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[Interview] Wasoko’s Neeti Kaushik on e-commerce and how the company is formalizing trade in Africa


Wasoko is one of Africa’s leading and most dynamic e-commerce platforms helping to make same-day deliveries of fast-moving consumer goods (FMCGs) to retailers in its markets within the region.

Since launching in 2016, Wasoko (formerly known as SokoWatch) has grown to attract significant investments from venture capitalists and spread to six markets across Africa.

TechTrends Media had a sit down with Neeti Kaushik, Director of Products at Wasoko to get an insight into the company’s future strategy and her outlook on the e-commerce industry in Africa.

Neeti is a highly logical, analytical, and process-driven professional with over ten years of experience in the fields of Supply Chain Management, Logistics, and Product Management, catering to both B2B and B2C sectors. She is currently the Director of Products at Wasoko, where she leads the organization’s product strategy and oversees the development of innovative and customer-centric solutions.

With a progressive mindset and a high interest for innovation, she enjoys harnessing the power of technology to address the diverse challenges businesses face in the contemporary marketplace.

Kindly introduce yourself and your role at Wasoko

Thank you for this opportunity to share my thoughts and views.

I am Neeti Kaushik from Bangalore, India. I am the Director of Products at Wasoko, leading the company’s product strategy and overseeing the operations of the team to build features that improve our operational efficiency. As a company that strives to drive innovation through tech-driven solutions, my role ensures the continuous development of features to achieve Wasoko’s objectives and values.

Let’s start with this. In October last year, there were reports that you had shut down your Kenyan operations. Kindly clarify this for us.

We saw those reports after the launch of our innovation hub in Zanzibar in August. I can confirm, those reports were misleading and we are very much in business in Kenya and have launched our new HQ offices in Kilimani at Senteu Plaza. At the time of these reports, we provided external clarification and our press statement can be found here.

We are very optimistic about our business growth in Kenya, with plans to expand our customer penetration in the country.

Of course, these reports came after you opened an innovation Hub in Zanzibar. Tell us more about this hub

Our innovation hub in Zanzibar is focused on building world-class solutions to drive Africa’s e-commerce industry and support our operations across the continent. Our CEO, Daniel Yu, works alongside our Chief Technology Officer, Tridiv Vasavada, and other experienced developers to develop cutting-edge tools for personalizing our customer experiences, improving delivery metrics, expanding financial services options, and collecting critical data and insights.

The Wasoko Innovation Hub is the first private-public partnership between an African tech startup and the Zanzibar government for Silicon Zanzibar, a new government initiative to attract and relocate tech companies from across Africa to the island. As part of the launch, Wasoko became Silicon Zanzibar’s first anchor company and official private sector ambassador.

Wasoko’s journey of building a digitally-led supply chain for a historically analog industry in Africa’s informal retail sector. Paint us a picture of the ups and downs you’ve experienced

It has been an exciting journey at Wasoko, working to transform Africa’s informal retail sector and positioning us as the leading B2B logistics platform. I am very excited to work with our tech team and business leaders to create customer-centric solutions for our markets. We have partnered with our customers in an iterative process to create solutions that serve the informal retail sector better.

Is building B2B rather than B2C platforms the most effective means of capturing Africa’s $75bn e-commerce opportunity?

In the African continent, we have seen tremendous growth in technology over the last two years. Online shopping and e-commerce are still nascent in Africa despite smartphone penetration and the push by the pandemic. The B2B market, I believe, is big enough and there is still a lot to capture in the e-commerce space. The increase in competitors entering the market goes to show that there is a potential boom in the B2B e-commerce industry.

The niche you are focusing on has attracted considerable competition with other players coming in recent years. Is the cake big enough for all of you? What must each player do to make their platform profitable?

Yes, the niche we operate in has attracted considerable competition in recent years. While this can be viewed as a challenge, I firmly believe that competition is healthy and drives us to continually improve as Wasoko. In such a competitive landscape, it’s critical to strike a balance between growth and sustainability. If companies can achieve this balance, it is indeed possible to build a profitable platform within this industry.

E-commerce has been termed as promising but hard to break even, especially in Africa. What’s your comment on this observation?

With the right approach, it is possible to build a successful and sustainable business. Wasoko stands in our commitment to finding innovative solutions that enable us to achieve profitability and drive long-term growth. It’s not without challenges but it is doable. Businesses need to be flexible and adjust to the various market changes, but it does not stop you from breaking into Africa.

Are you doing last-mile or mostly urban deliveries?

Wasoko does last-mile deliveries to our customers located in our various locations across the continent. We use technology to enable us to run operations efficiently and effectively.

How exactly does Wasoko earn revenue? Through Commissions?

We are a Direct to Customer platform. We own our inventory and have last-mile logistics functions to support our on-time customer deliveries. We work on a margin base model.

Which of your markets across the continent is most vibrant? What do you think has led to this?

Our operations are primarily in East Africa. With digital penetration growing at a rapid pace in the African continent and more stable infrastructure support, we are growing with our customers. There is a lot of untapped potential and we’re thrilled about the opportunity to provide more products and features for our customers.

How has the increase in smartphone penetration and internet coverage impacted your business?

I would say it definitely has a positive impact. As a result, now a majority of our customers are placing orders by themselves using their own mobile devices. To support and engage our customers, we are building new experiences for our customers on our customer app for them to place orders quickly and efficiently.

Smartphone penetration has benefited us as a business and I believe it will continue to benefit as smartphone
usage becomes more prominent across Africa.

Let’s talk about talent acquisition across the continent. The entry of big-tech companies is said to have caused a mass exodus given the attractive perks they offer. What trends have you experienced? Are we having developers with the right skill sets, trained in Africa for Africa?

Talent acquisition is a critical challenge for companies operating in the African tech industry. With the entry of large multinational tech firms, there has been a noticeable trend of talent shift across organizations. I believe that we still face an optimistic future in tech, especially as our tech centers based in Zanzibar and Kenya continue to draw in diverse top talents from across the globe.

Kindly take us through the challenges and learnings of reinventing user experience in emerging markets to effectively engage traditionally non-tech-savvy customers.

To effectively engage traditionally non-tech savvy customers, we must first identify the right customer segments and build products that are tailored to their unique needs and preferences, something that Wasoko keeps reinventing for success. While the process carries its own challenges, we are certain that these are opportunities for us to learn and improve. We remain committed to building innovative solutions that better serve our customers.

Any further comments?

Wasoko prides itself on its highly experienced leadership team, with diverse and talented staff that strive to take it to the next level. As we work towards formalizing trade in the African markets and beyond, I am certain that we will continue to change the lives of the people we serve enabling communities to get more for less.

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Simon W Nderitu

Simon is a tech enthusiast who keeps a close eye on emerging technologies, startups and the general business environment. You will often catch him totally immersed and drooling over Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, IoT and just about any other tech that promises to revolutionize the way we live. Send tips to snderitu@techtrendske.co.ke

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