With a population of over 110 million people, Ethiopia is potentially a goldmine for e-commerce ventures in the same way Nigeria is deemed to be. Yet for now the space remains relatively undeveloped.
Founded last year, local startup Deamat is trying to change that, focusing on Ethiopia’s agricultural sector. The startup’s platform allows users to buy and sell vegetables, fruits, herbs, cereals, enjera and meat, performing both B2C and B2B functions.
Basically, Deamat connects smallholder and commercial farmers with individual consumers and larger buyers, creating a more structured market where farmers can cut out the middleman and sell directly to their customers.
The startup came about as the result of a casual conversation between chief executive officer (CEO) Kisanet Haile and her partner Merhawi Fissehaye, now also her co-founder.
“He was a programmer at the time in a big company, and I was working for a construction company. A month after we talked about it, he created a simple application that implements the ideas we discussed,” Haile told Disrupt Africa.
“Lack of transport infrastructure and inaccessibility of the market are some of the basic problems of smallholder farmers. In short, farmers can’t directly sell their products to users or consumers. Instead, they deliver them to middlemen brokers who buy the agricultural products at the ridiculously exploitative price. The return of value for the producers is extremely low and demotivating.”
Deamat fixes all that, said Haile, with the startup making its money by charging commissions on purchases made through the platform.
“It will give thousands of hard-working farmers an easy window into the ever-changing market in the whole world. Anyone from another side of the world now can see what, when, how much and at what price she is producing on her farm,” she said.
The startup has a handful of individual customers each day, but to really speed uptake is in discussions with various restaurants, condominiums, hotels and small shops.
“So our model is B2B and B2C at the same time,” Haile said. “Our current target customers are in the largest cities, but through time our service will be expanded to cover the whole of Ethiopia, Africa, and the world.”
Self-funded but looking for investment, Deamat has so far focused its attention on the northern Ethiopian city of Mek’ele. Haile said it did this for two reasons.
“One is because we can find producers close by and deliver faster. And the second is we can operate at optimal budget. We are contacting producers and we are daily adding to the list. We are also experimenting with and learning to find the most suitable areas for delivery. We have faced quite a few challenges so far. We have learned to fix most and we are still struggling with some of them,” she said.
Once it has perfected its service, expansion is on the agenda for Deamat.
“As soon as we have laid firm ground here we will move into the market in Addis Ababa and other Ethiopian cities. We will gradually expand to the whole of Africa, and we are not stopping there,” Haile said.