Afrimalin is a site of free classified ads in Francophone Africa offering simple and free way to connect buyers and sellers, currently accessible in eight countries: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Guinea Conakry, Mali, Democratic Republic of Congo, Senegal.
We had the opportunity to email interview the co-founder of Afrimalin, Mamadou Niane, and here it is:
- Tell us about yourself and your business
I’m Mamadou Niane, Afrimalin Co-founder and Chief Operating Officer. In my previous professional experiences, I was head of sales and Marketing for group Allure, a firm that supports business creation and settlement in West Africa. I also managed the launch and deployment of Kaymu, the first Marketplace in Senegal. Those two experiences gave me a clear understanding of west African markets and e-commerce in Africa.
Since July I co-founded Afrimalin with 3 other partners: Celia Gremy, Thibault Launay and Romain Girbal. Afrimalin is a free classified website that offers a solution to directly connect local sellers and buyers. For many local sellers, Afrimalin (www.afrimalin.com) is the first portal that gives them access to the online market.
- How much did you need to start your business and how were you able to raise that capital?
I’d rather talk about the funds we just raised as I think that’s what is the most difficult for a start-up. We all know that you start by putting your savings then some love money. Things get complicated when you need angel investors. And that’s the box we just ticked. We successfully completed our first round of funding of EUR 400,000. Several top investors trusted us and invested in Afrimalin. Those investors include the Milchior family, owner of the French group Etam; David Kalfon, CEO of the French Investment Fund Amaika Asset Management; Yannick Naud, a London-based financial trader. The capital raised aims at supporting our rapid growth of Afrimalin. The funds will mainly be allocated to the development of a new website and a mobile application in 2017, which is crucial for us.
I would like to share a piece of advice on that particular stage: when you try to close your first round. Often, as entrepreneurs we are in our world. We are so convinced that we have the best product that we forget two things. The market and more importantly building relations with the world out there. Angels invest as much in project as in the entrepreneur. It’s a huge risk they take and one recognize that even a good project can fail because it is run by the wrong person. Get your Angels to know you. Get them to feel that you are derisking their investment. You are the only guaranty.
- What are some of the challenges you face in your business and how do you overcome those challenges?
Our start-up target two different type of users. First, young middle class Africans. For them we don’t really have any challenge. We have a strong solution that is user friendly, simple and super-fast even with the kind of networks we have in our countries. Moreover, not only young Africans familiar with technologies but they are also looking for cutting edge solutions that can improve their lives. I believe we have one.
On the other hand we target SMEs, local trader and craftsman who are looking for a new, fast and easy distribution channel. That being said, we have one main problem: IT literacy. However, we were not surprised, it comes with the territory. From the get go, we developed strategies accompanied with simple tools to transform that threat into strength. First, we patiently explain to SMEs, local trader and craftsman how Afrimalin will help them grow their business. Then we give them tools to achieve the goals we set together.
- Where do you see your business 5 years from now and what steps are you taking today to reach that objective?
A month ago, we launched simultaneously Afrimalin in 8 French speaking countries. They are all different markets with their specific realities. However, in each of them, we want to offer a new e-commerce user experience. We managed to build a strong and talented team to roll out our strategic plan. We will continue building the best team possible as it’s the key to reach our goals.
In 5 years we want to be a company operating in all the French speaking countries and that was able to disrupt e-commerce in that specific geographic area. For that, we are working on creating an environment that answer to African needs, both consumers and businesses. Especially SMEs as they are the backbone of our economies. We are implementing a strategy that has 3 pillars: constantly improving Afrimalin’s technology and user experience, building solid B2B partnerships for our business development, always introduce cutting edge innovation. Afrimalin has to be agile and adapt to the rapid transformation of African markets. If we succeed we’ll be a key e-commerce player in Africa.
- What advice would you give other entrepreneurs looking to start a business or invest in Africa?
Starting a business is both simple and complicated. It is simple because at the end of the day you do what you are passionate about. On that specific point I would advise entrepreneurs to find their passion. Sometimes we are confused about being good at something and being passionate about it. I study Geography, I was good at it and I liked it. But I’m passionate about innovation, technology, sales and marketing. How did I find out? I was ready to pay the full price so that those passions would be at the very center of my life. It leads us to the second advice: being ready to pay the full price. No discount! Most of the time people think it’s about money but not at all. It requires one to dedicate his time and soul to find his/her passion. Looking at how we can improve our skills, being determined and stay motivated not only when you are experiencing the highs but also when you are hitting the lows. You need to be confident and trust your gut feeling. The only way to do it is by being disciplined. Discipline builds confidence. But being disciplined is complicated. Then I would advise entrepreneurs to surrender themselves with positive people. That’s why I have co-founders. Alone I’d have probably not be here. As the saying goes: if you want to go fast go alone, if you want to go far go together. Building a business is more a Spartan race than a sprint. You are better off with partners.
- How is your business participating to the development of Africa?
We all know that Africa is currently experiencing a tech revolution. As I was saying earlier SMEs, local traders and craftsmen can be the ones left behind. 80% of African business owners say that the want to use internet to grow their business. We have to bear in mind that, across the continent, there are 50 million SMEs that employ half of the African workforce. They also contribute up to 40% of Africa’s GDP. With this numbers it’s easy to understand how helping SMEs grow their business is crucial for the African development. If we want to create the 11 million jobs needed each year to employ youngsters, SMEs, local traders and craftsmen need to transform opportunities into business.
That’s where Afrimalin becomes a relevant tool that drives growth for SMEs, local trader and craftsman by giving them a new, fast and easy distribution channel.