Desert vibes: away from work, you'll find Stephen outdoors.

Desert vibes: away from work, you’ll find Stephen outdoors.

The year is 2008. An excited audience are jamming along to Alicia Keys live on stage. She is gorgeous, and full of energy, having broken records after the release of her album ‘As I Am.’ Quite suddenly, she mellows down her playing, the band following her cue. The lights are dimmed and she speaks quietly into the microphone: ‘Everybody bring out your phones.’

Behind this unusual request, is our guy, Stephen Joos, together with his colleagues from mGive. Their client, Keep a Child Alive, is hoping to raise donations to help in the fight against HIV/AIDS in Africa. Alicia Keys, co-founder and ambassador, guides her fans on how to donate quickly using their mobile phones. In just a few steps, fans used their phones to donate, an unprecedented use of mobile tech in the States.

It’s this background that Stephen is from, working to use mobile tech in innovative ways.

Stephen is a quiet guy, but full of energy and a ready smile. We meet at the lounge area of the Westlands Space at the Mirage, just a little way away from GeoPoll‘s office. He’s the Director of Product for Mobile Accord, where he’s worked since 2008.

‘I love the weather here,’ he says, ‘It’s great for outdoor stuff.’ Since relocating to Kenya in May of last year, Stephen has found lots of ways to enjoy Kenya. One of his favourite things to do is biking.

‘It’s great. I met these guys through a friend of mine, and there’s an awesome sense of community. It helped me get my feet on the ground when I moved here.’

Around the time that Stephen moved here, GeoPoll was investing heavily in Kenya, and in need of a space that was in line with their vision of the future.

‘We wanted a place that could connect us to the tech and business communities around Nairobi. We’re heavily invested in Africa, and we’re looking to make the most out of it.’ That’s how they found Nairobi Garage.

GeoPoll uses mobile phones conduct surveys. They found that there was a need for fast, accurate data – a problem that they intend to fix.

‘ When we first started, we found out that there hadn’t been TV ratings in Kenya  for 6 months. Can you imagine?’

It’s obvious that Stephen loves his job, from how passionately he talks about it, and his energy is contagious.

‘A lot of people are always on their phones. We incentivize them by giving them rewards in return for completing surveys. ‘

And it’s working, GeoPoll has seen stellar growth since it was premiered in 2010.

GeoPoll is now the leading Media Measurement Provider in Africa, operating in Kenya, Tanzania,Uganda, and Nigeria among other countries. Apart from Media Measurement, they also work with different clients to create custom surveys. A notable example was in September 2010 in the DRC. At the time, it was nearly impossible to interview the citizens of areas in conflict about their experiences. However, when about 4,000,000 people received an SMS asking them to participate in a survey, the results were like nothing the world had seen before. The citizens the DRC were able to communicate in their own words their hopes, dreams and fears on a massive scale.  It was truly groundbreaking stuff.

Away from work, Stephen has a badly kept secret: he’s an amazing mixologist. Badly kept because word has spread like wildfire, and there have been testimonials.

‘I can make anything,’ he laughs, leaning back into his couch, ‘though I prefer bourbon cocktails.’

To test him, I challenge him to come up with an original cocktail, which, ladies and gentlemen of The Garage, we will definitely subject to a ‘survey’ of our own.  I wonder whether it’s the perfect accompaniment to beef fry and chapo, which he says he’s grown to love during his stay in Kenya.

As we wrap up, I’m left thinking about how cool and interesting people are if we’d just ask them to find out.  Next time you’re having an awkward moment with a stranger in the kitchen, say hi- awesome collaboration starts with a simple ‘hello’.

Meanwhile, here, in his own words, is the world debut of the Joos special:

The Waiyaki Way:

Perfect for a post commute unwind, the Waiyaki Way is a strong, complex, and slightly bitter bourbon based drink.

 1 ½ oz. Bulleit Bourbon
½ oz. Campari
1 oz. Martini Rossi Rosso sweet vermouth

 Stir ingredients well with ice in a mixing glass and strain into a chilled glass served up or over a large ice block. Garnish with an orange slice. Take your shoes off and enjoy.