Yes, finally someone has come up with a working formula!!

We marvel each passing day at how the likes of Facebook and Twitter are taking the world by storm, topping popular news channels and generating more online conversations about them than the user profiles they are supposed to be promoting, while earning their founders billions in the process from online advertisements.

The ever lingering question on most ambitious minds is this; ‘how can I create a comparable local success story?’ I believe it is possible, and I also believe that it will happen really soon. I however also bear strong feelings that most of our local pioneers are going about this the wrong way, and if we don’t watch out, the Forbes list might just take longer to come our way.

So how do we beat Facebook? Here’s my working formula: Don’t try to beat Facebook!

Based on Synovate’s recent report (the accuracy of which is still in question), Facebook boasts a whooping 2 million users in Kenya. ‘Facebook’ is the one word we all utter at least once every day, competing at the very top with the word ‘God’. Facebook has us hooked with its advanced web 2.0 features and it’s highly researched interface design which is sooo user friendly that my 10 year old nephew finds his way around it with utmost ease. We are years behind Facebook as far as design and technology is concerned. So why bother trying to beat them? The whole David Vs Goliath tale is probably better left to the christian bible my dear entrepreneur friends.

Allow me to get more specific.

A moment’s glance at Kachwanya et als’ and I see a local Facebook replica trial in the making. From the design to the features (save for the addition of jobs, blogs, quizzes and forums), Iborian seems to be telling me ‘I know I’m not as good as Facebook, but hey, im Kenyan! So please please register and promote a local product’. The benefits I stand to accrue from Joining do not really send strong attraction signals my way. Connect with friends? I’m already getting overwhelmed by the number of ‘friends’ I have to put up with on Facebook. Why would I want more?

How about borrowing a leaf from Linkedin and Twitter? The founders of identified a niche market in Corporates and Professionals and went ahead to implement a social network for them, easily beating Facebook in that regard. Twitter founders  narrowed their strategy even further and opened a whole new world of Microblogging, and the rest was a history of success. The lessons to learn here are quite obvious i think.

Thanks to, I recently came to realize that Iborian is a reverse of the word Nairobi. Quite intuitive I must say. Nairobi is undoubtedly one of the most vibrant cities in Africa. Nairobians do have a lot of unique and mostly queer characteristics about them.  Ask any Nairobian to describe their typical day to you and you will have enough material for a bestselling novel. So how about making Iborian the Social Network for true Nairobians, and customize its features to fit our hustler lifestyles?  I know I would want to join that Network.

2 years later, and with only 1718 members to it’s name, the owners of probably need to consider a product re-conceptualization.

My next stop was

I must commend John Karanja and company for the choice of color. You couldn’t get any more African than that. The beehive is a good addition to the African theme. I’m however still trying to figure out where the word ‘whive’ came in since it doesn’t suggest African to me at all. The website is entitled Bee Network. I’m thinking would have been quite a catchy and memorable domain name. Still on the beehive brand, I find the logo too cluttered. The maasai moran, the shield, the spilling pot and the black background bar do not do that logo a lot of justice. The bees are barely noticeable which is quite ironical given that the site is titled Bee! And don’t get me started on the choice of font. has a great choice of brand whose potential can be harnessed to hit legendary levels, but sadly that’s not currently the case.

On the home page is the following introduction;

“ is a Social Media Site that allows you the AFRI-CAN to post a Blog, Audio, Video, Classified, Poll/Survey and Profile which you can send to Friends in all other Networks”

In other words, pretty much what I do on Facebook, but on an African site. The question I ask is this; what exactly makes this social network a unique African offering, with the potential to take on Facebook?

I stand to be corrected, but I strongly feel that the founders of and have not given these websites the 110% effort needed to implement a successful internet business. At least not one that is supposed to beat Facebook.

My new found friend and quite outspoken Branding expert tells me that when approaching a strategy for a new business or product, you need to bear in mind the 5 W’s and H i.e What, Who, Why, Where , When and How.

Please bear these in mind if you are still in the nascent stages of your online business.

Join me in my next article as I analyze other potential local internet success stories.

4 Responses to “HOW TO BEAT FACEBOOK (PART 1)”

  1. 1 kachwanya May 8, 2010 at 7:18 pm

    Wow…wow, thanks for that, the main aim of iborian is not to replicate Facebook as you have put it . The truth is the concept from the beginning was about having social network for Nairobi but at least also having others from the other areas to feel part of it. That is why although we wanted to call it Naiobi, we decided to be a bit creative with the name. We are working on a number of changes which will be up soon and i assure you it will be great. I have the same kind of argument recently on Techmasi blog where they recently announced an earthshaking bold move to leave Facebook and Twitter and promote African social networks:

    “The TechMasai brands left Twitter and Facebook yesterday. We left the two social media for purely development based reasons. These reasons mainly have to do with TechMasais’ goal to promote and profile interesting and innovative African tech start-ups.”
    Get more of that here

    I always feel that people have double standards when come to rating the international social networks or sites vis a vis local social networks. You talk of Linkedin and when i check it closely a part from the pretense that it connecting professionals, they are doing the exact thing which is in Facebook. And even if you take their selling point of professionals, all my friends in Facebook are professionals. So what is different here. Twitter came up with microblogging..and soon afterward we saw all the other social networks like Facebook, Linkedin now implementing the same concept. Why is it that when it comes to local networks we want something from the moon. At the same time the same people maintain accounts in Linkedin, Hi5, Facebook, Myspace which all are now doing the same thing and nobody is complaining?

    I look at China and I find different attitude, people embrace the local creation and at the end that is where the development start from. They maintain what they are doing and keep on improving and now the whole world is looking in that direction. My point is not that people should join or use something because it is Kenyan or African my point is, for a new thing to succeed there at least must be some early adopters to test it. From there changes are made and the future is shaped.

    Thanks and i must say your point is taken and we will see what can be done.

    Look at and tell me what you think

    • 2 Alex Mwaura Muriu May 10, 2010 at 7:51 am

      Hi Kachwanya. Thanks alot for responding to my article.You have cited the example of China. If you look more closely, China’s leading social network purely focuses on Teenagers, targets working class adults from rural parts of China, Chinese students flock to For any new business to be competitive, it must either offer a unique product, a better version of an existing product or target a very specific niche market. All successful social networks (read Linkedin and Twitter included) have adopted one of these 3 approaches, so why aren’t we doing the same? In china, people embrace local social networks because they serve their needs better than the American ones do, which is exactly what we need to do here.

      I appreciate what TechMasai is doing, and i think its a very commendable move. He stands to lose quite a lion’s share of the market but its people like him who form the stuff of revolutions. But while we try to promote usage of local social networks, lets also work hard towards making them better, more relevant and more useful to the users we so want to join them. In the end Kachwanya, it’s not about the tools, its about the conversations and lasting impressions they help create. That’s the focus of my campaign.

      Let’s keep talking about on Twitter as i work on a review for it.

  2. 3 John Karanja May 18, 2010 at 7:16 am

    Thank you for the constructive criticism. We are working on Research and Design for more African products.

    Your suggestions have been noted and some are on the pipeline.

    Find me on twitter @whive and @afrineurs and on facebook as Whive O Mobi

    Hope to have more discussions at iHub.

    Do join at or



  3. 4 veepizsupport June 2, 2010 at 11:15 am, Our online African Village. We would highly appreciate your blogging on our site. You can sign in by Open ID(use facebook, yahoomail, hotmail, etc to sign in) or register with us.

    NB: We are the premier site in the world with A University Research Tool.You can download termpapers, notes, exams and research paers submitted by African students. This feature is completely free.
    Secondly, we have have a lot more features than Facebook(for example, a better chat system, games, chatrooms, university research tool, Open ID sign in, an invite tool and a lot more)
    Furthermore, we are proudly East African. Made in East Africa, coded by East Africans.
    Lastly, we are not trying to copy Facebook but we are trying to be better than facebook since it is the benchmark.

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