Africa Business News: Entrepreneurs. Investments. Banking & Finance. Emerging Markets. Start-Ups
Wednesday, 13 November 2013
Ugandan Millionaire Ashish Thakkar Launches African Answer To Skype
Ashish J. Thakkar
Ugandan multi-millionaire and serial entrepreneur Ashish J. Thakkar has officially launched Mara Online, a family of online and mobile platforms that allow users to communicate, interact and collaborate with each other.
Thakkar, who is the founder and CEO of Mara Group and the Mara Foundation, officially launched Mara Online on Saturday atTiEcon, one of the world’s largest entrepreneur conferences in California, where he was a keynote speaker.
The launch of Mara Online featured a chartered jet flying over Silicon Valley with a Mara banner with the inscription “It is Time For Africa.”
In a phone call with Thakkar, the young tycoon said he conceived the idea for Mara Online last year after founding Mara Mentor, a mentoring social network that connects young, budding entrepreneurs to established entrepreneurs. Mara Mentor was launched as an initiative by the Mara Foundation and Thakkar says it grew to have over 100,000 users. As the initiative grew, Thakkar discovered a need for communication tools to enable mentors and protégés on the network to communicate more effectively. So he launched Mara Online, a convergence of web and mobile technology that creates things like educational tools for entrepreneurs to interactive mobile applications that can connect people across the globe.
“Launching today, I am confident that Mara Connect will shake up the market and become the premier choice for connecting people in Africa and beyond, while reducing consumers’ costs for mobile communication.” Thakkar announced at TieCon.
Mara Online currently has three applications; are all communication-focused. There is Mara Connect,a free mobile VoIP which allows tablet and smartphone users across Africa to call and text for free, both domestically and internationally; it is available in app stores and on Google Play. Mara Messenger is an instant messaging platform facilitating real time communication via mobile and offers quick transmission of text-based messages and BuzzMe – an African social media network. It provides a new way for youth to meet and network across the continent and globally, via the Internet and on mobile. According to Thakkar, BuzzMe will be linked with the other applications and allow members to chat online using Mara Messenger and via VOIP on Mara Connect. Thakkar says he hopes to make Mara Connect profitable eventually. For now, it will be managed as a social concern.
Mara Online is the young tycoon’s latest business foray. Thakkar made his first fortune selling computers and computer parts, before building the Mara Group, a Pan African brand with interests in everything from Real Estate and tourism to financial services, information and communications technology, renewable energy and manufacturing. Forbes estimates his net worth at over $200 million.
“With the expansion of the African mobile and internet markets, we strive to develop quality services and tools that will empower and inspire African users. By engaging with our African youth, our goal is to support them in creating an identity in the world of technology, enabling them to innovate, share and collaborate across borders,” Thakkar stated during his keynote speech.
Going forward with new product launches as part of the Mara Online platform, Mara Messenger and Mara Connect will serve as the two communication tools for Mara Mentor. Thakkar’s aim is that the Mara Online ecosystem will enable African youth to communicate more freely on a global scale.