I spent two weeks in Tanzania 🇹🇿 Here is what I learned
Tanzania's startups to watch 👀
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Hey there! Welcome to this edition of Tech Safari.
On Wednesday last week, I hopped on a plane to Tanzania to check out its tech scene.
It was epic. I met dozens of impressive startups. I got back last night feeling very excited about the country.
Some context - Tanzania’s startup ecosystem is small but strong.
Last year, Tanzanian startups raised $80.5 million in funding. That’s a fraction of Kenya’s $1.1 billion raised last year.
But there is a lot of opportunity in Tanzania.
Tanzania’s economy is one that rivals Kenya’s (at 85.4 billion compared to Kenya’s 118 billion).
It’s a stable, growing economy, which has seen startups like Wasoko make their move into the country and keeps startups like Ramani focused on building in Tanzania.
The only problem? Tanzanian startups don’t get enough credit.
So today, I’m going to recount my trip to Tanzania and explore the country’s most exciting startups.
Let’s dive in.
You probably haven't heard of Ramani, but they’re Tanzania’s biggest startup.
The three co-founders are originally from Tanzania/Kenya but moved to the United States for university.
While living abroad, they stacked up their technical talent, working at Google, Waymo, Salesforce, and Capgemini between them.
They figured that there was more impact and meaning in building something in Tanzania, so they came back and started looking for a problem to solve.
And they landed on supply chains.
Like most African markets, retail in Tanzania is fragmented.
Distributors, logistics, financing, and customers are scattered and not very well connected. At the center of this are Micro Distributor Centers.
These merchants buy in bulk from Coca-Cola or Unilever and resell to smaller merchants.
The guys at Ramani started by giving MDCs (Micro Distributor Centers) technology tools to track the inventory, sales, and operations of their goods.
But along the way, they found a bigger problem: financing.
The small to medium business lending gap is huge, and banks don’t know how to finance it.
And with goods moving quickly on low margins, they have to be very efficient on capital and are tight on cash.
Through Ramani’s inventory management tech, they can lend to these companies and help them grow faster.
And they have hit their stride.
Last year they raised a mega $32 million Series A debt-equity round to lend to resellers, making history as Tanzania’s biggest round to date.
The guys at Ramani are impressive, hard-working, and humble.
And their culture is solid. Some of their team members have left their hometowns to live in Tanzania and work at Ramani.
After mildly roasting Ramani’s social presence, I asked Kibet why I hadn’t heard of them until this year.
He explained that the team was more focused on building than on publicity. And as Iain puts it ‘we're just a bunch of engineers and finance guys.’ 😂
I figured this was a good chance to give them a well-deserved plug 🔌
I didn’t know much about Beem when I arrived at their offices, but I left very impressed.
Beem is an enterprise communication platform. You know those messages you get from brands you engage with? Beem powers those and gets them to your phone.
But Taha started Beem way back in 2011.
He grew up in Tanzania but went to college in the US. While in college, he built a text message bot with his friends that notified classmates whenever there was free pizza on campus.
When he came back to Tanzania, he noticed a big problem. Phone penetration was growing, but sending messages to phones at scale was expensive, complex, and unreliable.
So he built a platform that brings SMS, USSD Airtime, and Chat messaging together across Africa.
And today they have hit some impressive milestones, like:
Growing to 40 team members
Working with 10,000 businesses
Active in 25 African markets
Sending a total of 1.5 billion messages
Official partner of Twilio to send messages in Africa
The best part? Taha has bootstrapped the company since 2011. Not all startups have to raise money to be great 🤷🏾
Victor started TemboPlus in 2019. The first iteration was a digital bank that worked with Mobile Money.
As he built out different banking features, Victor realised he was in a unique position to power fintech rather than building one himself.
If you caught last week’s update, you’ll recall that Banking as a Service lets companies launch fintech features in record time.
Tembo is building an exciting solution and I’m a proud investor. If you are looking to launch fintech features in Tanzania or East Africa, these are your guys.
Dar Es Salaam Tech Mixer
In true Tech Safari fashion, no country visit is complete without an ecosystem mixer.
It was an awesome time.
I got to meet a couple of interesting startups like:
Medikea: A startup running medical consultations, prescriptions, and treatment digitally.
Friday morning I hopped on a ferry to Zanzibar to sip a few cocktails by the beach and explore the island.
And while there, we bumped into a familiar face.
Daniel Yu happened to be around for the week learning to kite surf, and we hung out through the week.
Daniel is the CEO of Wasoko, a B2B commerce company digitising informal retail.
He started Wasoko in 2016 and built it into one of Africa’s most valuable companies, raising $125 million at a $625 million valuation last year.
And last year, Daniel moved his Tech HQ over to Zanzibar after living in Nairobi for six years. He also became a Tanzanian resident.
What I found most interesting was why Daniel chose Tanzania (and more specifically, Zanzibar) to settle down
Surprise: It’s not just the great beaches and the kite surfing.
It was Tanzania’s economic outlook and stability.
Tanzania is Africa’s 7th largest economy, with a stable and growing GDP.
That was echoed by other growth-stage startups like Ramani.
Ramani is yet to launch into Kenya (where I thought would be a natural next market).
When I asked why, Iain told me to Google the Tanzanian Shilling’s performance next to Africa’s major markets. So I did:
Light Blue: Euro
Blue: Tanzanian Shilling
Purple: South African Rand
Yellow: Kenyan Shilling
Orange: Nigerian Naira
In the long term, these scaleups are bullish on Tanzania’s growth and stability.
And there’s an even more exciting development for Daniel in Zanzibar.
Daniel explained Zanzibar’s unique position as an autonomous zone of Tanzania.
The island has its own parliament and has flexibility when creating new regulations.
Daniel sees an opportunity to ship policy innovation that favours global startups and helps them scale effectively.
We’ve already seen headway on tax breaks for startups. Daniel envisions much more - like a movement towards migration for global tech talent.
Policy innovation can start in Zanzibar quickly. And if it works, it can extend to Tanzania and potentially be replicated across the continent.
This was an eye-opener for me.
To me, tech seemed like a solution to poor policy and governance. Startups solving hard problems can lead to better outcomes in Africa where good government falls short.
But good policy can be an enabler for tech.
Rwanda is a strong example of this, reducing the business setup time to 6 hours and encouraging foreign investment (like through Norrsken) in the country.
While Silicon Zanzibar has been mostly Wasoko’s tech HQ on the island, it sounds like there is a lot more to come.
This week I landed back in Nairobi feeling excited about where Tanzania is going.
I think I’ll be back soon 👀
What do you think of the country’s startup ecosystem? Did you learn something new? Let me know here.
And that's a wrap for this week!
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