The CEO and co-Founder, Gebeya Online Market Place, Mr. Amadou Daffe, speaks on how African startups can attract funding from local investors and the need to scale online business offerings through automated processes, among other issues. Emma Okonji presents the excerpts:
Gebeya recently launched its revamped online marketplace for freelance professional talent. What informed the launch and what does it seek to address?
The high percentage of unemployment on the African continent is cited often at 30 per cent or more in populous countries like Nigeria and South Africa. But Africa has both an abundance of talented professionals and work opportunities. We know this from our own market research. We recognise that Africa does not have a talent shortage, but rather a matching problem. Thus, we launched a fully automated process that immediately connects those looking to hire with the talent they need. We address the trust and accountability risk by doing the candidate vetting ourselves.
Gebeya raised a $2 million seed investment in February 2020, co-led by Partech and Orange Ventures. How has the seed investment helped in improving the service offerings of the company?
Since our investment last year, we have built the two key components to make automation possible: the Gebeya Talent mobile app, and the client web app, at app.gebeya.com. Our marketplace model has been greatly enhanced by implementing an intelligent algorithm that automates what were previously manual processes that involved spreadsheets, lengthy email chains, and calls. We’ve now been able to scale our service offerings globally and fast-track communication, matching, and project implementation.
Raising seed funds from local investors across Africa appears a herculean task for small businesses and start-ups. How can this challenge be addressed?
If fundraising were easy, everyone would do it. I recommend two avenues for start-upfounders in Africa: join accelerator programmes and build their networks early. Do not wait until reaching the stage where you are ready to raise money to begin making connections. Investors invest in your idea as much as your reputation. Plug into start-up communities like VC4A and AfricArena. Y Combinator is not the only reputable accelerator and investment avenue, thus adding more and more African companies with each batch, by the way. There’s also Startupbootcamp AfriTech, Google for Startups Accelerator Africa, and others.
As a Pan-African freelance talent marketplace company headquartered in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, with remote teams in Kenya, Senegal, North America, and the UK; what are your plans to expand your remote teams to Nigeria and other African countries?
In the first half of 2021 alone, we have already added senior team members in North Africa. Our talent pool applicants now represent more than half the countries on the continent. We long ago recognized Nigeria’s enormous potential with one of our investors there, Consonance Investment Managers. And with its recent explosion of unicorns, we are steadily growing our talent pool in Nigeria to accelerate the matching process.
How secure is the online marketplace, given the rise in cyberattacks across the globethat have shutdown many businesses?
Cybersecurity has been of utmost importance to us from day one. In 2020, the world saw governments and global multinationals get hacked. Start-ups and small businesses are that much more vulnerable, thus we have cybersecurity talents in our pool to service customers’ needs. On our own marketplace platform, we are cloud native; we developed the platform according to industry standards, have implemented data protection measures, and leveraged the best talent in Africa to help us build and reinforce all of the above. We also educate our staff and talent on how to protect themselves.
Ubiquitous broadband access is key to the growth of online marketplace. What are your thoughts about the perceived high cost of broadband internet connectivity in Africa?
Internet connectivity access and cost certainly are challenges for both companies and freelancers. As a business, we have gotten creative about addressing this very real issue through creative solutions such as partnering with co-working spaces out of which our talents can work, and offering data packages to those who were enrolled in our training programmes in Ethiopia last year.
Start-ups are key to economic growth of any nation, but lack the initial support for growth. How will Gebeya market place support the growth of up-comping start-ups in Nigeria and other African countries?
One of the biggest challenges for start-ups looking to grow is finding the right people at the right cost. One mistake we see entrepreneurs making again and again is preferring full-time hires over contractors or freelancers. We understand that there’s a trust issue—a fear that freelancers won’t be loyal or reliable. Our promise is that we have mitigated that risk by vetting the freelancers ourselves. How does this benefit start-ups? They can save an average of 30% with freelance talent over hiring full-time staff. And, they have full control over the contract duration and terms of deliverables. They will not be weighed down by the ongoing and possibly unnecessary cost of a permanent hire, whose additional costs might include health benefits, equipment, training, etc.
African participation in the total addressable freelancer economy industry is at its lowest ebb, compared to the huge participation of other continents like North America. How can African participation be improved?
Africa has an opportunity to claim a much greater percentage of a growing freelancer economy, both on the continent and abroad. Two key challenges to overcome include payments and data.
In markets like the US, 95 per cent of households have bank accounts, and 79 per cent have at least one credit or charge card. This makes conducting business transactions easy and secure, with minimal fees. In contrast, in a country like Ethiopia, only 33 per cent of adults are estimated to be banked. Add to that, fluctuating currencies.
Innovative start-ups are easing both in-country and cross-border payments with mobile money and fintech solutions. But it’s not an impossible hurdle. In fact, we have a client based in Nigeria who has been leveraging talents based in Ethiopia; we manage the payment between the two, as part of our service offering. Because we operate across the continent, we also have collected key data insights that benefit both sides of our marketplace. Freelancers struggle to know what to charge, and start-upsneed guidance on how to budget accordingly, based on the skills and experience level they seek. We provide guidance on both, benchmarked against market research and our own first-hand data.
Experts are of the view that freelancers will constitute 80 per cent of the global workforce by 2030. How will Gebeya unlock the power of the skilled workforce on the African continent to be part of the projected workforce by 2030?
Raw talent is abundant on the continent. A report from Google and IFC last year found that there are 700,000 software developers in Africa. Software developers are just one of many types of talent in our marketplace. Our plan to tap into that talent includes onboarding freelancers at a variety of experience levels, and enabling them to upskill through internationally recognized certifications and experience, and make them more globally competitive.
Emerging technologies are fast driving global digital transformation. How are you leveraging emerging technologies to drive digital transformation on the African continent?
We are implementing technology like our matching algorithm to accelerate the speed at which companies can connect with the right talent. Several start-ups have approached us requesting that we fully handle the process of vetting their candidates, which is a service we are considering adding in the near future. We also plan to leverage AI interview tools to speed up the talent-screening process. These technologies have endless, scalable applications, such as helping companies select vendors.
What are some of the key features of Gebeya and how would these features spur digital growth among African youths?
African youth who join the marketplace through the Gebeya Talent app can benefit from features such as being part of a Pan-African community of freelance talents with whom they can network and learn from; gaining exposure to global work opportunities; and upskilling on new technologies.
How would you describe technology adoption in Africa and how has it helped the growth of online business since the spread of COVID-19?
Virtual meetings and innovations in fintech, healthtech, and logistics and delivery all emerged out of necessity. All of the above have accelerated contracting and decision-making processes, made transportation of goods and people more efficient and adaptable, and communities more resilient and informed about their well-being. There’s no turning back.