Meet the startup bringing Kenya’s “Jua Kali” sector online

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The “Jua Kali” sector in Kenya is an entire industry comprising small scale traders and artisans who work on the roadside, renowned for their ability to create almost anything on demand.

Now, one enterprising startup in the East Africa country is looking to bring the space online so as to make more money for traders and artisans, and ease access to their services for customers.

Also called Jua Kali, the startup was founded by Emmanuel Soroba, Patrick Kenyi and Jonathan Maore, and lists artisanal products online for purchase by customers.

“The internet is the first place that the modern consumers go to look for products or services that they need. Almost every business in every industry has some sort of online presence. But the Jua Kali Sector hardly has any. We were intrigued by the difficulty of finding the products online. That was the gap in the market that we spotted,” Soroba told Disrupt Africa.

He said the startup has much regular competition in the e-commerce space, but differentiated itself by being able to list Jua Kali products, which are significantly cheaper but can be customised to meet individual specifications.

The self-funded company, which charges a commission on every product sold through its platform, has seen what Soroba calls a “phenomenal response” since its launch.

“Our customers appreciate the attention to detail at every stage, from placing an order to the product fulfillment and delivery. Every order is custom-built from scratch, and we aim to make the process as simple as possible. It’s not just a matter of adding items to a cart and then proceeding to checkout,” he said.

“Let’s say you want an electric grill for your restaurant, you give us a call and we’ll walk you through all the possible customisation options, and advise you on materials that can be used in order to make it cost effective. Once the product has been fully developed, exactly as you want it, we’ll deliver it for free, along with a one-year warranty, so there is no question about the quality.”

Currently only operating in Kenya, Jua Kali does intend to begin shipping to Uganda and Tanzania by the end of the year.

“Depending on how that goes, we could explore other markets in Africa in the near future,” Soroba said.

Lack of funding has been the startup’s biggest challenge to date.

“We do not have extravagant budgets to spend on key areas such as marketing.  A startup needs a marketing budget in order to help it gain rapid momentum. We really didn’t have much money to start with, but thankfully there are numerous ways to grow an online platform inexpensively,” said Soroba.

“Besides that, I wouldn’t say we’ve had many challenges that really stood out. Our team is very competent and when everybody is doing their job, things go very smoothly. My advice to any startup would be to take the time to a build a team where every member is a profound expert in his or her specific area. Don’t accept anybody simply because they are a friend or family member. The quality of your team is ultimately what determines your success.”

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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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