Senegalese startup NIMA Codes is aiming to make doing business in Africa easier through its mobile-based addressing system.
The idea for NIMA Codes came to chief executive officer (CEO) Mouhamadou Sall while he was working for an American multinational software company on a speech recognition project around street addresses.
“I was using New York City addresses to test my programme and I could read dozens of them per day. Working on the project made me realise two things – how formal the addressing system was in New York compared to my home country Senegal, which totally lacks a reliable addressing system, and how important having a reliable address was,” Sall told Disrupt Africa.
Realising Senegal’s issue was shared across Africa and other emerging markets, he started thinking about how to solve it. His solution was NIMA Codes.
This is how it works. A user downloads the app, and registers with their phone number. They then take a picture of their front door to register an address. Then, anyone that searches that phone number, with permission, will be shown the address.
“If you come to Dakar and wanted to come to visit, seeing that I registered my address – I’d just give you my phone number and tell you my phone number is my address,” Sall said.
Simple as that, and a solution to what is a major problem. The United Nations Development Programme says four billion people globally do not have an official street address, and the issue is especially prominent in Sub-Saharan Africa.
“Having and communicating a reliable address is becoming a focal point as more and more services are relying on it to bridge the digital and the physical worlds. However, the lack of formal street addressing in Sub-Saharan Africa does not make that task easy,” Sall said.
NIMA Codes, then, is a simple phone number-based addressing system for places without formal street addresses.
“With just a phone number, we give to anyone a simple and reliable address that they can communicate easily,” said Sall.
“Our approach is different in the sense that we’re taking into account the high unschooled population in Africa, which often have problems reading or writing words or alphanumeric code but are very comfortable dialling and communicating phone numbers,” Sall said.
“After launching we realised that the majority of the population was not familiar with geolocation and mapping system. It made us redesign our solutions and come up with ways to further ease the experience by automating using artificial intelligence.”
This lead to the startup launching NIMA Snap, which allows users to capture an address in one snap. Launched at the end of last year, uptake has been immediate. NIMA Codes already has more than 15,000 subscribed users, with more than 100,000 address searches having been performed so far.
For users, NIMA Codes is free, with Sall saying the pre-revenue startup plans to monetise through an API businesses can use to get reliable addresses from clients. Customers will also be able to target customer based using geolocation-based advertising. The self-funded is seeking US$150,000 in funding to help it build out its platform and expand elsewhere.
“We are currently operating in Senegal with the intention of expanding our activities to a couple of other West African countries by the beginning of next year,” Sall said.