Tesh Mbaabu and Mesongo Sibuti, who first became friends at school, are rapidly becoming serial entrepreneurs.
Like-minded second year Computer Science undergraduate students, the pair, founded software company Mesozi in 2013 in a bid to help businesses harness the power and scale of technology to optimally achieve their objectives.
“We put ourselves out there as the go-to guys for all business process automation needs,” Mbaabu said.
Disrupt Africa, however, first reported on the pair in 2016, when they headed up Cloud9xp, an online marketplace, booking service and distributor for leisure experiences. That startup has been busy since – raising funding, taking part in the Google Launchpad Africa accelerator, pitching at DEMO Africa in Morocco, and launching mobile apps.
In June this year, Cloud9xp merged with Heartbeat Adventures, and though it retained its brand, Mbaabu and Sibuti moved on to concentrate on their next venture. Mesozi is now Mesozi Group, comprising the software company, Cloud9xp, and latest startup MarketForce, with the founders aiming to build out a new venture every two or three years.
The current focus, MarketForce, is a sales and distribution automation software solution that allows agents to electronically record their activities and collect data in the field using handheld devices, providing an online real-time order and lead capturing process over mobile networks.
Through a web dashboard, it provides businesses with last mile visibility of their sales channels and performance, greatly reducing the manpower required to generate and analyse management reports, and helping them make more informed decisions, faster. Retailers and consumers, consequently, gain timely access to essential goods and financial services.
“A few years later, in 2017, we started getting approached with a similar problem – businesses lacking reliable and timely information on the performance of their sales teams, products and services in the market due to the use of traditional forms like pen and paper, and Excel of capturing field sales data,” Mbaabu told Disrupt Africa.
“This leads to slow fulfillment of orders and loss of critical customer data, making reporting and decision making for businesses a pain.”
Mbaabu and Sibuti worked with a leading financial institution to develop a solution to this problem, enabling them to gain further insight into the challenge.
“We realised that the African retail market is highly informal, fragmented and expensive to service, with over 15 million independent retail stores on the continent being serviced by an equally fragmented network of distributors, wholesalers and salesmen,” said Mbaabu.
“Retailers end up with limited access to inventory and no access to working capital loans because of poor or no record keeping. As a result, consumers, especially in areas that are geographically isolated, lack timely access to essential goods and services, and consumer goods companies suffer from low product availability in the market, lost revenue, and falling market share.”
MarketForce aims to change all of that. Bootstrapped from the beginning, it has so far onboarded over 20 consumer goods and service companies, with thousands of sales agents actively using its solution on a day-to-day basis. Mbaabu said it has processed over 85,000 transactions worth more than US$155 million to date, and is now seeking external funding to scale the company to the next level. The target is US$500,000 by early next year, with US$100,000 of that already committed.
This will be used both for expanding the scope of its service and launching in other East African countries.
“Over the last three months, we have been working on the next phase of the business, a retail ordering feature that will enable shopkeepers to source, order and pay for stock at anytime via interactive SMS and mobile app, and get it delivered directly to their store by the nearest wholesaler or distributor, within hours, saving them time and money that they would have had to spend if they closed shop and went out to look for stock,” said Mbaabu.
“Digitised retailer ordering will not only save them time, but also give informal shops access to a credit score, allowing them to access working capital loans that ensure they never run out of stock.”
Through analysing the orders being placed across thousands of retailers on MarketForce in real-time, the startup will be able to visualise this data and tell manufacturers and distributors who is buying their products, when, where, and at what price, enabling them to tailor their marketing efforts and promotions based on real-time market trends and consumer purchasing habits.
MarketForce will also expand across borders. Operating from Nairobi, it has paying customers in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, and has already begun to set up physical operations in Uganda. It intends to do the same in Tanzania next year. Charging a tiered subscription fee, coupled with project implementation costs for larger customers, the startup is already seeing growing revenues but has additional plans.
“Going forward, we are unlocking more revenue channels, including transaction-based commissions from orders and working capital loans processed through our platform with the launch of our retail ordering app,” said Mbaabu.