Nigeria’s CrowdForce is Africa’s largest offline distribution network

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When Disrupt Africa first caught up with Tomi and Damilola Ayorinde back in 2016, they were making waves with Mobile Forms, which had developed an innovative way of allowing users to convert their paper forms to mobile and start collecting data from anywhere, instantly.

Mobile Forms allowed users to build forms using an easy drag-and-drop functionality, and share these forms with other team members with the click of a button. Using the startup’s app, team members can log in and start collecting data on mobile devices.

Yet in making that business a success, the pair realised there were even bigger problems that needed solving, and pivoted Mobile Forms into their current startup CrowdForce. Tomi Ayorinde explained to Disrupt Africa how the business evolved to the point of rebranding.

“By leveraging our data crowdsourcing platform, we helped companies gather insights in a reliable way, reduced cost and drastically dropped their turnaround time for decision making,” he said.

“However, we soon realised we could do more. The bulk of the economic activities that go on in emerging markets are done primarily offline and through traditional outlets, which are fragmented. This creates huge problems for companies trying to provide services and collect payments from these markets. Businesses are starting to realise they need to combine their online efforts with an offline distribution, or field agent, network to effectively scale their services and collect revenue in emerging markets.”

This was what prompted the official launch of CrowdForce in the first quarter of last year. Tomi says the startup is building Africa’s largest offline distribution network – a platform for businesses of all sizes to leverage the startup’s agent network to conduct research, provide services and collect payments in emerging markets.

Basically, CrowdForce is a technology-driven agent distribution network that enables efficient data collection and delivery of financial services to the mass market. The startup has built a network of 20,000 roaming agents and 800 fixed location merchants, serving 330,000 customers in the informal sector.

“Nigeria still has one of the largest underserved and unbanked populations in Africa, and there are lots of amazing fintech companies trying to solve this problem. The problem, however, is that they lack the ability to achieve distribution to the mass market, which severely limits their growth potential. Equally, we have lots of large businesses still trying to understand the informal sector because most of the economic activities in this sector happens offline,” Tomi said.

“We see this as a huge challenge we can solve using our partnerships and experience to build a digital service distribution network that enables everyone to deliver their services to the mass market.”

Aside from helping connect people with financial services, CrowdForce also helps businesses and government institutions access reliable market data, just as Mobile Forms was built to do. The startup earns a commission on every transaction conducted via its platform, and also charges for access to the market data.

The widening in focus has proven attractive to investors, with CrowdForce having raised US$500,000 to date from angel and VC investors that include 500 Startups, Ventures Platform and Right Side Capital. Tomi said the startup is delighted with what it has managed to achieve.

“We have processed over 900,000 transactions worth US$25 million in transaction volume to date,” he said.

“We have only just onboarded 800 merchants, and we have 24,000 more to onboard before we kick off our next strategy – to hit 100,000 merchants. We also recently enabled KYC for 2.5 million micro-traders on a national scale. This was vital in helping the Federal Government to deliver the largest social investment programme in Africa.”

There is still more room for growth, however, and CrowdForce also wants to achieve more reliability when it comes to payments infrastructure in Nigeria.

We see it as an opportunity we can take advantage of in the near future if no one is working on it yet,” said Tomi.

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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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