The brilliant partnership

The brilliant partnership

MASERU-BY the time you finish this article you would have probably received a call from a Vodacom Lesotho number or called from it.
Your access to the internet or social media, on which you are likely to be reading this story, is most probably powered by Vodacom. And so is your child’s e-learning platform.

Your banking services, from ATM transactions to transfers, are made possible by the same company.
In the past few days, you might have used Vodacom’s M-Pesa to send or receive money as well as buy electricity or pay other merchants.
The virtual meeting you had with colleagues could have been on a Vodacom network. Thanks to Vodacom Lesotho, you can read news as well as communicate with people in far-flung parts of the country or the world.
Such is the pervasive influence of Vodacom in our lives.

And all that has happened in the past two decades, during which the company has touched nearly every facet of our lives. Today Vodacom Lesotho has more than 1.6 million subscribers and some 700 000 Basotho use its M-Pesa mobile money platform for transactions worth hundreds of millions of maloti every month.

There is no denying that being a pioneer in Lesotho’s mobile telephone market contributed to its tremendous growth. The early bird catches the worm. Yet the fact that it was the first entrant doesn’t fully explain Vodacom’s success.
Many pioneers in other industries have lost ground to young competition.
Some have gone out of business after failing to withstand competition.

For Vodacom Lesotho innovation, prudent investment, clever marketing, good financial management and excellent human resources combined to bring about the exponential growth and stay ahead of competition.
But even that corporate dexterity might not be enough to tell a complete story of how the company grew in leaps and bounds over the years.
The story of Vodacom’s rise would not be complete without mentioning the contribution of Sekhametsi Investment Consortium, the local group that owns 20 percent of the company.

As the local shareholding partner, Sekhametsi brought with it the intricate knowledge of the local market that helped grow Vodacom’s subscriber base.
Thuso Green, one of Sekhametsi’s founding members, recalls how the consortium was instrumental in growing the mobile network company’s distribution network.

Green says soon after acquiring the initial 12 percent stake “Sekhametsi decided it would be the local vehicle to support Vodacom’s growth”.
The first part of the strategy, he says, was to help the company build a strong and wide distribution network.
With Sekhametsi’s blessing Green formed ProCell, a company that became one of Vodacom’s super dealers that bought airtime and sim cards at discount for on-sale to the market.

Super dealers were however much more than retailers of Vodacom products. They also had the responsibility to help Vodacom’s products reach the market. One of ProCell’s major innovations was the distribution partnership with Astoria Bakeries.
“That instantly meant that Vodacom products reached even the most remote areas. If you could find Astoria bread you could also buy our airtime and sim cards,” Green says.

“You could find airtime and sim cards in the most remote areas of the country.”
That was followed by the launch of tens of containers in the villages. The first containers, Green explains, were made by ProCell from disused 2 000l paraffin drums. Later there were replaced by bigger containers that sold Vodacom products as well other goods.

“That had a huge effect in bringing products to the people,” Green says.
He however says the “gamechanger was getting vendors to sell the products on the streets”.
“That meant you could get airtime and sim cards on almost every corner of major urban areas.”
ProCell’s idea of vendors selling airtime on the streets with laminated papers hung on the neck is now used by other networks too.

Green says from the onset they realised that “getting people to buy sim cards was not worth much unless you give them access to the airtime”.
“As ProCell, Sekhametsi and Vodacom we understood that the chain was not complete unless you can provide both the sim cards and the airtime. The real value was in the use of airtime after the connection.”
Sekhametsi also tapped into the enthusiasm of its shareholders to market Vodacom products.

Green says some Sekhametsi shareholders sold airtime and sim cards.
“Being shareholders, they were the right advocates to push the products. Each one was playing their part to help the company capture the market.”
“In them we had an army of brand ambassadors and sales representatives in the villages. It helped that there was a common understanding that all shareholders had to do their part. Of course, it helped that all of them were using Vodacom lines as a statement to show that they believed in the company and its products.”

Green believes Sekhametsi’s shareholders were also instrumental in encouraging Vodacom to expand its network across the country.
“We were always clamouring for services in the various areas. If it was not your area then you had relatives living there so you had an interest in spreading the network around the country.”
Vodacom now covers 98 percent of Lesotho and controls 80 percent of the mobile network market.

“This is testimony that we can achieve great things if we work together,” says Green.
Although cautious not to load all the credit on Sekhametsi, Green believes the consortium was instrumental in the growth of Vodacom.
“The point is that we did it together. It is a partnership that worked brilliantly and it still does.”

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