CanGo cofounder and CEO Barrett Nash explains what a startup is and if CanGo, a DRC based superapp active in Kinshasa, is a startup. This talk was for CanGo employees in Kinshasa, Kigali and Nairobi.
- Inside CanGo: How Does Scalability Affect Business Model?
- The Guardian Op-Ed: Africa’s population is booming – it’s time for business to catch up
- Inside CanGo: The Pilot Department
- CanGo Stars in Redbull’s “I am the Engine” Documentary
- Top of the Mountain: CanGo 5 Year Strategic Summary
- Inside CanGo: How is CanGo Going to Growth Hack Kinshasa?
- Inside CanGo: What is Venture Capital? Why Do Venture Capitalists Invest in CanGo?
- Incorporating OKRs into CanGo
- Ride-Hailing Doesn’t Make Money: Long Live The (Profitable) Superapp
- Inside CanGo: What is a Startup? Is CanGo a Startup?
- Blog Post: CanGo Rwanda: Learning how to launch on-demand delivery
- Blog Post: Theories On Unlocking The African Tech Ecosystem
- Blog Post: How To Make A Trip Safe and Secure
- Blog Post: A Unique Perspective: Technology Ecosystem Comparison Between Nairobi, Kigali and Kinshasa
- Blog Post: Developing the Technology Ecosystem in the DRC
- Blog Post: Why We’re Launching in Kinshasa With Motorcycle Taxis, Not Car Taxis
- Briefing: Using Commission Based Agents for Marketing
- Briefing: Pilot Guarantee Engine
- Briefing: Enabling SafeMotos Motorcycles to Operate at Night in Kinshasa
- Primary Research: User Experience Design Sprint
“Order anything you want”
Kigali, as an innovation lab for CanGo, is all about learning. The primary purpose of CanGo Rwanda is to track customer preferences and trends to learn which services are most popular, scalable and profitable. We also want to see if there is anything individual consumer sentiment surprises us with. While we were not the first on-demand delivery service in Kigali, we aspire to be the most innovative in bringing services that are tailored to the unique case study of a middle class / lower class African end user. What we asked ourselves was: what if customers had always wanted to order particular items on demand, but just never had the chance?
In light of this, we decided to launch a service where customers could order absolutely anything they wanted (as long as it could fit on the back of a motorcycle).
We quickly concluded that the easiest and fastest way to start collecting real user data was to allow customers to order through WhatsApp, since it demands no app install and is highly prevalent in both Kigali and Kinshasa. We subsequently set up a WhatsApp Business account, an alternative version of the WhatsApp mobile application that was released in late 2017 solely for small businesses.
The primary benefits of WhatsApp for Business include the ability to:
- Be seen as a legitimate business by customers
- Set opening times
- Create away messages and quick replies
- Set labels to each conversation
WhatsApp Business allows us to manage every stage of an order process seamlessly, whilst we are also able to offer extremely personalised customer service in comparison to a mobile application or website.
Here’s how it works:
- The customer sends us a message on WhatsApp telling us what they’d like to order
- Our customer service team enquiries about the availability of the item(s) and tells the customer the total cost of the order
- A WhatsApp group is created with the customer and a delivery pilot where both are asked to share their live locations
- The pilot rides to the store and pays for the item in cash
- The pilot delivers the item to the customer, and the customer pays the pilot for the cost of the products and the predetermined delivery fee
So far, customers have been using us to order food from restaurants, groceries or alcohol from supermarkets, and products from other stores and markets around Kigali, such as electronics, clothes and beauty products. Many people and businesses have also been using us as a courier service to pick-up and/or send items to friends or customers.
But the real beauty of ‘order anything’, and of using a WhatsApp number rather than a website or mobile application, is that customers can order anything that pops into their head at that moment in time. There are absolutely no restrictions, as long as it can fit on the back of a bike!
Starting was easy. We hired several of the best drivers who had worked with us previously at SafeMotos and set up a small customer service team to handle orders. In terms of marketing, we started a Facebook ad campaign, showing off how customers could ‘order anything’ and posting photos of food, groceries and alcohol to wet their appetites. Our call to action seemed simple and effective: “WhatsApp us now on 0789397682”.
Gaining traction, however, was not so simple. Following our first week of operations, we had only completed 4 deliveries. We were also not even receiving many messages on WhatsApp, despite our Facebook ads reaching over 7,000 people and receiving hundreds of ‘likes’ each day.
So, we decided to offer a promotion. It read something like this:
“Today we’re giving away FREE cupcakes. Just send us a message on WhatsApp! Soon we’ll start charging, but for now we want to see if you like our service.”
Yet still only 4 customers asked for the free cupcake…
Who wouldn’t want a free cupcake?!
If I was in the U.K. and saw an advert on Facebook of a company giving out free cupcakes, I would definitely give it a go. What would I have to lose? It’s free! If it never arrived, then I lost absolutely nothing. Either customers didn’t trust us or we were offering the wrong gift.
Whilst I was almost certain that people didn’t yet trust our service, in this case it turned out to be the latter. On the weekend, I met a Rwandese in a cafe and asked him if he would like a free cupcake. His response: “What’s a cupcake?”
So instead, after a quick discussion in the office, we started offering free sandwiches. And just like that, people started messaging us. In fact, during our second week of operations, precisely 266 people reached out to us, and in turn, we completed a total of 114 deliveries to some very happy customers.
With all these new customers, we felt like we were close to unlocking the market in Kigali and gaining some real traction. But could we convert people who had ordered a free gift into repeat customers who would actually pay for our service? This is precisely the question we planned to answer in the following days.
One of the things the CanGo team believes is that the African technology and startup ecosystem is still in its infancy with best practices still being pioneered.
While as a company CanGo seeks to be a model in following business best practices, we also believe that making use of our existing experience via lessons learned by our practical experience in Kinshasa, Kigali and Nairobi markets can be catalysts in unlocking the maximum economic and impact opportunity for the company.
The following are sets of concepts CanGo brings in our business approach that we feel others working on business success in the region may find helpful. If you have any disagreement or pushback we’d love to hear from you, feel free to drop a line to [email protected]
In no particular order:
- Whichever company listens / builds closest to users will build better products
- Jumia has their tech team in Portugal. Most technology approaches execute on design languages pioneered for the Californian middle class. CanGo believes a tight feedback loop between user experience research and in market software engineers who bring their own awareness of local realities will make technology friendlier to use, minimize funnel loss and make the office an an engine of innovation. CanGo is practicing what we preach as we’ve transferred from an Indian / European tech back office to a Nairobi based team.
- The company with the best culture wins
- Talent is challenging to find anywhere in the world, but this is doubly hard in Africa with braindrain to the West and cities that are often expensive with a low ranking on international livability indexes. We believe that a mission driven culture can flip these realities on its head: by having a culture that empowers employees by prioritizing mission alignment between personal goals and business goals, employees will be happy, the company will be able to hire top notch talent and a company can rise above rivals in employee innovation and retention.
- For business opportunity to be unlocked the economic pie in Africa needs to get bigger
- CanGo seeks to be a part of building a greater economic business opportunity in Africa by building value rather than extracting value. Right now, the economic pie is very small in Africa. The economy of Seattle has a larger GDP than the DRC with almost 90 million people: it’s hard for businesses to decide to focus on Sub Saharan Africa when its opportunity is still so nascent. However, this is an opportunity as well, since it means that there is so much scope for longterm growth while the competitive playing field is still open. CanGo believes that businesses instead of focusing on winning the economic pie of today should focus on bringing / scaling new products to market so that they win the larger economic pie of tomorrow.
- Instead of ten companies providing ten services, one company should provide ten services
- Lean startup methodology focuses on narrow products that fit a market opening and scale quickly. However, in Africa where the services ecosystem is still by and large in its infancy, this is not an option. CanGo believes that this is not a challenge but an opportunity, as shown by our current strategy. We believe that controlling multiple logically connected services (IE anything that can move on a bike, digital payments, etc) ascan create efficiencies, create a more defensible market positioning and bring more value to customers who benefit from a one stop shop.
- Individual cities if won absolutely can be long term defensible monopolies
- While tech companies like the myth of genius, it’s quite accepted that the real secret to the sky high valuations of technology companies is discovering natural monopolies. CanGo believes that interconnected services scaled together quickly within a single city will be a defensible natural monopoly over the longterm.
- Continuous improvement needs to be in the DNA of every process
- CanGo believes that a company does not stay the same: it either becomes better or worse. Therefore, continuous improvement needs to be built into every process of the company.
- Technology is just one of many tools
- CanGo believes that technology is a disruptive tool that is unique in its capacity to scale products rapidly. However, CanGo is flexible to use other approaches if technology is not the right tool for a task at hand.
- The best startup teams right now are founded by a mixture of local
- Obviously we’re a bit partial here as CanGo is founded by a Canadian and a Kenyan, and we’re certainly not saying this is a rule written in stone. What we’ve experienced is that a local founder, who understand the market, brings connections and can place themselves in the minds of users, paired with an international founder who has seen other markets and doesn’t take entrenched consumer habit as inviolable means that when addressing the challenges of growing a business you’ve got multiple lenses to see the problem through.
- Business is war and it’s either win or be beaten
- The technology startup ecosystem in Africa can sometimes feel just a bit too cozy. If it’s the endless ‘pitch competitions’ or the fact that grants fund a disproportionate amount of startup it seems like often the animal spirits the drive the worlds greatest companys are missing from the DNA. This is a concern, since one of the biggest challenges for a startup is to validate a market or product then have a more primal company enter the market and eat that startups lunch. It’s time for companies to feel second place to no one and focus on winning as a binary challenge, with either win or be beaten.
- We believe that Africa’s most successful company will be the one which uses technology to make African bottom of the pyramid users make more money
- The bottom of the pyramid is defined by having low purchasing power and low discretionary income, which makes them not well suited to the consumer products that thrive in America / Europe. However, this segment of the population is enormously hungry for economic opportunity and whichever company unlocks this will be positioned to become Africa’s most successful company. The killer app for Africa is going to be the app that can open up the economic ladder.
For the team team at CanGo we believe that right now is the most exciting time to be running a startup in Sub Saharan Africa. The demographic future of the world is going to be centered on the continent and we believe that there is a unique opportunity to develop a culture of business that is an evolution rather than a dependency of global business best practices. We’ll be happy to see how many of the above hypotheses are validated, wrong or evolve as we seek to unlock success for CanGo.