Tag: Suba

African startups expanding abroad must pick the right markets

umkani has developed an early warning system to reduce the damage and destruction caused by the spread of shack/slum fires in urban informal settlements. (Screenshot: lumkani.com)
Lumkani has developed an early warning system to reduce the damage and destruction caused by the spread of shack/slum fires in urban informal settlements. (Screenshot: lumkani.com)

Talk to African startups these days and all you hear is “expansion, expansion, expansion”. It comes in all shapes and sizes. A Cape Town-based company immediately plans to expand to Johannesburg. A Kenyan company always has Uganda and Tanzania on their hit list. And, in rarer cases, there are those African firms that are thinking of taking their product outside of the continent.

This talk of expansion has been louder in the last couple of weeks. Kenya’s M-Changa, which allows community fundraising via a mobile app, is set to launch operations in Tanzania. Ghanaian mobile event app Suba has its eyes set on Nigeria, as well as the more ambitious destinations of Miami and Rio de Janeiro. South African fire-detection startup Lumkani is looking to go nationwide, but also has global ambitions.

Suba is a kind of family photo album for mobile, allowing multiple people to contribute and save their favourites for safe-keeping. (Screenshot)
Suba is a kind of family photo album for mobile, allowing multiple people to contribute and save their favourites for safe-keeping. (Screenshot)

Startups generally expand because – apart from perhaps feeling it is something that everyone must do – they need to reach new, bigger markets. This is very often the case in Africa, as populations are generally small and the proportion of the population with adequate spending power to sustain a business even smaller. Yet seeking a bigger market does come with its difficulties.

Some companies can scale to other markets too early, when they lack the necessary resources to properly launch in a new destination. Launching anywhere for the first time is an expensive effort – it needs bodies on the ground, marketing, and technology to be built. You need enough capital.

But you also need an awareness of the market you are expanding into. Suba, for example, is a great idea, but does its team know for sure that it is an idea that will be welcome in, for example, Nigeria? What are the different market dynamics? What is the competition there? What cultural differentiators are there? Is there a political situation? Are there different legal frameworks? In some cases, even aspects as basic as language can be an issue.

Recruitment is a major factor should a startup decide it wants to launch in another country. You’ll need quality people on the ground that understand the local market, but does a CEO trust them to run the show entirely? If the CEO decides to temporarily relocated, who takes charge back home. If recruitment is essential during the very early stages of a startup’s life, it is just as important when it comes to overseas expansion.

In general, the easiest scenario is to pick a market that is much like your own. Kenya as a market is vastly different from Nigeria, but more similar to Uganda and Tanzania. The latter two, then, would seem to be more likely targets for expansion, as they undoubtedly offer a significant growth in market size as well as fewer pitfalls. East Africa, in fact, is undergoing an integration process currently that will make it easier for startups to expand within the region.

At the recent Connected East Africa event in Kenya, this economic integration to ease trade and regional expansion was top of the agenda. East African countries are expanding the One-Network-Area – which allows for lower roaming charges on calls and SMSs between Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan – to data and mobile money. Other non-tariff trade barriers look set to be removed, while transport links are being improved and the region is becoming more interconnected.

This integration offers companies in the region opportunities. A startup with a market limited to 45 million Kenyans can now more easily think about expanding their product availability to 49 million Tanzanians or 37.5 million Ugandans. The making and receiving of payments will also get easier, thanks to the expansion of the One-Network-Area and the gradual move towards mobile money interoperability. The improvement of transport links and internet connectivity will ease logistical issues.

This regional integration makes expansion – at least to neighbouring countries – a little easier for East African startups. The same is not necessarily true elsewhere. Expansion is a way of life for any startup that wishes to be successful. But the most important decision will be choosing where to do that.

Tom Jackson is a tech and business journalist and the co-founder of Disrupt Africa

9 great apps out of Africa in 2014

African app developers are getting more creative by the year, and a number of exciting apps emerged in 2014 across a variety of sectors. Major corporations are also increasingly developing their own applications, but the most innovative solutions continue to be produced by entrepreneurial developers. Here are nine of the most innovative African apps that launched this year.


Available on Android and iOS, Nigeria-developed location-based app Find-A-Med allows users to find the closest health and medical centres to them, and provides turn-by-turn directions to that centre. It also stores and tracks the basic health information of a user, and allows people to write reviews of centres they have visited. Users can also add health centres to the Find-A-Med database, which currently lists more than 5 000 medical facilities.

The app aims to makes all healthcare facilities – including dentists and pharmacies – across Nigeria accessible and searchable from a mobile, and recently won best app at the Mobile Web West Africa event in Lagos. Co-founder Emeka Onyenwe says the app is designed to help Nigerians pick and choose between the country’s many medical centres, which vary in quality.



Looking to make the Cape Town tourist circuit more personal, VoiceMap allows storytellers to plan, narrate and publish their audio walking routes, which can then be purchased and downloaded by users.

A smartphone’s GPS receiver tells stories on the move, automatically starting new tracks once a user enters a radius around a certain landmark. Upon purchase, all audio files, maps and GPS data are downloaded to the phone, meaning there is no need for a mobile data connection on the walk. The app seeks to provide more personal, localised audio content for tourists, while also allowing storytellers to make money out of their stories.



PesaCalc, released by Kenyan mobile app developers Mobile Matrix, is a free Android app that streamlines the use of mobile money services in the country, drawing contacts from both phonebook and SIM card. Compatible with all three of Kenya’s mobile money services, the app allows users to prepare exactly the right amount of cash to send including the fees, both to registered and unregistered users. Anytime there is a tariff change, users receive an automatic notification.



South African app WumDrop is Uber for deliveries, with a user able to request a courier, track them on a map and receive notifications of delivery, all for R7 per kilometre. The app is looking to improve the efficiency and transparency of the country’s deliveries market, and uses both professional drivers and students. Fees are split between the driver and the company. WumDrop is available via web, Android or iOS.

Safari Tales


Released in Kenya earlier this year, Safari Tales aims to solve the problem of book shortages in the country through mobile, making African children’s stories available through text, audio and visual elements. The app is interactive, and also includes stories in local languages.

The developers claim SafariTales is an education and entertainment mobile application made for Africa by Africans, aimed at children between the ages of two and nine. The company has partnered with professional storytelling organisation Zamaleo Act, experienced script writers, illustrators, animators, content developers, designers and software developers to offer a true African oral narrative experience.


South African cross-border trading app moWoza looks to simplify the way informal cross-border traders buy and sell products, allowing traders to source products through a network of suppliers through the app.

It also allows the streamlining of the supply chain through an SMS service, while users can also negotiate bulk discounts. A taxi distribution network delivers purchased consignments. moWoza celebrated two award wins recently, winning competitions hosted by BiD Network and the Southern Africa Trust.



Egyptian app Mapture is a free photo and video verification tool which aims to prevent the proliferation of misinformation and falsified images online. The app tags the location of photos through it from the phone’s GPS, making time and location of the content unalterable and verifying the source and authenticity of photos and videos. The information is then watermarked on the content, ensuring the veracity of the photo or video.


Kenyan app FarmDrive aims to provide farmers with new financing options by connecting them with investors interested in funding local producers. Aimed at enhancing value addition, the app looks to improve the business practices of smallholder farmers and improve their bids for financing. The app requires farmers to form groups of five in order to collectively provide “security” for investments made into their farming unit, with each member of the team registered via their mobile phone number.



Ghanaian app Suba is a location-based, group photo album app, that allows for the creation of a group photo stream in which people can add pictures and invite others to do so. The app is a kind of family photo album for mobile, allowing multiple people to contribute and save their favourites for safe-keeping. It is available on Android and iOS.

Tom Jackson is a tech and business journalist and the co-founder of Disrupt Africa