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Updated 15 Aug 2020

How Nomanini identified a neglected market

Vahid Monadjem founded Nomanini after spotting a massive distribution gap between mobile operators and informal markets.

Monique Verduyn, 30 March 2016  Share  0 comments  Print

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Enterprise payments platform provider, Nomanini was founded in 2011 when Vahid Monadjem identified a need to efficiently enable electronic transactions in the cash-based informal retail sector. Here’s how he created a mobile vending solution that is set to be in the hands of a million informal traders by 2020.

Related: Sonia Booth’s top insights on staying relevant and building your brand


Once you understand what your target customer values, you can identify and access your market better than the competition. Adaptability, agility and an open mind are key.

Nomanini -product

What drew you to this market?

For a business niche to really stand out, it should be underserved or even neglected. I was intrigued by the fact that most South African consumers were unbanked or under-banked; a huge market in this country was being ignored.

In addition, for a business niche to be a great one, our potential customers had to be accessible, and more than that, accessing them had to be affordable.

Ours met both those key criteria. Lastly, for a business to be profitable, our market and niche had to be large enough so that we could make money selling our product. 

Why is innovation so important when targeting consumers with limited purchasing power?

South Africa’s poorest socio-economic group makes up about one third of the population. This represents a significant market. We believe this market will not be reached by conventional approaches. Under-served mass markets are different, and they require different solutions.

How did you apply innovative thinking to this untapped market?

Our point-of-sale terminals started out by replacing the physical distribution of airtime scratch cards with an electronic alternative - which saves time, money, and reduces retailers’ risk.

Even though our terminals were not perfect to start with, informal merchants were immediately drawn to the speed of the transactions, which is important when you have long queues of people buying products that don’t offer a big margin. Time is a big issue for these merchants. Selling a lot and selling quickly ups their profit.

We also realised that our terminals had to have a long battery life – to be profitable they had to operate during working hours and keep operating while commuters are making the journey to and from work. 

Why was learning from your customers so important?

To avoid making unfounded assumptions about what the market wanted - which is a common start-up error -  testing our terminals by placing them in the hands of informal merchants gave us real user insight into our product.

For example, it was important to keep the transactions as simple, fast and reliable as a scratch card feels to the purchaser. Although many entrepreneurs are understandably protective of their ideas at first, developing a product in a vacuum can lead to great disappointment. The feedback we received was central to the early success of the business. 

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What’s your advice to start-ups targeting the informal sector?

Think differently. This market holds appeal because more than half of the world’s population shops at informal retail outlets.

As knowledge of our products grows, we receive calls from all over the world because the terminals make it easier for merchants to earn additional profit, while consumers get easy access to vital services such as airtime, electricity, and banking products. It all started with listening and understanding.

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About the author

Monique Verduyn

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