The rise in popularity of OpenAI’s conversational AI chatbot, ChatGPT, has seen the entrance into mainstream culture of consumer facing AI tools. DALL-E, Midjourney and Stable Diffusion are some other popular tools.
In Africa, however, innovation around generative AI products has not become apparent. This does not mean that there is no activity in the AI space on the continent. Seipone.ai is a Botswana based AI startup which is building an enterprise software-as-a-service product which seeks to revolutionise the way brands understand their customers.
Initially founded in 2018 as “Seriti Insights” which was a software consultancy firm, Seipone.ai made a full pivot to AI in April 2022, deciding to focus entirely on its enterprise AI SaaS product. This move is further explained by co-founder and CEO Nomsa Makgabenyana in an interview with TechCabal.
“We started in 2018 building ad hoc and bespoke software solutions mainly in the insurance space for sales and operational teams to boost their productivity and to be able to get the maximum results from the data that they have,” she said. “Last year, we then decided to completely pivot from that business to build and solely focus on our AI too, Seipone.ai”
A pivot worth making
Although the timing for the pivot into AI seems well thought as it coincided with the bursting of generative AI into the mainstream, it was a difficult pivot to make for Makgabenyana and her team.
“It was a difficult decision to make particularly because it meant we lost that consistent revenue from the consultancy business. But it was very important for us to take that strategic decision because we really believe in the potential of not only AI as a technology but of Seipone.ai as a business.”
Speaking more on the product, Makgabenyana believes it will be the next big thing in helping companies and brands in Africa harness the power of social media and AI to really understand the sentiments and pain points of consumers.
Using the power of artificial intelligence and applied machine learning, Seipone.ai carefully mines historical and real-time data to help brands and companies understand consumer sentiments for insightful decision-making, no matter their language and style in linguistics, which are ever so fleeting.
It is designed to learn and understand natural language and is able to understand Setswana and other indigenous languages like Swahili as well as social media lingo and slang. It also gives emotions behind opinions and gives insights into what the public perception is of the user’s topic of interest, rendering it a bot with artificial intelligence capabilities.
Target users include marketing agencies, advertising teams, brand builders, and managers by helping them to manage their brand reputation, identify online mentions, gain consumer intelligence, and more using a mix of algorithms that capture and comprehend 87% of data that is missed by traditional media tools that would otherwise be left out.
Although Seipone.ai currently serves clients only in Botswana, who include the country’s largest commercial bank and leading mobile network operator, the start has its sights set on entering the East Africa market, specifically Kenya.
There are also future plans to penetrate the Tanzania, Uganda, South Africa, Rwanda, USA, and Netherlands markets as there has been a significant amount of interest there. The startup is currently in the process of raising a seed round to further build out their minimal viable product (MVP) and also supercharge its expansion ambitions, a process she expects to be concluded within the next 6 to 18 months.
“We have raised money in the past through some grants and although it has helped extend our runway, we are talking to a couple of investors who are showing a lot of interest. The issues we are coming across are with regards to valuations and other tidbits, which are expected especially in an undesirable economic environment but all in all, everything is progressing well and we expect to succeed with fundraising,” said Makgabenyana.
Additionally, Makgabenyana also believes that the funding will help in marketing the product offering because their experience has shown that there is still a significant knowledge gap in most African markets about the true power of utilising AI as a marketing technology tool.
To address that gap at the moment, Seipone.ai has developed a platform called Seipone Learning which is basically three workshops designed in-house to offer education on the power of AI for brands and companies.
“So there’s three workshops in Seipone Learning. One is taken by me and focuses on showing the value of AI for businesses. The second one focuses more on how customers can incorporate AI into their marketing process and is taught by my co-founder Kagiso Mpa. The third one speaks more on understanding the value of language in marketing and is taught by a consultant who is a specialist in Applied Linguistics,” added Makgabenyana.
A year after fully pivoting to the AI product, Seipone.ai has had its fair share of wins, losses,challenges, and the lessons that come with the process. According to Makgabenyana, all those will contribute greatly towards building a business that will revolutionise the way companies and brands think about marketing in Africa.
“I think we entered the market at the right time because the success of ChatGPT has given much needed attention to not only generative AI products but also enterprise ones like ours. We have garnered a significant amount of traction like raising some funds and also being accepted into programs like CcHub Nigeria which has helped us to significantly improve our product,” she said.
On what will be the main focus over the next year of operations, Makgabenyana alludes to the focus on building partnerships that will serve the expansion mandate of the startup.
“Forming partnerships will be very, very important because they will allow us to add some wind to our sails in terms of traction. Partnerships will also give us more clout because as a new company operating in a nascent industry like AI, sometimes its a bit tougher to convince clients, most of them who are established corporates, about the validity of our value proposition.”
One of those partnerships is with numerous marketing agencies in Botswana and other markets like Kenya. The partnerships seek to make clear the value addition that Seipone.ai can offer to the agencies’ clients, a move which Makgebenyana believes will significantly reduce the length of their sales cycles.
“With some enterprises, it can take up to ten months for them to decide to onboard a technology. To curtail that, we are partnering with agencies to show them the value of our product, value which they can then pass on to their client. It’s a win-win situation because we, on one hand, get to significantly reduce the time we take to “convince” brands about our value proposition and the agencies on the other hand get to add value to their clients’ operations.”
In conclusion, Makgebenyana believes that the secret to the power of Seipone.ai is its ability to allow brands to have a vivid picture of what consumers think of them, a picture which enables brands to know what products to build, which to improve and which to bin.
“Our product contextualises how consumers speak about their experiences with brands products. What I think is the most important aspect is that we create this context using consumers’ natural language input as well as slang. Most people on social media are more honest when they express themselves in their natural language,” she said.
“There is so much value brands can unlock by having this context and for us, we are waiting to work with these kinds of brands who are obviously very agile and hungry to be successful in front of their consumers through incorporating the latest technologies.”