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Sokowatch raises $14M to digitize Africa’s informal B2B supply-chain

Kenya based B2B e-commerce startup Sokowatch has raised $14 million in Series A funding toward its mission of revamping supply-chain markets for Africa’s informal retailers.

From Nairobi, the company has created a platform that connects merchants directly to local and multinational suppliers — such as Unilever and Proctor and Gamble — and digitizes orders, payments and delivery-logistics.

Since launching in 2016, and raising a $2 million seed round in 2018, Sokowatch has expanded within Kenya and into Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.

With its Series A, the startup plans to broaden its client services — from the working-capital to data-analytics — and target new African markets, according to CEO Daniel Yu.

Sokowatch also doesn’t rule out using its infrastructure to someday enter business-to-consumer online retail.

For the moment, the startups primary business focus is to reduce costs and increase profit margins for small merchants.

“We’re looking to build out the largest B2B e-commerce network across Africa,” Yu told TechCrunch on a call.

Informal retail is still king in Africa — even with the emergence of shopping malls and well-funded e-commerce ventures, such as Jumia.

The size and potential of the continent’s informal sector has captured the attention of economists and startups. GDP revisions in several African countries have revealed outdated statistical methods were missing billions of dollars in economic activity.  And one estimate by The International Labor Organization places more than two-thirds of Sub-Saharan Africa’s non-agricultural employment in the informal economy.

On the number of shops in that space, a 2016 study by global consultancy PwC estimated 90% of sales in Africa’s major economies come through informal channels, such as markets and kiosks.

By Yu’s account, too many of Africa’s local merchants are sacrificing capital and incurring opportunity cost due to inefficient supply-chain.

Sokowatch is shifting that scenario, according to its CEO, and now serves over 15,000 small retailers across its operating areas.

“We…estimate that we save merchants at least 20% on supply-chain costs for the goods we supply,” said Yu.

Sokowatch AppSokowatch offers retailers an app to order products from its partner suppliers and maintains a fleet of vehicles, primarily three-wheel tuk tuks, for delivery.

“We handle all of our last-mile logistics exclusively ourselves,” said Yu.

The startup is also generating additional enterprise services. “As part of the product we are developing other tools for merchants to directly manage other aspects of their business, especially when it comes inventory and overall sales,” said Yu.

The data analytics Sokowatch generates for clients is also opening up working-capital solutions.

“We’ve been able to use that data to offer in-kind credit lines to many shops that can’t gain it from banks,” said Yu.

Quona Capital led Sokowatch’s $14 million Series A round, joined by Amplo, Breyer Capital, Vertex Ventures, Timon Capital and repeat investor 4DX Ventures.

Sokowatch Tuk TukThe startup joins other B2B oriented ventures that have drawn significant capital over the last 12 months.

Kenyan startup, B2B food distributor, Twiga Foods raised $30 million in 2019 and announced it would expand to West Africa.

In August, Nigerian trucking logistics startup Kobo360 raised a $20 million Series A backed by Goldman Sachs. In November, East African on-demand delivery venture Lori Systems hauled in $30 million supported by Chinese investors and another Kenyan logistics company, Sendy, raised $20 million this January backed by Toyota.

Sokowatch wouldn’t name which countries in Sub-Saharan Africa it’s eyeing for expansion. The company’s CEO did confirm the startup could someday use the advantages of its platform to offer 3PL services or sell directly online to consumers in Africa.

“It’s within the power of our networks to do so” said Wu. “At the end of the day, we want to be the channel — both digital as well as physical — for transforming access to goods and services for these communities.”

Tradeshift cuts headcount by three figures in effort to turn towards profitability

Last month Tradeshift, a platform for supply chain payments which has achieved unicorn startups in recent years, had some good news and some bad news. It announced a Series F funding round of $240 million in equity and debt, raised from a combination of existing and new investors. It’s now raised a total of $661M since it started in 2008 and investors include Goldman Sachs, Principal Strategic Investments and Wipro Ventures among others.

The new funding came, despite talk of a possible IPO last year. In effect, this new funding round was an admission by the company that it was delaying any IPO and setting the company “on a direct path to profitability in the near future,” which is exactly the kinds of noises many larger tech firms have made in the wake of the WeWork and Peleton issues with the public markets.

During that announcement CEO and co-founder Christian Lanng also admitted that the drive toward profitability would mean a cost-cutting exercise ahead of any possible IPO.

Lanng said this would likely mean reducing headcount in its expensive San Francisco offices, but reallocating resources and talent to locations where that is more affordable.

The company has many no formal announcement about the detail on that, but yesterday we got confirmation from the European tech press that the cuts were indeed starting to bite.

The Danish version of ComputerWorld reported that the staffing cuts have now run into 3 figures and were conducted in mid-January.

The cuts came from headcount at the company’s offices in Copenhagen, San Francisco and other offices.

Mikkel Hippe Brun, a co-founder of Tradeshift and head of the company’s Asian business, confirmed the information to Computerworld, but indicated that “there are still some consultations around the world, where we are subject to different rules about notifications and opportunities to raise objections.”

However, he said that the company still has more than 1,000 employees worldwide, which is “significantly more employees” than two years ago.

At the same time, the company has also brought in new executives from SAP, Oracle and Microsoft, among others, as the company tightens its belt, according to ComputerWorld.

Tradeshift has an impressive array of investors such as Goldman Sachs, although it’s notable that this doesn’t include any of the usual round of typical SaaS-oriented Valley VCs.

Tradeshift customers have included Air France KLM, Kuehne + Nagel International AG, DHL, Fujitsu, HSBC, Siemens, Société Générale, Unilever, and Volvo.

Kenyan logistics startup Sendy raises $20M round backed by Toyota

Africa’s logistics startup space has gained another multi-million dollar round with global backing.

Kenyan company Sendy — with an on-demand platform that connects clients to drivers and vehicles for goods delivery — has raised a $20 million Series B led by Atlantica Ventures.

Toyota Tsusho Corporation, a trade and investment arm of Japanese automotive company Toyota, also joined the round.

Sendy’s raise comes within six months of Nigerian trucking logistics startup Kobo360’s $20 million Series A backed by Goldman Sachs. In November, East African on-demand delivery venture Lori Systems hauled in $30 million supported by Chinese investors.

Those companies have plotted Africa expansions into each other’s markets and broader Africa. With its latest round, Sendy ups its competitive stance in the continent’s startup logistics space. The company plans to expand to West Africa in 2020, CEO Mesh Alloys told TechCrunch on a call.

Alloys co-founded Sendy in 2015 with Kenyans Evanson Biwott and Don Okoth and American Malaika Judd. The startup currently has offices in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda with 5000 vehicles on its platform that move all sorts of goods, according to Alloys.

Sendy offers services for e-commerce, enterprise, and freight delivery for a client list that includes Unilever, DHL, Maersk, Safaricom and African online retailer Jumia.

The company uses an asset-free model, with an app that coordinates contract drivers who own their own vehicles, while confirming deliveries, creating performance metrics and managing payment.

On Sendy’s business and revenue model, “We take a percentage of each transaction. We also facilitate services for drivers like insurance, health-insurance, vehicle financing, vehicle servicing and fuel credits,” said Alloys.

The company plans to use its Series B funding for new hires and to upgrade its tech. “Getting better operational efficiency is super key so we’ll invest…in engineering teams and data teams…and deploying talent to improve the services that we give our customers,” said Alloys.

Sendy’s $20 round includes an R&D arrangement with Toyota Tsusho Corporation, whose investment comes from a venture arm the company established for Africa, called Mobility 54.

“We’ll look at optimizing the kind of trucks that perform well in this market…They’ll also look at setting up vehicle services centers in partnership with us,” said Alloys.

Asia Africa Investment, Sunu Capital, Enza Capital, Vested World, and Kepple Capital joined lead investor Atlantica Ventures on the $20 million round — which brings Sendy’s total funding to $29 million, according to Alloys.

Formed in 2019, Atlantica Ventures is a relatively new Africa focused VC fund co-founded by  Washington DC based Aniko Szigetvari. She confirmed the fund’s lead on Sendy’s Series B and that Atlantica Ventures will take a board seat and work on strategic planning and execution with the company.

On how Sendy will outpace rivals such as Kobo360 and Lori Systems, Alloys points to the startup’s platform. “Our customer service is superior and that’s driven by our technology…I think we’re miles ahead of our competition today when it comes to tech,” he said.

Whoever surges ahead, Africa’s top business hubs — Nigeria, Kenya, and Ghana — stand to gain from the innovation VC spending and startup rivalry bring to the on-demand goods delivery sector.

Though logistics services aren’t included in the World Bank’s ease of doing business country rankings, they’re known to be costlier in Africa than many parts of the world.

In the early days of online commerce development on the continent — due to a lack of viable 3PL options — pioneering e-commerce startups Jumia and Konga were forced to burn capital by forming their own delivery services.

Years later, after Jumia has listed on the NYSE and expanded to multiple countries in Africa, fulfillment costs related to delivery remain one of the company’s largest expenses.

Lowering logistics expenses for businesses in Africa is central to Sendy’s mission, according to Alloys.

“We’re organizing a marketplace using technology so companies can efficiently deliver to their customers while reducing overall costs,” he said.