How Afrikrea uses tech to push Africa’s fashion industry globally
Moulaye Taboure, CEO and Co-Founder of Afrikrea in this interview with BusinessDay’s Frank Eleanya speaks on how the company is leveraging technology to change the fashion and beauty industry in Africa and how funding has helped it scale its operations.
Tell us about Afrikrea and the problem it is addressing in the fashion and beauty industry using technology?
Afrikrea is an e-commerce platform based in Ivory Coast but serves merchants all over Africa and around the world. We are the bridge between the continent and the rest of the world in providing African inspired culture items. This includes fashion and beauty, but also food or crafts products of any type.
Through our tech-enabled platform, ANKA, we are building the infrastructure for global African culture and are providing a one-stop shop for micro-retailers with customers abroad. The company is driving financial and digital inclusion across the continent, especially for women who make up 80% of the micro-retailers on the platform. Through ANKA, merchants are able to easily manage their sales, shipments and payments. In a nutshell, Afrikrea is powering online commerce for Africa.
You are competing with big e-commerce brands such as Jumia in Ivory Coast. How large is the market and how does your market proposition make you the preferred platform for consumers?
First, our market is not only local. It is international, 80 percent of our orders cross international borders, 40 percent of our buyers come from Europe and 30 percent of others make their purchases from the US. Our main market is not Ivory Coast or Africa when it comes to our buyers. However, purchases from Africa have grown three times over the last year  on our platform, and this is only the beginning, we hope. When it comes to our sellers, they are well represented in Africa with 46 out of 54 countries present on the platform, Nigeria being the country where our biggest community of sellers is based.
Like the market in Nigeria, some big e-commerce companies have failed. What has kept you going as a company?
Big e-commerce companies came in with the intention to change people’s behavior and most importantly they spent huge amounts of money doing so. We have a different approach because we are not trying to change behaviors. On the contrary, we have raised €2 million since our company was founded and have made more in revenue just last year, helping Africans sell their items to the world rather than trying to sell imported goods to them.
You raised $1m in funding in 2020. What has changed in terms of Afrikrea’s operations and growth?
Over 2020, our revenue has grown 5 times and our volume has tripled.
Since then, we have launched ANKA, our SaaS ecommerce solution for sellers which includes payment and shipping services everywhere they sell. This resulted in Afrikrea making over ten tons of shipment every month thus catapulting our community to the rank of biggest exporter of DHL in Africa.
Are you raising any new funding?
Yes, we are in the process of securing new investment and are currently closing our pre-series A round with top-tier investors from all over the world.
What is the biggest challenge you face in the e-commerce market in Ivory Coast?
The biggest challenge has always been to convince partners like DHL or others of the huge opportunity that micro-retailers represent. There are few studies or actual examples of how numerous and growing these businesses are. So we had to illustrate our convictions through concrete results, such as increasing our shipment volumes 10 times over 2020 and our payment volumes five times this year. Once you show evidence of traction, the following challenges are just execution and timing, which just requires focus and patience.
As we stated before, our market is not in Ivory Coast but to sell to the world. But what our numbers show is that the few African customers are just as high value and patient as anywhere else in the world.
Give us an overview of the startup ecosystem in Ivory Coast and why investors are increasing attention in that direction?
The startup ecosystem is yet to be fully developed, but already counts great startups from fintechs like Djamo and Julaya or logistics like Glovo One unmatched advantage would be the currency and language. Ivory Coast and other francophone West African countries have these two in common which favours easy access in the WAEMU region and leaves room for more testing and expanding to other markets.
How does the policy environment for e-commerce companies in Ivory Coast compare with other African countries?
The policy environment is favorable towards companies in general. One can easily create a company and work, even if you are a foreigner. The state protects employees and offers very clear and good guarantees for them. We are also grateful for the hands-off banking regulatory institutions which create a safe business environment to evolve in.
How do you go about recruiting a community of over 5,000 designers and ensuring that they stay on the platform?
We have to start making sure that we help the first members of our community sell more. We did it for 10 sellers at first, then we scaled it to do it for 5,000 and decided to evolve with them by building a product that caters to their specific needs and realities. This could only be done by listening to them and adapting as we grow.
What new products are you launching soon?
We are very excited about the launch of our ANKA mobile app in the coming months. The need to go beyond a web application was inevitable as smartphones are taking over and more accessible to our sellers. The ANKA mobile app will enable thousands of sellers to centralize their orders, payments and any other aspect of their online business (shipping, customer service) all in one place whether they sell on social media or on the marketplace. This will help them save time, energy and money.