MyMarket wasn’t something revolutionary because #1 Safaricom like a fat kid with a me-too attitude also wanted a piece of the classifieds cake yet OLX was making losses to the tune $10m annually.

#2 It was a total turnoff as subscribers were reminded of Safaricom’s lack of originality and its mission to have everyone pay Ksh 3/- per transaction or Ksh 20/- to post an ad when its competitor, Naspers-backed OLX was free, inviting and visually appealing.

MyMarket was aimed at increasing the firm’s SMS revenues even as the operators unveiled the Big Box and other initiatives to drive its data uptake; thereby earning it revenues right, left and center. Unfortunately the idea of selling stuff on USSD was not as captivating to the groups that had second hand stuff to sell or had the money to buy those sold. USSD, which is a still revenue earner for telcos globally failed to work for its classifieds platform not because Safaricom was a victim of anything but because the classifieds target market is mostly urban based middle income earners who had the propensity to save and buy stuff for the sake of it.

Though rural farmers buy stuff online, they are unlikely to buy from strangers or users from distant locations. MyMarket charged buyers 3/- per alert while sellers were charged a standard amount of 20/- to post an ad. Safaricom’s poor selling point was that sellers would naively assume they are selling to its over 20 million subscribers but after not bearing fruit no one bothered talk about MyMarket again, even Safaricom itself kept quiet on MyMarket like it did on the Big Box titanic flop.

In case you never tried it out, dial *665# and let us know what you think. Though the MyMarket system is still functioning, technically a market is dead if there are no buyers and nothing better would induce anyone to buy than visuals which are at the center of any successful marketplace from Airbnb, to OLX, TO Pigiame among others.

Safaricom is not the only ‘giant’ to fail at classifieds. Nation Media Group with all its millions of readers has failed to move its classifieds business from print to online. Nation Tenders failed on launch, Nsoko was a total failure from the start. Recently the group acquired struggling KenyaBuzz in stock and cash options to redeem itself. Star Classifieds and Capital Classifieds are aggregated from print sources and various online sites. Facebook’s entry into classifieds will make it harder as most publishers rely on social media for maximum reach unlike OLX which aims at selling  the reach of its own platform not its social media’s following.

OLX said Safaricom’s MyMarket was not really a competition but a value add to its voice, data and mobile money revenues.

OLX Kenya Country Manager Peter Ndiangu warned Safaricom saying,”The business of classifieds is fairly difficult to grow and from what we know MyMarket is a side hustle for Safaricom. Most telcos have failed terribly by aggregating content. From our experience globally, telcos are not a competition.

Ndiangui added that monetization of classifieds is a chicken and egg issue and the firm was not in a hurry to earn money from yet as the moment you start charging you frustrate users but the basic thing is to grow the business, invest in it and grow it. As an airtime and devices vendor, Safaricom is used to a cash based business and is also locally known to have little patience for such business models. Therefore its failure was trying to run a business that would teach it lessons in training users before earning from it.