Growing up in Mali, Moulaye Taboure was passionate about art and fashion. His studies took him to France, where he noticed that the people there took particular interest in buying art and fashion depicting African culture.
This wasn’t just in France; it was in many parts of Europe.
In 2010 while Taboure was working at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) as the senior IT auditor and later in 2013 as the internal audit manager at Alstrom, Mali started having issues with tourism; the country was closing up to tourists.
In turn, artisans and designers began to struggle, turning to other jobs outside craftsmanship to survive.
Taboure says this led to him to brainstorm on how best to help these African designers sell their products.
In the meantime, a different group of designers began to gain international recognition from names like Burberry and IKEA fabrics because of their brand of Western aesthetics with African fabrics.
These two separate events and studying the success of models like US-based eCommerce platform, Etsy, led Taboure to enlist the help of his long-time friend, Kadry Diallo in 2014.
Driven by his disgust that the average craftsman didn’t get enough pay or recognition for their work, they began a side project called Afrikrea to make these businesses sustainable.
But the idea underwent iteration as further consumer studies showed that they needed to break the niche and include anyone making Africa-inspired art, fashion, or beauty.
This time, however, they would help African designers sell their products outside the continent.
“People could make DIY products in the US and sell them for billions of dollars on Etsy. It didn’t make sense that we couldn’t make something similar for African creatives recognised all over the world,” Taboure says to Techpoint Africa.
According to Statista, Africa’s eCommerce opportunity is estimated to be around $19.8 billion. McKinsey & Company, on the other hand, says that by 2025, the local manufacturing industry will grow to more than $900 billion.
While this shows signs of promise for African online retailers to pursue a global push for Africa’s fashion industry, issues have come up to stifle collective progress.
For one, cross-border shipping and handling, and marketing are barriers to African fashion designers reaching global demand actively.
Similarly, difficulties arising from accepting online payments from platforms like Shopify exist. As with other eCommerce platforms, Shopify encourages African online retailers but does not build its platform to cater to their specific needs like payments.
Afrikrea: Tailored to the needs of African designers and global buyers
These were the problems Kadry and Taboure sought to solve with Afrikrea.
Quitting their jobs to work on the project full-time, Afrikrea officially launched in 2016 when Luc B. Perussault Diallo joined them to become Co-founder and CTO.
Based in Abidjan, the capital city of Ivory Coast, Afrikrea’s mission is to enable African designers to create storefronts, receive payments from customers globally, and lower shipping costs for delivery.
Taboure tells us that Afrikrea can offer lower shipping costs because of its partnership with DHL. He further claims that shipping up to 2kg from Nigeria to the UK, for instance, costs less than $20 (₦10k).
In the past few years, DHL has been actively involved in Africa’s growing eCommerce space. It launched DHL Africa eShop, an eCommerce platform present in 34 African countries, in 2019, and a year later, inked a deal with Link Commerce which saw the logistics giant acquire a minority stake in the UK-based turnkey eCommerce firm.
Designers on the platform are not required to pay to sell at first. However, after an initial sale, they begin to pay $10/month.
There’s the question of whether these designers will make as much as they pay to use the platform. But Taboure addresses that, saying the pricing is perfect for those who need the service.
“It’s pretty simple. We cost the same thing as a Spotify subscription and half the price of a Shopify one. Anyone serious about exporting and doing their business online will find our price not only affordable but very complete.”
Taboure says Afrikrea charges between 5% and 8% in commission on further sales made through the platform.
And to establish trust between buyer and seller, Afrikrea has a wallet feature. This means that when a buyer pays for a product, the seller doesn’t get the money until the buyer receives and rates the product based on their level of satisfaction. Moulaye claims Afrikrea guarantees a full refund to unsatisfied buyers as soon as possible.
“I think this is a big influence for someone buying globally without seeing the vendor or the product. Our value offering is to make the infrastructure so people can have trust to know when they sell, they’ll be paid; trust to know that when they buy, they’ll receive what they’ve bought.”
Taboure also adds that via the integration of multiple payments solutions in its wallet infrastructure, Afrikrea can pay designers in the 50 countries Afrikrea is currently present in.
In total, Afrikrea’s global infrastructure of African culture eCommerce spans 150 countries, including the US, UK, and most parts of Europe.
Pursuing African and global growth
Afrikrea’s marketplace also enables efficient exchanges between buyers and sellers before, during, and after an order through its messaging system, which Taboure says records over 30,000 messages a month.
Having made tremendous progress, the startup began to gain recognition when it was one of ten finalists at the Jack Ma Foundation Africa Netpreneur Prize Initiative 2019.
Although it lost out on the top three prizes of $250k, $150k, and $100k that went to LifeBank, Nawah-Scientific, and Water Access Rwanda respectively, the $65k Afrikrea took home was a huge validation of its platform.
Further monetary validation would come in February 2020 when the Ivory Coast-based startup raised $1m. The Africa-focused VC fund, Saviu.vc, led the round. Id4 Ventures, a European-based angel fund and Showroomprive, France’s second-largest fashion and beauty e-commerce platform, also participated.
Despite the investment, Moulaye is quick to add that so far, Afrikrea has also been running also on revenue. In the last 18 months, this amounts to a little over $2 million.
The goal is to achieve profitability in 2021 while doubling its revenue and sustaining most of its costs.
Traction is another area where the startup has fared well too. When we reported its fundraise ten months ago, Afrikrea had processed $5 million in sales across more than 6,000 shops in 101 countries.
Now, the numbers stand at $7 million in transactions from across 7,000 sellers in 150 countries. Taboure adds that 40% of the buyers are in Europe, while 30% make their purchases from the US.
A case for minority innovation and recognition
Taboure recalls that when Afrikrea started, the team realised its first group of African designers did not trust themselves.
According to him, most of them didn’t believe that being with other designers was going to help them grow individually.
“They were afraid of competition and didn’t realise, until now, the effectiveness of the community, in terms of cross-selling, as two-thirds of purchases made on our platform are done to more than one seller at a time.”
Also, some services individual designers enjoy only exist because they are all on the platform. For instance, the DHL deal was only possible because Afrikrea promised to aggregate volume en masse.
Driving home his point about the success of the partnership, Moulaye says that in a recent encounter with DHL, the logistics company told him that Afrikrea was living up to its expectations and outperforming competitors in volume.
“They told us that we were the only company that moved from 150 shipments a month last year to nearly 10,000 this month within one year,” he says enthusiastically.
With a successful partnership and thriving business in place for more growth, the CEO sees Afrikrea dealing with products outside African fashion.
“We want to be the number one export partner for anyone who wants to transact between Africa and the world,” he says. However, Taboure doesn’t want to forget why Afrikrea started in the first place.
“We want to make sure that people in Africa can realise how valuable their cultures, talents, and business can be. And that is important for everyone that has the will to sell properly,” he adds.
This includes women who account for 90% of the platform’s sellers. That’s a large number to keep in mind because women are generally underestimated in terms of talent and what they’re able to make of it.
Similarly, Francophone Africa is considered a minority in the African tech space. Often looked at as second-best to Anglophone Africa, the region has fewer technological innovations and startups.
“Looking at the well of startups in Africa, I feel like we’re almost despised and ignored by pretty much everyone in Africa,” he laughs. “It feels like there’s only Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa in Africa. And that’s kind of insulting when we see that we’re able to create big businesses like the others,” he says on the matter.
Despite the consensus, Taboure believes the Francophone African tech space and startups shouldn’t be ignored. His take is straightforward: Francophone African countries can innovate and deliver globally, just like any other country in Africa.
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