So, we thought of what people could actually engage with and discuss what’s important to them. And that’s what birthed the Asking Experts concept.”
While this development seems to be in line with the call for a better working relationship between startups and operators, Abolarin’s admission of the fact that MTN gets ‘a larger share from the subscription’ revenue further affirms that there is a very long way to go. But the good news for the startup is that if Nigerians love the services provided by the experts, they will be willing to pay more through the MTN-excluded payment gateways – but they need to be convinced that Google does not have answers to all problems.