Africa’s ChatGPT for Education

The accidental startup with over a million users

Welcome to Tech Safari!

Your tour guide on African Tech 🧭

Today is Startup Saturday - where we dive into startup news in Africa - the world's most exciting continent.

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Before we dive in -

I'm pumped to announce our first event - Investing in African Tech 🚀

One of the biggest requests for last week's poll was ways to invest in African tech.

I've brought together three great founders who are democratising access to African Tech, and we will be exploring how you can get involved.

P.S. - This is the first Tech Safari event. I'll be announcing more over the next few weeks 🎪

Here's the tour plan for today 🧭

  • The story of Foondamate - Africa's ChatGPT for Education

  • Deal Roundup

  • Events and Opportunities

  • Tech Twitter

Alright, lets get this tour started!

Africa’s ChatGPT for Education

Meet Dacod and Tayo - founders of Foondamate.

Foondamate is the ChatGPT of education in Africa - before ChatGPT was out.

And last year they crossed one million users.

But they didn’t mean to become a startup.

When they started, Dacod wanted to fix a problem he experienced growing up - accessing study materials.

This is the wildly inspiring story of Foondamate. Strap in.

Four students to one textbook

Dacod grew up in a rural township in South Africa.

Townships are underdeveloped areas that were reserved for non-white people during the apartheid.

He recounts his family only getting electricity in 2003.

And it wasn't just hard living - schools were (and still are) under resourced.

In 2020, Amnesty found that 77% of South African schools had no library, and 72% had no internet.

At school, Dacod didn't have a maths or physics teacher for half of the year, and there weren’t enough textbooks to go around.

Four students would share one textbook - taking turns to take it home.

In grade 9, Dacod and his brother decided that instead of getting any clothes for the year they would save for a second-hand computer and play video games.

They scrapped together the funds to buy parts and constructed a janky second-hand computer.

Dacod didn’t know it then, but buying a computer would change the trajectory of his life.

In his final year of high school, Dacod’s class of 70 didn’t have access to textbooks.

But with his computer, he could download study materials online.

He would hold study groups - with five people huddling around one computer to study.

And in his final year, Dacod topped his high school and was the first student from his school to be accepted into the University of Cape Town (Africa’s top university).

After university, Dacod landed a life-changing job as a software engineer.

But his experiences growing up weren’t lost on him. He wanted to help students at his old high school access better education like he did.

His co-founder, Tao, had also been struggling get textbooks into underserved schools in South Africa

But that changed when WhatsApp opened its API to the public.

With great penetration comes great opportunity

In the West, we use WhatsApp next to Messenger, Twitter, Slack and Text.

But in emerging markets, WhatsApp is the messaging platform of choice.

With 487.5 million users in India and 118 million users in Brazil in 2021, it dominates internet communication.

And WhatsApp has the deepest penetration in Africa, for two reasons:

  1. It's simple. Unlike Messenger (with stickers, games and marketplaces embedded) WhatsApp is built for anyone - even with low-tech literacy - to start using.

  2. It's data-lite. WhatsApp takes up less data than other apps - which lets countries with slower internet use the app. It's also cheaper than buying airtime (call credit).

You could almost say it’s designed for Africa.

And with great user penetration comes great opportunity.

And Dacod and Tao realised students didn’t have textbooks - but they have WhatsApp.

So they started building Foondamate (which translates to ‘Study Mate’).

Building on WhatsApp, Foondamate would send you study resources based on your subjects.

If you need Grade 8 maths help, you would message Foondamate and it would shoot out pre-uploaded study material to you.

Over time, Tao and Dacod noticed students talking to Foondamate like a person.

Asking more and more direct questions - like ‘what’s mass?’ ‘what year did Nelson Mandela go to prison?’ and ‘how do I tell a girl I like her?’

That's when they realised that Foondamate could be a lot more - and trained a Large Language Model to respond to direct questions.

Now Foondamate can do this:

Foondamate started at Dacod’s old high school - but that quickly changed.

Growing Pains

That video dropped on August 2nd, 2020.

Dacod and Tao remember it precisely - off the video, 40,000 users started using Foondamate

Downloads grew across Africa - starting in South Africa. Then Nigeria, then Kenya.

And soon, users popped up in Indonesia, Columbia and India.

When they hit 150,000 users, it was still a two-person operation.

But as their user base grew, so did their hosting and tech costs. They needed money.

Foondamate almost became a non-profit. But Dacod and Tao realised they found something that founders dream of - product-market fit.

In March 2021 they joined the XX accelerator (run by WeFunder).

The next year they raised $2 million led by LocalGlobe and African VCs like First Check Africa, Future Africa and LoftyInc.

Speaking of product-market fit - Foondamate crossed the 1 million user mark last year with no money spent on acquisition.

Obsessing over problems

Dacod mentioned that in Africa, a lot of startups copy and paste models from the US.

They often don’t think about how users behave and what the biggest problems on the ground are.

LocalGlobe partner, Ziv Reichert commented that it takes empathy for users and a deep understanding of a problem to build a product like this.

That’s the beauty of Foondamate’s story.

Their magic comes from combining two technologies in the right way.

WhatsApp (the biggest messaging platform in Africa) and Artificial Intelligence (the democratisation of knowledge) - to make education accessible for everyone.

They didn't drop money on branding, design or PR.

They didn’t launch a new app. They just obsessed over a very hard problem.

And by solving that problem, Dacod and Tao have built a company that Africa and the rest of the world loves.

It’s another example of innovation starting in Africa - then expanding to the rest of the world. 

And we’re here for more of it.

What do you think of Foondamate’s story? Let me know here

Deal Roundup

Startup raises

This week was pretty quiet!

  • Yebo Fresh, a South African ecommerce startup that lets businesses purchase groceries, has raised a Pre-Series A from Enza Capital. Interestingly relevant - Yebo Fresh claims to be the only startup focused on businesses in South Africa’s township market.

  • Gokada, a Nigerian last-mile delivery company, is raising $750,000 at a $10m valuation via crowdfunding platform GetEquity. This is one to watch, as Gokada’s last funding round was a $5.3m Series A.

Events + Opportunities

  • Applications are open for the Future Africa Challenge 2023. The challenge explores the creative potential of young Africans on the continent and in the diaspora. Apply here.

  • Tech Safari is hosting a panel on Investing in Africa! Featuring Joe Kinvi (Co-Founder of HoaQ Club), Boum III Jr (CEO of Daba Finance) and Eric Jackson (Co-Founder of Hisa). Sign up here.

Startup Twitter

Our favourite tweets on African tech this week

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Catch you soon!

👋🏾 Caleb