What you need to know:
- A Chinese investor has partnered with third parties to offer the service in a revenue-sharing arrangement
The rental mobile phone charger is one of the features of the sharing economy – like ride-sharing with a taxi-hailing firm or home-sharing for Airbnb.
The Art Club is one of those swanky new nightclubs that colourfully adorn Nairobi’s nightlife. Here, like in many other nightclubs in the city, partying on a Saturday afternoon starts rather slowly and unceremoniously.
When we visited the club at around 4.30 pm, we spotted a few early customers silently sipping their drinks, their eyes glued to their smartphones as soothing Rumba music played in the background.
But it is the yellow exotic-looking contraption on the left side of the entrance to the club that caught our attention.
We later learnt that this is a rental mobile phone charger or phone charger dispenser.
The rental mobile phone charger is one of the features of the sharing economy – like ride-sharing with a taxi hailing firm or home-sharing for Airbnb.
Developers of the rental mobile charging station are seeking to tap into the phone-ogling craze where app-heavy smartphones drain power at an alarming rate.
Eight portable chargers jut from the dispenser. These are the energy bars to restore life to dying smartphones.
Two of the power bank slots at the Art Club phone charger dispenser are already empty, meaning some customers have already rented them.
This writer tried using one.
Using my phone, I paid a refundable deposit of Sh999 through an M-Pesa Pay Bill number provided on the box. As soon as I was done with the payment, a power bank popped out. I charged my phone at the comfort of my seat for around 40 minutes then returned the portable charger to the dispenser and I immediately got back Sh960.
The business idea is rooted in a problem that all along has been hidden in plain sight.
Those who partied in the ‘90s and early 2000s probably marvel at the inertia of today’s carousers. Until the effect of alcohol takes over, these revellers will spend very little of their time on the dance floor or chatting with their friends.
Instead, they remain on their seats, eyes and minds on screens.
Some proprietors of nightclubs satiate this phone-ogling craze by installing electric sockets for charging phones. But these are often not enough. No one wants to stay away from their phone.
Other nightclubs, scenting an opportunity to make money, have toyed with the idea of manually renting out power banks.
But this too has not been unsuccessful, most times distracting the establishment from its core business of selling liquor to monitoring the whereabouts of chargers.
Which is why Peter Wang, a software technician, introduced the rental mobile chargers in some night clubs in Nairobi. Payment is strictly through mobile money service M-Pesa.
Wang intends to scale the business to other outlets including malls, food outlets, hospitals, supermarkets, hotel lobbies and colleges.
The electrical engineer says the hardware for the charging station was manufactured in China, his home country. However, the software, including the integration of the payment system with M-Pesa, was developed in Kenya.
With rental portable chargers, customers don’t have to walk around with a charging cables or power banks.
“You are free to go anywhere instead of sticking around the socket while charging,” said Wang.
So far Wang has installed the shared power bank rental station in 40 outlets in Nairobi, mostly high end nightclubs including 1824, 40 Forty and Cocorico.
Wang, whose Mopawa Software Ltd owns the patent to the concept in Kenya, says he earns money by partnering with third party companies.
An outlet can acquire an eight-slot station at a cost of Sh30,000 while the 12-slot dispenser goes for Sh40,000.
The partner takes 70 percent of the revenue while Mopawa takes the rest.
Using the portable charger for the first 15 minutes is free in what is aimed at getting the customers acquainted with the habit of sharing chargers.
Not a new concept
This idea of a power bank rental station is not new. In China, rental mobile chargers have minted billions for some investors, with one of the players – Energy Monster –listing at the New York-based Nasdaq Stock Market.
Studies show that the shared power bank market size in China has grown from 80 million users in 2017 to 290 million users in 2020. It is expected to grow from Sh203 billion ($1.4 billion) in 2020 to Sh2.3 trillion ($16 billion) in 2028, according to a report by Shanghai-based firm iResearch.
While there is no report that shows how many Kenyans own smartphones, the 2019 census by the national statistician showed that about 20.7 million people owned mobile phones.
A good chunk of these are smartphones, as various reports have shown that most Kenyans access the internet using their mobile phones.
Unlike in China where customers rent the portable charger by scanning a QR Code, Wang says Kenya’s developed mobile money market has helped him build a unique system.
Wang says he noticed that more than 70 percent of the payments in nightclubs are made using M-Pesa.
“And in some clubs, they don’t accept cash completely,” says Wang.
The techpreneur plans to invest in 10,000 rental mobile charging stations. Assuming he earns $3 (Sh425.3) in a day from each, that adds up to $900,000 (Sh127.6 million) at the end of the month.
His annual revenue will add up to $10.7 million (Sh1.52 billion).
“Already, there is a single customer deal that is already earning me five dollars (Sh708.8) (a day),” says Wang.
This is more than enough for a gadget whose cost of maintenance is nearly zero.
The amount of power one dispenser will consume in a month is around Sh50, says Wang.