Zimbabwean startup Esaja, a marketplace where African businesses can connect, has passed 25,000 total listings across 12 countries, seeing growth in users and interactions of 55 per cent each quarter.
Esaja, which launched in May 2013, essentially operates like a dating site for businesses to “check each other out” and discover business leads they might not previously have been aware of or had access to.
For founder Clinton Mutambo, who was recently named by Forbes magazine as one of Africa’s 30 most promising entrepreneurs under the age of 30, the realisation of the need for a platform like Esaja came from a personal business experience.
“I started my first formal business when I was 19,” he tells Disrupt Africa. “One of our key projects was bidding to develop a mascot for Southern Africa’s biggest soccer tournament in 2009. After a lengthy and overtly bureaucratic process, we got the greenlight to develop Fabula the eagle. The search to identify a supplier in our part of the world was just too painful for words.”
Mutambo did finally find a supplier, with only two weeks to go until kickoff, but only through what he calls “sheer luck”. The idea for Esaja was born.
“The gap we saw was really out of scratching our own itch, it should be simpler for businesses to find out about opportunities around them,” Mutambo said.
Other businesses have clearly agreed with the need for such a platform. The startup’s growth has been impressive, with Esaja having raised funding from Africa Angels Network and leveraging on Millicom’s think accelerator to expand into East Africa.
Having already established an active footprint across the rest of the continent, Mutambo said the startup will also properly serve West and Central Africa in future.
“That part of the world has some very tough but growing markets. We also seek to play a bigger role in the customs and clearing segment as that is a major challenge for regional businesses,” he said.
Esaja’s revenue model is based on the value-added services it provides to its members, an example being real-time business intelligence. It would not object to further funding, but Mutambo said he does not publicly solicit for funding. “The right investors will find us.”
It hasn’t all been smooth sailing however, with Mutambo saying getting Esaja to where it is today has not been easy.
“A prominent tech leader once said that startups are like building aeroplanes on the way down. In Africa it’s a whole lot gutsy. We need to build the sky and the plane,” he said.
“The continent’s respective ecosystems are driven by future growth chasers more than anything else. As we all build for the future, realities we confront are related to infrastructure and educating markets that are often only just finding their way around online. I’ve slept at enough border posts across the region to know that the challenges are deeper than just technology.”