A study by McKinsey & Company on overall e-commerce activity in Africa says consumer spending will exceed $2 trillion over the next three years. Much of this expenditure is related to the importation of products, in the first place influenced by consumer demand and the positioning of major e-commerce platforms in Africa.
Afrikrea, an Ivorian startup founded in 2016, is one of the few platforms that enables product export. It has raised a pre-Series A round of $6.2 million as it rebranded to ANKA, the SaaS platform it launched last April in partnership with DHL and Visa for merchants.
Moulaye Taboure launched Africa with Kadry Dialloc and Luc B. Perussault Diallo as a marketplace for African-based and inspired fashion, apparel, accessories, arts and crafts. Last year, Afrikrea said it serves more than 7,000 sellers from 47 African countries and buyers from 170 countries.
After some research, the founders noticed that these sellers also engaged in other channels, such as websites or social media. For them it made sense to build another platform – ANKA – where merchants, with an omnichannel dashboard, can to monitor their sales and stock through all these channels: Africa, social media and websites.
Other features such as a customizable online storefront, payment links, and access to various payment methods and logistics added to the platform’s appeal to Afrikrea merchants. The appeal extended to the company itself, resulting in a name change, despite the market seeing a 250% year-over-year growth since launch.
“The main purpose behind that is to now reflect our much larger purpose and mission. And also a much wider range of products, because we’re not just going to serve people in fashion, but in every industry where everyone wants to export African products,” CEO Taboure told BestFitnessBands in an interview.
Afrikrea is now one of the features on the ANKA website. Others include a custom online storefront (like Shopify), which: is linked on merchants’ social media platforms and marketplace channels (such as Stripe, Gumroad, or PayPal); access to shipping products with DHL; and receiving payments in various currencies (including a buy now, pay later option).
“So wherever you sell, on social media, in the African market, or on your website, everything of it ends up in one dashboard,” says the CEO. “You can manage” everything of your orders and one wallet to get paid and withdraw your money easy.”
ANKA is free to use when merchants populate their product catalogs or generate payment links. However, once sellers decide to start using the software to accept payments or make a sale, they pay €10 (~$12) to access the service monthly. Sellers also pay €10 (~$12) upfront for the platform’s shipping or website hosting services.
Taboure told BestFitnessBands that about 40% of more than 13,000 subscribers don’t use the marketplace. To them, ANKA serves to generate payment links for use on other channels or to fulfill orders from other channels. He said the company is building a mobile application to make the process smoother.
ANKA has overrun Africa’s trade base and has sellers from 47 of Africa’s 54 countries. ANKA also mentioned that more than 80% of its salespeople are women, who have increased their sales by an average of 50% since joining the ANKA community.
The platform also records over 700,000 visits from its buyers who have traded over $35 million on the platform. In a statement, ANKA said these buyers come from 174 countries, the majority based in Europe and North America. According to Taboure, the buyers are: mainly from France and the US; they account for 90% of ANKA’s sales.
Over the past decade, the growth of e-commerce in Africa lead by companies such as Jumia, Takealot and Mall4Africa. In 2015 MallforAfrica entered into a partnership with DHL and launched DHL Africa eShop with the logistics giant four years later.
But the recent battle from currency devaluation to investor withdrawals has forced the startup to take an extended hiatus (though it claims to be re-strategizing), raising new questions about the viability of some e-commerce models in Africa. But Taboure believes his company is protected from such events because it serves the market the other way around.
“Most of the e-commerce tried so far has been Africans trying to buy outside. And yes, if you do that, you will have currency and logistics issues that are completely different. We are the opposite. We try to get Africans to earn in foreign currency. So if I’m being honest, it’s almost like we’re operating in two different worlds,” he said.
“We are probably one of the few startups that doesn’t try only to get Africans to spend their money or buy more things. We actually want to help them make money globally and create value on the global stage. IdealIn this way, we contribute to strengthening our economies in many more ways than one.”
In an interview BestFitnessBands had with its chief executive last year, he touted ANKA as the largest e-commerce exporter startup on the continent, claiming it ships more than 10 tons of cargo per month from Africa. These kinds of numbers make investors’ mouths water – in the case of ANKA, e-commerce heavyweights like Joseph Tsai.
The Alibaba CEO and billionaire joined the round BESTSELLER . Foundation, whose chairman is one of the largest shareholders of both ASOS and Zalando.
French VC and Africa Focused Impact Company Investors & Partners (I&P) led the round. In a statement, co-CEO Sebastien Boye said I&P has invested in ANKA because the company is at the heart of his company’s strategy: talented and ambitious founders, significant growth, value creation and a compelling impact thesis.
Other investors include VestedWorld, Enigmo, Groupe Prunay, Rising Tide Africa and SAVIU Ventures, the leading investor in ANKA’s starting round. In total, the company, which LoftyInc Capital and other local investors support, has raised $8.1 million.
“We’re pretty happy to have some VCs in the round, but also to have entrepreneurs who already did what we did. That’s something we’re very proud of and very intentional in building the lap, we’re focused on getting the best people at the table to help us grow.”
The company said the pre-Series A round will help it build out its SaaS mobile infrastructure and further product development. ANKA also plans to hire talent in technology, finance, sales and marketing to join the 30-strong team on four continents.