Meet the founders of Rwazi, the start-up bridging the data gap in Africa
Are you having problems in restocking your products, losing out customers because of
unavailability of your products in shops or losing out on sales due to the high pricing of your
products compared to your competitors? Be comforted because Rwazi Ltd is here to cater to your problems hence, making you stand out from your competitors while increasing your profits.
Joseph Rutakangwa and Eric Sewankambo founded Rwazi upon realising that there was a lack of data for businesses in developing countries which made it difficult for them to make effective decisions when it comes to pricing and restocking. More so, this lack of data made it challenging to make on ground distribution strategies thus leading to loss of sales.
Located in the heart of the beautiful island of Mauritius, Rwazi started its operations in 2018, and the company provides companies with live data on the availability, visibility, and pricing of their products versus competition from traditional retail outlets to optimize distribution and drive sales. The company operates in 39 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa serving a large network of businesses.
How it works Approximately 420 million youths in Africa are actively searching for jobs and of that number around 250 million have smartphones, hence being the ideal talent for Rwazi. The company uses mappers who are qualified youths who use Rwazi mobile applications to collect data on consumer products at retail outlets in their neighbourhoods, and they receive instant payments.
Companies also subscribe to a monthly plan, and Rwazi mappers then collect data on the pricing of their products, availability and how much shelves they occupy as compared to their competitors.
The company has tracked products such as Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and Tipco in Mauritius, Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania and aspires to expand into more developing markets. Rwazi has also won awards in the Southern Africa Start-up Awards and the MeltingPot Innovation Summit.
Although the future looks challenging for many start-ups, Rwazi founders are hopeful of thriving and being successful given the rise of many businesses who depend on live data as a competitive advantage.
I personally picked up some learning points from this interview session and I hope you will be inspired after reading what comes next.
OMT : What is the inspiration behind the name “Rwazi” and how was the dream birthed?
JR and ES: “Rwazi” means a “rock” in Luganda and Haya, a local dialect in Tanzania. Basically the Rwazi brand stands for the provision of data that is solid and reliable to help make more relevant and impactful decisions. Client’s data are live and accurate and not based on historic information.
According to a McKinsey report it is estimated that more than 100 million will be without jobs in Africa and this figure is expected to grow further in 30 years. Rwazi therefore started as a company by two friends who met whilst studying at the African Leadership University. They initially sought to promote entrepreneurship and gigs that will enable Africans to earn more than one income stream. In Tanzania for instance, it can take 3-5 years for a graduate to gain employment. It is our dream to make data easily accessible in Africa. We create job opportunities for Africans at the same whilst providing a solution to the data gap in Africa.
If someone says no, instead of accepting the no, ask why.
OMT: How does Rwazi work?
JR and ES: The Company gathers data picked up from people on the ground referred to as mappers. We currently have more than 1,000 registered mappers. All that is needed is internet access, smart phones and proximity to designated shops.
Rwazi uses machine learning techniques and geolocation to run the business. Once an order is made by a customer (orders are made at dashboard.rwazi.com or by emailing email@example.com) a notification is sent to registered and approved mappers who can opt to accept the submitted request.
Rwazi is unique because it does not simply look at trends but also considers consumer preferences. It utilises the target consumers to report the data directly and does not perform any extrapolations based on data gathered from a single location which can result in biased information.
The company started from focusing on FMCGs to working on specific projects for organisations. It can gather data on the lifestyle of people in Accra and it is currently involved in humanitarian work with the UN.
OMT: How do you ensure that data gathered is reliable?
JR and ES: Every designated shop or location is geographed and access to the app to input data is only allowed when the mapper is at the specific location. This is to ensure mappers do not sit at home and input wrong data.
Additionally about 3 mappers are assigned to the same project to enable the company compare the inputs. Once it is detected that an input was made up the mapper is immediately suspended.
OMT: Working together as 2 founders, how do you manage your differences to ensure that the objectives of Rwazi are achieved?
JR and ES: Joseph for instance is good with written speech and Eric is more of a talker. We therefore use each other’s strength to the benefit of the company. Eric therefore handles the physical meetings and Joseph attends to written correspondence with clients.
Eric, with his strength in sales plus his experience from working with a private equity firm puts him in a place to position the company to attract potential investors. Joseph has the technical expertise and is therefore focused on the coding and the technical aspect of the business.
OMT: Since 2018, how has the journey been? Challenges and opportunities?
JR and ES: To build a standard system that does data collection and analytics in real-time in Africa was quite tricky. We conducted pilots in Tanzania, Uganda, and Cameroon using different operating models. Among many tests was gauging the stability of mobile networks for accurate GPS tracking, payment systems, mobile phone devices used, and mapper (data collectors) profiles. The entire ordeal took more than a year and the result was a very robust system.
The company has also grown from promoting entrepreneurship to data analytics and finally to bridging the data gap in Africa.
There has been iterations to change the product from starting with wholesalers and retailers to finally settling on consumers. This has resulted in the creation of a more relevant product for use by organisations.
Part of the reason many retailers don’t like the POS systems and any digital equipment is to avoid paying taxes or additional charges that come with such equipment.
Manufacturers have sales persons monitoring retailers but due to self-interest might collude with retailers to overstate sales. It was therefore considered to use consumers as the best alternative with less bias. The ultimate aim of manufacturers is to target happy consumers so why not use the source directly?
Basically Rwazi is able to track products from table tops, small shops or kiosks, mini marts, malls and supermarkets with the exception of movable products that are quite difficult to track.
OMT: Rwazi is in 39 countries and I see Ghana has been highlighted on the map. Are you operating in Ghana?
JR and ES: We have mappers in Ghana. We also have a project which should have begun in March but has been delayed due to Covid-19. We hope to resume in August.
OMT: How can interested Ghanaians sign up to be mappers?
JR and ES: Interested persons can register on the company’s website. We use word of mouth and Facebook to educate people on the opportunities and roles of mappers.
OMT: From the article I read, does the input of angel investors and venture capitalists dictate the business model most of the time?
JR and ES: Certainly. There is the focus on more returns and profit. We have had to fine tune services to create bigger impact and more returns.
This was one of the reasons we also switched from focusing on retailers to consumers. The use of retailers added to scale and made it more expensive to run as we had to provide phones in addition to training costs among other related costs.
Overall it has had a positive impact on our business model.
On the negative end too, we have had to drop investors who were pushing us into areas we were not comfortable with.
OMT: Is Rwazi focused on only the consumer goods market or are there plans to expand into other markets?
JR and ES: The Company is currently working on a new feature whereby consumers can get information on the availability and pricing of products. Consumers can download and sign-up on the Rwazi application, and they can then access information on the number of products available in a particular store and the price. For example, a consumer can know how many Coca-Cola products are available in a Spa and the price thus saving time and money.
OMT: Are there instances where you manage data for two competitors? If so how do you assure them that information is handled under strict confidence?
JR and ES: We do not sell clients’ data.
When a client signs up, they have access to their own database and dashboard which would be managed by an account manager specially devoted to them. Staff without access rights cannot see all clients’ information.
In addition competitors request for services based on different needs. For instance coca cola is looking to optimize prices and its competitor might be looking at distribution. The data inputs are therefore different.
OMT: Will you be running any discount promotions for new subscribers?
JR and ES: Our current price is dependent on requested client metrics and the frequency of data tracking. Prices are however negotiable.
We are currently running a discount promo of 20% to 30% off our base price during this Covid period. This will run up to the end of December 2020.
OMT: Finally to add a personal touch, what do the founders do when they are not working? (hobbies, activities etc)
JR and ES: I love long distance biking and swimming at the pool or the ocean usually on Sundays. Joseph on the other hand loves to listen to music, and take walks. He also plays the guitar and sings.
OMT: Any advice for young entrepreneurs?
JR and ES: If someone says no, instead of accepting the no, ask why.
You get to learn why they want a particular product and generate expectations of what they will want.
It took us more than a year to develop what we have now. Also keep in mind that expectations are not always met.
Always have a plan B, you would need to work extra hours and when your product is stable you can decide to focus on it full-time.
It is good to always have feedback. You cannot know everything about your business, you only grow through listening.
The future of Rwazi would be to integrate AI into its services for those who need insights on sales and spending patterns. Especially for new businesses to be able to strategise using recent and accurate data.
Thanks once again for making time for this interview.
The OMT brand focuses on inspiration,family life, entrepreneurship, youth and women empowerment and changing the African narrative a blog post at a time. If you have a story or experience to share just reach out to me via firstname.lastname@example.org.
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