Revolutionizing retail distribution in Africa
In 2013, two like-minded second year Computer Science undergraduate students, Tesh Mbaabu and Mesongo Sibuti, founded a software company, Mesozi, with a mission to help businesses harness the power and scale of technology to optimally achieve their business objectives. We put ourselves out there as the go-to guys for all business process automation needs.
A few years later, in late 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(pen and paper, excel) of capturing field sales data; leading to slow fulfillment of orders and loss of critical customer data; making reporting and decision making for businesses a pain. On the retailer end, we concluded that they suffer from limited access to inventory and no access to working capital loans because of shallow, inefficient distribution networks and poor or no record keeping on their part. 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.
While we worked with a leading financial institution to develop a solution to this problem, we were able to gain further insight into the challenge. We realized that the African retail market is highly informal, fragmented and expensive to service, with over 15 million independent retail stores in the continent; being serviced by an equally fragmented network of distributors, wholesalers and salesmen.
This is how MarketForce was born. We developed MarketForce as a sales and distribution automation software solution that allows field 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, businesses now have last mile visibility of their sales channels and performance; greatly reducing the manpower required to generate and analyze management reports, in order to make more informed decisions, faster. It did not stop there.
Over the last few 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. Digitized 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 analyzing the orders being placed across thousands of retailers and sales agents on MarketForce in real-time, we are able to visualize this data and tell the manufacturer and distributors who is buying their product, when they are buying it, where they are buying it, at what price, and what they’re buying it in conjunction with; enabling them to tailor their marketing efforts and promotions based on real-time market trends and consumer purchasing habits.
We have seen a number of startups address some of these challenges across various segments of the value chain; including sales force automation, retailer ordering, logistics and distribution service companies. We are excited to join them, with a slightly different approach; to provide the first of its kind, unified, African, end to end sales and distribution digitalization platform, offering a product that is in use across the entire value chain; from the manufacturers, to distributors, wholesalers, retailers and field sales agents.
Operating from Nairobi, we have managed to get paying customers in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. Over the last 18 months, we have built a functional product, and have on boarded over 45,000 informal retail outlets, 25 consumer goods and service companies, with over 4,200 sales agents, who have processed over 85,000 transactions, worth over 155 Million USD through our platform. We have already begun to set up operations in Uganda and intend to do the same in Tanzania next year(2020), before scaling out to more emerging markets that face this pressing challenges over the next couple of years.
We are revolutionizing the retail economy in emerging markets by digitalizing the entire distribution value chain.