If you have ever watched American Idol or Dancing with the stars, I am sure you have heard of SMS short codes. You have probably used a shortcode to vote for your favorite dancer or singer. It went something like this; “to vote for Kelly Clarkson dial ‘55544’”. You type in the number and wait to see if she advanced to the next stage…YAY! This number you typed is known as a short code and in case you don’t know, every time you dial that code you are charged!
In America, the use of short codes are primarily limited to vote-in shows or charity donations etc. However, in Africa the short code business is on STEROIDS! I just got back from a trip to Nigeria, and every 5 minutes I would receive a text message on my Etisalat phone telling me to dial a different shortcode. I would see things like: “Text 33444 in order to get bible verses”, or “text 445566 to find your husband”, or “text ‘score’ to 65666 to get game stats”.
The marketing is consistent and relentless, and it does not seem like there is a way to stop these annoying messages. The reason it is such a hot business in Nigeria, is because every time you send a text, 50-100 Naira is deducted from your charge card! Lets do the math, 150 Million people in Nigeria, if 1% of the users somehow are fooled into texting your short code, that would 1.5M * 100. You would make a cool 150 Million Naira! Of course all that money does not come to you, it is shared between you the entrepreneur, the Phone service provider (etisalat, MTN, sprint, Verizon etc) and the Value added service provider (USshortcodes, textnigeria etc). Start up costs are substantial, but once you are up and running…… ching ching!
So if I know Africa, and I think I do, the number of annoying short codes hitting African mobile phones in in the coming years will only increase. This is one of those rare occasion when we at Smile and Mobile hope the growth of the GSM short code business will not ………………………………….Stay Mobile!