Ivory Coast fintech startup SmartSell plots West African expansion

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Ivory Coast-based fintech startup SmartSell Technologies is in talks with potential partners in Mali, Niger and Senegal after seeing positive uptake of its point of sale (PoS) software for retailers.

Officially incorporated in January 2015 after being accepted into the Orange FAB accelerator programme, SmartSell has designed PoS management software tailored for the needs of retailers in Ivory Coast.

“In our market study, we noticed that over 70 per cent of convenient stores we visited rely on imported software to manage their business,” founder Adama Thiam told Disrupt Africa.

“The downside of this trend is that businesses did not have much help when they wanted new functionality, since they did not have access to giant software companies. Our point of sale management software provide answers to several key issues faced by retailers in our country.”

These issues include a lack of payment options, with SmartSell integrating mobile money payment options directly into the billing interface, and the lack of change at registers. The startup’s software provides the option for the clerk to deposit customer change into a mobile account or send airtime to the customer’s phone.

“We quickly realised that the initial focus should be on neighborhood pharmacies and supermarkets, since these retailers are present in each neighborhood and they struggle more than others with customer unhappiness at the unavailability of change due to them,” Thiam said.

Initial uptake has been positive, with Thiam saying it has exceeded his expectations.  

“We started visiting retailers in June 2016, and we were able to deploy our solutions at 15 retailers in three months. We are currently negotiating with a dozen more,” he said.

“Our goal is to enroll at least 1,000 retailers nationwide by the end of 2017.”

Expansion across the region is also on the agenda, with SmartSell in discussions about entering neighbouring countries. Central to this is its relationship with Orange, which allows it to offer an all-in-one Orange service kit which includes Orange Money payments, Orange Money cash-in and cash-out, change refund via Orange Money, and Orange Airtime.

“We plan to leverage our relationship with Orange so that we can initially introduce our software to countries where Orange is offering its Orange Money services,” Thiam said.

Initially self-funded, SmartSell has been operating using the US$17,000 it received upon entering Orange FAB. Thiam said the startup is in talks with potential investors to help take the project to the next level, and is seeking US$20,000.

SmartSell’s business model is based on licence fees, a monthly cost for technical support, and commissions received from carriers. Thiam is confident it will continue to grow having overcome initial skepticism from prospective clients.

“Our solution was an innovation to most of them. We realised that these clients have had terrible experiences with software makers in the past and they were very cautious,” he said.

But the need is so great, SmartSell’s solution is increasingly popular.

“We are a predominantly cash society with over 80 per cent of retail stores accepting only cash as payment option for goods. In the meantime, more than 70 per cent of the population owns a cellular phone and therefore have access to mobile money accounts,” Thiam said.

“On a personal note, I just got tired of abandoning my change at the register because I was not interested in the candies offered as a compensation! Not to mention potential painful visits to the dentists after consuming all these goods!”

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Passionate about the vibrant tech startups scene in Africa, Tom can usually be found sniffing out the continent's most exciting new companies and entrepreneurs, funding rounds and any other developments within the growing ecosystem.

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