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Startup Notafy offers a bulk messaging service with a difference

Two entrepreneurs identify a niche in enterprise to consumer messaging


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At a time when WhatsApp is heavily dominating the peer-to-peer SMS sector globally, two entrepreneurs, Andrew Cook (34) and Andrew Burns (32), after much research, have came up an idea for a similar product with one big difference. 

Their research showed that while there were many messaging platforms in the peer-to-peer market, there were no similar solutions available to enterprises, and that if a business wanted a solution that enables them to talk to their consumers, they would have to develop an in-house internal app - which was not viable for most businesses, particularly SMEs.

The Notafy platform works in the same way as any bulk messaging service. It is a corporate mobile instant messaging app that allows businesses who traditionally rely on SMS based mobile communication to move over to a smartphone based app.

This not only reduces their SMS spending but also improves customer engagement and experience at the same time. 

"We have had to educate our market before selling to them"

Development for the Notafy software started in 2011, three years later the duo released the app for direct market sales.  

The two entrepreneurs tell us about their startup and the experience of having to build a market for your product.  

Supplied

The Notafy team, Andrew Cook and
Andrew Burns.

We identified a niche in enterprise to consumer messaging. The idea is based on our thinking that there had to be a more cost effective way for companies to send out mobile messages.  

The lack of solution and the obvious gap is what led to this idea of building a better and more economically friendly solution for both enterprises and consumers, becoming a reality. 

Notafy is the first centralised enterprise to consumer messaging app that allows consumers to manage communication from multiple service providers.  

Subscribers have one point of contact instead of having to download multiple apps for multiple providers to manage communication on an individual basis. 

Notafy further differentiates itself by providing a single platform for enterprises that allow for both in-app messages to be sent to Notafy, as well as the ability to fail over to SMS should their customer either not have a smartphone or have not downloaded app.

Notafy was privately funded. We got private funding through a majority shareholder in Notafy, Smoke CCS, a leader in the customer experience management software, established 8 years ago.

We have had to learn a great deal about a new industry. It has been a steep learning curve. We are also creating a brand new industry around corporate instant messaging – this has been half the fun (and challenge). The biggest hurdle was that the industry did not exist before Notafy. Because of this we have had to educate our market before selling to them. This is never an easy thing to do. 

We want to establish market dominance in Africa, within the next 2 years. Notafy aims to have more than 500 000 active subscribers using the Notafy app to manage their mobile communication with their service providers.

I have been pleasantly surprised that other people also buy into the dream of building a revolutionary business. This has been great – having other people share your passion and your vision has been amazing. 

"Make sure your business model is going to work before
doggedly pushing forward"

There is still a huge amount of governmental red-tape that does not promote the entrepreneurial spirit. Government needs to show more support for young businesses. There is also very little resource available to assist entrepreneurs in understanding the South African business challenges before they start their business – it really is a “learn via hard knocks” environment. Small business funding is also a problem. 

The mechanisms that currently exist in the debt capital or venture capital space are not well suited for the South African environment and this seems to be mainly due to government regulations and incentives that are not focused on growing the SME and entrepreneurial space.

Our advice is to make sure your business model is going to work before doggedly pushing forward. Test the market and ensure there is actually a market. Once you have done this, trust your gut, work harder than you imagined you could, build a network and push for your dream. 

Sales is everything! Without sales you do not have a business. Many second-rate products have built huge businesses because their sales process was great. Do not worry about having the perfect product – get to market. 

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