By Alexia Evripidou
ERATO Aristotelous is shining a beacon for women and Cyprus with her company’s solution; Talktokkie, amongst a fiercely male dominated technological industry.
Winner of 2014 MTN Innovation Challenge, Aristotelous, is a South African Cypriot software consultant and co-founder of Talktokkie, a kind of ‘voice twitter’.
“Talktokkie is an inclusive solution for all mobile users utilising voice as a social media solution to connect, receive and share information, especially for those who do not have access to smart phones” explained Aristotelous.
To elaborate a bit more, it is essentially a voice blogging social messaging platform where people can share voice updates with people who can be anything from friends, family, followers or fans. It is a different social media platform for any type of mobile phone with no downloading or internet requirements.
Aristotelous came up with the concept in mid 2013 and enlisted the expertise of her old university friend; fellow South African Cypriot and programmer Sotiris Panagou.
The two co-founders devised a software application aimed at reaching the masses, and especially to the non-smart-phone user market.
In November 2014, the start-up company Talktokkie won the MTN Innovation Challenge; an opportunity where individuals and start-ups can present their business ideas.
As the ‘the Big Winner’ of the challenge, Talktokkie were rewarded with a combination of mentorship and cash funding. The Challenge also offers the potential to form a partnership with the multinational mobile telecommunications company MTN group, which currently has 215 million subscribers in 22 countries in Africa and the Middle East.
With the MTN award and support behind her, Aristotelous has now crossed the waters to South Africa where she and Panagou are working hard to implement and roll out the social media solution there, to a larger market.
Aristotelous takes it all in her stride. She is no stranger to the business, having worked in the challenging technological industry for about 16 years. She’d spent seven years traveling vastly for work as an SAP consultant (Software Applications of Programmes), until she tired of traveling and took matters into her own hands by starting her own business.
Having an entrepreneurial mind and a love for technology, Aristotelous combined her loves and in mid 2013, came up with the concept Talktokkie whose motto is ‘Making yourself heard’.
Ambitious, Aristotelous had always envisioned building up a social enterprise. “It’s more than just about the money, it’s about giving back to society, and with technology, there’s so much you can do. Although there are some bad things technology offers, there’s a lot of good things. By having the right information, you can probably help a lot of people make better decisions about their lives,” says Aristotelous
For example government health care; with Talktokkie the health care professional can reach out to mothers who’ve just given birth by offering them daily or weekly tips on child care development etc. If the mother has any queries, she can send an SMS and receive an SMS or voice message back from a midwife.
“Also 30 seconds of voice is equal to six SMS, so it’s cheaper,” says Aristotelous. “Basically it’s an open platform for any phone which doesn’t discriminate on your social, economic, literacy levels or background that one has”.
Other than the advantage of it being an accessible-to-all solution, it uses voice, which is personal, authentic and emotive. “The tone of someone’s voice cannot be conveyed in a text message, but with a voice update, it becomes more content rich” explains Aristotelous. Like twitter, you can follow the people you’re interested in.
Talktokkie has chosen South Africa to roll the solution out to for the large number of feature mobile users there. Statistics show that generally in the world, for every five feature phone there is one smart phone.
The big problem with smart phones is that they need charging every day whereas a feature phone can last several days.
She said there was a big electricity problem in South Africa so people could not readily charge their phones, so most carry feature phones, leaving them without access to the social media which many people with smart phones have become accustomed to.
Cyprus isn’t Talktokkie’s target market for the obvious reason; it’s small. “It’s a numbers game. The focus is on high volume, although for of our solution, it can potentially be used in Cyprus as a pilot,” she said.
According to Aristotelous, there’s a huge smart phone penetration in Cyprus with about 65-70 per cent of the population using them.
“There is also a big buzz around the software and technological industry here, I hope it’s not a bubble, we need to build things slowly and gradually, I hope it’s a business that here to stay,” she added.
Aristotelous has also faced challenges of sexism in her chosen career. “Being a woman in the industry was harder ten years ago; I had to work a lot harder. I was always the woman amongst many men, but now I don’t waste my time with those kinds of thoughts, I just get on with it. I do believe of course that it can create barriers, they see a woman’s face and make judgments but there are also a lot of benefits to being a woman, you bring a lot of other benefits to the table and that’s what I exploit”.
Aristotelous is proud of the women in the industry, “they are quite strong, and they’ve had to be”. She argues that women have had to work harder to earn the same money as men, but this is universal. Her attitude is to just get on with it. “I think that women still have to take on manly roles to succeed in these industries, but I’m a firm believer in embracing both your masculine and feminine side and finding a balance”.
“I like embracing my feminine side, it make me happy. But to be honest, to get to where I am, I had to go through that (adopting masculine characteristics), to get to the other side.”
Out of the 48 contenders in the MTN challenge, there were only approximately 10 women participating.
Contrary to her feminine, approachable and amiable exterior, there is little doubt that Aristotelous is also a driven, resilient, hard working and incredibly focused woman. All of these attributes have helped her deal with the challenges presented in such a demanding industry.
“I come from South Africa, and from the moment you’re born there, you know that the government isn’t going to give you anything. The only person you have to rely on is yourself. When you start realising that, your view point on the world and what you’re capable of doing, completely changes, it shifts because the only people you can look at, is yourself and realise it’s completely up to me. I know it’s up to me and I’m going to make it work,” she said.
She’ll be happiest when she knows that their solution is actually helping people. “Life is not so much about what you can gain but what you can give,” she said.