The company has created strategic partnerships to get more people online at reasonable rates
Surf was launched in Kenya about two years ago with the goal of providing high quality and affordable internet access to the mass market. According to Mark Summer, the Chief Executive Officer at Surf Kenya, the company prides itself in offering people a good experience to get online at reasonable rates. Kenya has a vibrant internet market, and a large number of consumers at the middle and lower end class are not well served. They also have limited options to choose from. Driven by the fact that the user base want to be online and the favorable regulatory environment, Surf set a base in Kenya and endeavored to offer more internet options to provide consumers a variety to choose from depending with their needs.
A major product is the Surfspot that allows consumers to earn free data bundles by watching adverts from the Surf’s advertisement partners or by buying affordable data for as little as Kshs 15. Surfspots are conveniently located around Nairobi.
In 2017, Surf partnered with Facebook and Internet Solutions Kenya to offer Express Wi-Fi service. It is a Wi-Fi hotspot product. The hotspots can be found in the greater Nairobi area and are located in existing businesses. The businesses serve as Surf retailers. They not only sell data bundles to customers, but also act as the initial point of contact with the customers. “So far Wi-Fi hotspot is found in about 50 towns across the country,” says Mr. Summer. People can connect to the internet service with their smartphones, tablets or laptops. Once in vicinity, the Wi-Fi signal pops up and one can sign up and immediately get started with some free MBs. New users access free internet for five days after which they are required to buy bundles. The prices are very competitive making it easy for people to get online. Customers can buy bundles using cash from the agents or through Mpesa.
Every month, Surf installs between 100 and 150 hotspots, showing its dedication to deliver internet in more public areas.
The hotspots are found in different locations meaning that a large number of people around the country can access internet. “Our goal is to make internet accessible to our users,” offers Mr. Summer. Surf prefers locations where people congregate and feel safe to use their mobile phones to engage in various activities. They include commercial and public places as well as areas where people spend their leisure time.
“Kenyan users are very excited for the new options and want to experiment different and affordable ways of getting online. We increase the hotspots every day and with that we have a very positive response in the Kenyan market,” he adds.
According to Mr. Summer, the decision to partner with Facebook was informed by the fact that the two companies share similar goals of getting more people online. Facebook also has an initiative of providing internet access in emerging markets such as Kenya. It seeks to achieve that by partnering with local companies based in those markets who understand the needs of the users and the challenges facing them. Increasing access to internet helps people transact online more efficiently, access information, build online businesses and reduce travelling costs. That in turn is contributing greatly in building the modern economy.
Mr. Summer explains that by creating partnerships, Surf Kenya is cutting costs that are eventually transferred to the users through cheap data. Sharing infrastructure with existing internet service providers has proven to be a convenient and efficient business model.
Setting Itself Apart
Surf has differentiated itself from other internet providers not only by offering quality and affordable internet, but also by listening to its consumers who have been ignored for a long time. It works directly with the agents who help the company to understand the needs of the community and what can be improved to create a relevant product. “Being close to our end-users has made us to grow in leaps and bounds in just two years.”
Despite its fast growth, Mr. Summer reveals that Surf faces various challenges just like running any other business. To start with, growing the company from a small business to what it is today, and installing about 150 hotspots every month is not easy. It requires a lot of adjustments in processes and procedures. Secondly, identifying the right locations to install the hotspots, which would attract many users, is overwhelming.
Currently, Surf is only operating in Kenya and focuses on first serving the market fully by providing more internet options to the underserved. The market is characterized by a large number of young people who want to get online, but the cost is prohibiting. The company is therefore looking into how it can optimize its services across the country, while still remaining profitable. “We are focusing on installing more Wi-Fi hotspots in the next 12 months, besides growing our home internet,” offers Mr. Summer. Surf also looks forward to increase its customer base by replicating what it has already done in major towns to other regions.