Innovation: Meet “Text Engine”, the Google with text messages.

I’ve had a smartphone since 2010. In developed countries, a feature phone is a memory of the past – a nostalgic thought about flip phones.

However in developing and frontier markets, feature phones are still alive and well. Even in more developed places like Brazil, smartphone penetration among mobile users is still only between 30-40%.

Even for those with smartphone in hand, data is very expensive and internet signals are unreliable. The lack of infrastructure is an everyday problem.

But how do we bring information for those still using feature phones or those who want to save their data plan?

Social entrepreneur, Eric Bryant, has the answer. He came up with the idea of Text Engine. Dubbed as ‘Google with text messages’, it does exactly what it says on the package: it enables the user to access information from the Web using only text messages, without using any data and even without Wi-Fi / 3G access.

Text Engine is already present in Botswana, Mongolia, Pakistan and Australia to name a few. But implementing Text Engine didn’t come without its challenges.

Also recently launched in The Philippines, Bryant  points out that “one of the main challenges was the lack of trust. For instance, many scams and illegal dealing originate in emerging economies, where people are less well off. They need to make sure you business is 100% legit before they can even engage with you.”

Indeed emerging markets have always been a challenge and it was crucial to understand how fast the people’s internet connection was and their level of digital knowledge. It was definitely a learning curve for Bryant.

How does Text Engine make money?


They offer two ad products: Impression-based and CPC.

For the impression-based, Text Engine technically do not charge a specific rate per 1000 impressions, as other ad platforms do. This ad product is based on generating a lot of impressions over a set period of time. Advertisers can choose to buy advertising in weekly blocks of time that is sold on Fiverr marketplace.

The second option is CPC, the PPC type. Unlike the impression-based product where advertisers have to pay a minimum amount, advertisers pay essentially any amount they want. They are charged a flat fee per click for them, and they can know exactly how many clicks they are going to get for their ad spend.

To break into any emerging economy, entrepreneurs have to overcome language barriers, pricing and local regulations. Keeping a flexible and adaptable frame of mind is crucial in these cases. Bryant adds, “You have to really take time to understand things like how the people transact business, how well they understand your industry, and what the dominant cultural patterns are in order to be successful “.

For more info about Text Engine click here

Main photo (Fillipino rice farmer uses mobile phone to text). Photo credit: IRRI Images

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