Two years ago, Issac Hunja partnered with four investors to launch an online marketplace for Kenyan businesses.
Sky.Garden, an application that connects sellers to buyers, attracted 100 dealers of electronics, toys, bags, shoes among other items. The platform has grown rapidly signing up 8,000 merchants and enabling 50,000 people to buy goods through their smartphones.
“e-commerce in Kenya caters to the top-tiers of the economic pyramid, leaving little room for individuals and businesses in the lower segments to reap the benefits of online transactions,” says Mr Hunja, who is the chief marketing officer.
He says this segment depended on walk-in customers and for the few who tried to venture online, the reach was small or in the unregulated online shopping, the sellers found it hard to prove themselves and their products as legitimate.
Sellers on the www.sky.garden platform register for free to place their products. The app automatically adds a fee calculated as percentage of the price of the good. This allows the sellers to retain their margin.
Mr Hunja, 28, who preferred not to reveal the shareholding of the firm, says among his partners are Martin Majlund and Christian Grubak from Denmark, and two Kenyans Daniel Maison and James Mwai.
When the app was launched two years ago, it would take a new seller up to three months to get their first sale but today it takes a week, says Mr Hunja.
However just like most e-commerce platforms, delivery of goods remains a challenge even as the team targets to drop off purchases within five hours in Nairobi.
“Every delivery is different and it has taken our teams a lot of trial and error to find an optimal solution,” he says, adding that they are planning to expand to Kampala, Dodoma, Kigali and Lagos.
So what are the prospects for Sky-Garden or indeed other similar innovations to be the next Jumia or eBay?
“Yes, we have the talent, ambition, and expertise, but it’s all nothing if it isn’t backed up by self-belief that we have what it takes to launch Africa’s next unicorn,” Mr Hunja says.
The information systems technology graduate says another setback is lack of local funding.
“We need local angels and venture capitalists to invest in early-stage African start-ups. A lot of great ideas are being suffocated by scarcity of local resources,” he notes.
Last January, the firm raised Sh121 million ($1.2 million) in a fundraising led by Jesper Drescher, TRK Group based in Norway, The Katapult Accelerator Follow-up Fund, and a syndicate of Danish Business Angels led by Futuristic.vc.
“Sure, there’s a lot of foreign investment coming into the country now, however, most of it goes to established start-ups,” he says.