SA’s FoondaMate is helping students with limited internet study using WhatsApp, Messenger

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South African ed-tech startup FoondaMate is enabling students with limited internet access to study online using just WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger. 

Basically, by sending a text to the startup’s number on WhatsApp you can search anything you are confused by, get help with maths, and download practice questions and memos. For all the details, watch this demo.

FoondaMate was launched in August of last year by Dacod Magagula and Tao Boyle, but its roots go back to Magagula’s time in high school in Daantjie, Mbombela. 

“At the time, he was the only student in the school with a computer. He would walk to his local internet café to download study resources and practice questions. However, because no one else had smartphones or computers, he struggled to share the resources with other students,” Boyle told Disrupt Africa.

The top matriculant in his year, Magagula ended up becoming the first student ever from his school to be accepted to the University of Cape Town, where he studied computer science before leaving to pursue opportunities in South Africa’s growing e-commerce sector. When WhatsApp opened up its business API in 2020, he saw a way to solve the problem his classmates had faced in high school, and which many students in Africa still face – lack of access to resources. 

“Through our WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger bots, anyone with access to a basic smartphone – most of which come with these apps preinstalled – and some data, including social data, can study online and succeed at school. We believe that talent is equally distributed, but opportunity is not. And we aim to change that,” Boyle said.

“The majority of our users can only access educational resources through textbooks, which their families struggle to afford and their schools often have limited supply of, dictated notes from teachers, a library if there is one in walking distance of their home, or study camps. Few can afford to download and run additional apps or search the web for extended periods of time, even with access to smartphones. FoondaMate is a low data and instant solution to this problem, enabling anyone to study from anywhere.”

Quite revolutionary, and therefore it is little surprise that FoondaMate has already been used by over 120,000 across more than 10 African countries but also many in Latin America and Asia. Boyle said it is growing at a rate of 600 new users per day on average, with uptake spurred by the fact it is available in a host of different languages, including not just English, but also isiZulu, siSwati, isiNdebele, Afrikaans, chiShona, Xitsonga, Tshivenda, isiXhosa and Sepedi.

“For many of our users we are the first tech product they have ever engaged in in their home language, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive,” said Boyle.

FoondaMate is backed by XX, a San Francisco-based accelerator associated with WeFunder, and currently has an open round on WeFunder, through which it is seeking an extra US$50,000.

“We wanted to give an opportunity for people who believe in our mission to invest. Since our entire ethos revolves around access to opportunity it seemed wrong to not enable individuals to invest in our high growth startup, and instead reserve that only for those who can afford to put their money behind institutional investors. While we have taken institutional funding, we believed it was important to reserve a portion of our raise for anyone from anywhere who cares about equality,” Boyle said.

Currently pre-revenue, FoondaMate is focused for now on growing its user base and expanding into new markets – expanding its presence in Latin America and Southeast Asia are key priorities.

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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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