“I saw an opportunity to enable mobile communication and marketing throughout Africa.”
- South Africa
- Year selected
Gustav Praekelt has a vision – he wants to be able to send content through mobile phones to the 1 billion people of Africa at the click of a button. In 2003, he founded Praekelt Consulting (“Praekelt”), a company which develops platforms that allow clients to distribute content or marketing messages to mobile users, capitalizing on the unexpectedly high and growing penetration of mobile phones in emerging markets. Praekelt’s technology has the potential to send mobile messages to the over 450 million cell phone users across the entire African continent, which represents the world’s fastest growing mobile market. Gustav believes this is just the beginning, as there is a largely unexplored opportunity to produce mobile delivery systems for the distribution of entertainment, information, and other digital content to the ‘bottom of the pyramid’ in Africa. Gustav and his team have a unique understanding of this market and are well-positioned to expand rapidly in one of the fastest growing and most innovative industries in Africa.
Gustav is no stranger to entrepreneurship. Before starting Praekelt, he founded a motion graphics company called Delapse at the age of 24, immediately after completing a computer science degree from the University of Pretoria. He led the company for 9 years, watching it grow to a staff of 60 people. However, Delapse, which sold its products to the South African Broadcasting Corporation, would not survive the “dot.com” bubble burst that claimed so many start-ups. Through failure, Gustav learned valuable lessons about the day-to-day difficulties of running a business and the importance of a well-conceived business model. Today, Gustav credits these lessons for Praekelt’s success. As the entrepreneur proudly notes, Praekelt has grown 30% a year without receiving any external financing.
Gustav was inspired to start Praekelt after a visit to Tanzania where he noticed that even though the people had little wealth or possessions, everyone – from the cleaners and garbage removers to the bank clerks — owned a mobile phone. Computers, on the other hand, were too expensive and were scarce. In South Africa, for example, 80% of the population has access to a mobile phone (which is roughly equal to the percentage of mobile users in the United States). But Gustav realized that to communicate with Africa, one needed to do so over all types (old and new) of mobile phone. For that reason, Gustav launched Praekelt in 2003. Completely bootstrapping operations, Gustav and one employee began designing digital content delivery systems for the automaker Fiat and the popular radio-station 5FM. The company now has a staff of 17 that serves clients in Europe and Africa.
Praekelt develops content management systems and mobile marketing platforms for corporations, NGOs, and government development agencies that aim to send content or marketing messages to any African with a mobile phone. Praekelt has been at the forefront of launching new technology in Africa like mobile television, commercial ‘please call me’ (PCM) messages, mobile internet, mobile messaging, and e-ticketing. The company’s handset database contains detailed specifications of over 2000 different handsets, enabling it to design systems that allow its clients’ content or marketing messages to display correctly on almost any consumer’s handset. One of their flagship products, Broadcast/Brand Content Management System allows Radio and TV stations or brand management companies to easily launch, host and manage platforms for digital content such as mobile sites, SMS lines and streaming audio. With 7 broadcasters currently utilizing this platform in South Africa, including 5FM, Classic FM, and Radio Good Hope, Praekelt is redefining how broadcasters communicate with their audience.
Gustav is also passionate about using mobile technology to develop social solutions that improve the health and well-being of people living in poverty. Gustav started the Praekelt Foundation, which is an incubator for mobile products that increase the welfare of Africans such as TxtAlert, an award-winning messaging platform that was used to increase clinic attendance rates among HIV patients. Already receiving global recognition for its work, the Praekelt Foundation received an 825,000USD grant from Omidyar Network. In 2011, the Praekelt Foundation launched a mobie community called YoungAfricaLive (YAL), a project dedicated to providing education and stimulating dialogue about the concerns of teens and young adults such as love and sexual health, which won the Global Gold Social Impact Award at the 7th Annual Global Mobile Marketing Awards. In addition to South Africa, the YAL program has also expanded to Tanzania and Kenya. In addition to doing social good, the foundation has proven to be a valuable source of R&D for Praekelt, which has been able to commercialize products such as TxtAlert in the private sector.
In a continent in which only 5% of the population has access to the internet, it is mobile-technology companies like Praekelt will help connect all Africans to the information and knowledge that is crucial to enabling economic development. Gustav is a passionate and inspiring serial entrepreneur whose previous failure in business will go a long way to showing South Africans that failure can provide invaluable lessons for building a profitable company and entrepreneurship can be a powerful force for social good.
Endeavor and Praekelt Consulting
Gustav is receiving guidance on such areas as finance, tax structure, and shareholder agreements.