Kenyan mobile operator Safaricom is using one of its portfolio companies – e-delivery service Sendy – like a guinea pig, according to the startup’s co-founder and chief operating officer (COO).
Launched in 2014, Sendy offers a marketplace for last-mile package delivery and logistics services, allowing customers to send packages and documents using a mobile application that connects them to motorcycle riders, and drivers of vans and pickup trucks.
In November 2015, it became the first startup to receive funding from the US$1 million Safaricom Spark Fund, which aims to support mobile ICT startups in Kenya, and enable the development of innovative mobile solutions. The startup received an undisclosed amount of funding, and announced a further round last week.
Speaking on a panel at the recent AHUB startup event in Cape Town, Sendy co-founder and chief operating officer (COO) Malaika Judd said the startup had gained plenty from working with Safaricom, but had also faced a number of struggles.
“We have benefited a lot from working with Safaricom. We also have some challenges because they have a lot of muscle and we don’t have a lot of muscle. We are bringing them a lot of value add to solve their logistical challenges, and they bring us a little bit of value by us being able to put their name on pitch decks,” she said.
Judd said startups in Sendy’s position had to be “guinea pigs” as operators are not used to collaborating with startups, which is not an easy position to be in.
“We were Safaricom’s first investment so we had to do a lot of teaching to Safaricom of how to deal with a tech startup,” she said. “We took their money because we really wanted a new API on payments. It was a huge reason why we took the money. Then we realised we were the beta testers for that API. It is really tough being the guinea pig. We don’t have the money or the user base to be failing on payments to our customers.”
Manny Teixeira, group head of digital media and services at MTN, was speaking on the same panel, and said startups needed to persevere with mobile operators.
“We don’t have all the answers. It is critical we get educated through the process. We want to help, but we don’t always know how to help,” he said. “It is going to take a while to get there. Unfortunately we need the guinea pigs. Startups are breaking moulds, we’re not going to do that ourselves. We don’t have the ability.”