This feature is an outcome of infoDev, a multi-donor program administered by the World Bank Group, with a focus on entrepreneurs in developing economies. This piece was originally published on July 7, 2017.
While over 20% of Americans now shop for groceries online, in most of sub-Saharan Africa, the average household still buys essential goods in an open market. There, you’ll find hard-working, entrepreneurial traders who are often women, and whose micro-businesses endure a very risky, informal supply chain. In Mozambique, however — there’s an app for that!
moWoza provides digital services to small market traders, including an app to buy more inventory through their mobile phones, without ever leaving their stall. Creating digital markets at the bottom of the pyramid, however, requires more than simply building a platform. moWoza had to go the extra mile to provide digital and financial literacy training to its future customers, as well as create innovative solutions to ease the delivery process.
moWoza works with partners across the private, public, and donor communities, including AusAid, SIDA, Eduardo Mondlane University, Vodacom, and several banks.
In 2014, infoDev profiled moWoza’s founder, Suzana Moreira, and wanted to check back in to learn about the company’s progress. Building the business has been arduous, but the future seems promising for this small enterprise with a big market potential.
Can you tell us about moWoza’s progress since 2013?
In 2013, I came to Washington, D.C. for infoDev’s Mobile Startup Camp. At that time, I was focused on developing a platform to enable migrant workers to send products home to their families more easily. Since then, we’ve pivoted and now work with informal cross-border traders and marketplace traders. So, moWoza has become more of a business-to-business platform. We’ve had to take a step back, rethink our strategy, and develop different products. We’ve also had to train informal market traders in order to onboard them onto the platform. So, we run training programs focused on digital and financial literacy, as well as how to become a better entrepreneur.
During training, we take them through business concepts and show them how to formally set up a business. In the digital literacy component, we start talking about social media and also introduce them to our platform.
So, we’ve had to take the time and invest in teaching the trainers. This has been very costly and time-consuming, but at the same time, it’s brought us closer to our customers who have opened up to us about their operations, enabled us to gather more data, and helped us better understand their needs.
Through the training, our traders also begin to take a lot of pride in being entrepreneurs, and this has helped build a strong loyalty to moWoza and our products. We’ve trained 1,250 traders thus far, and on average, they share their knowledge with 21 people. So our impact has multiplied very quickly.
As a social enterprise, we also have an opportunity to amplify the voices of our customers, who operate micro-businesses at the bottom of the pyramid. We’ve partnered with government institutions in Mozambique, received very positive feedback, and I think we have an opportunity to influence policy. The Ministry of Trade and Commerce has come to discuss what else can be done to improve digital and financial literacy.
We also have Wazati, the shopping application. It is the platform that connects these micro-businesses to the supply chain. We sell all kinds of non-perishable food products, such as pasta, oil, sugar, tuna, rice, coffee, tea, water— all the kinds of grocery items that you might need to import.
How far have you progressed with Wazati? And what are the next steps?
It’s still a closed network with only 500 users. We haven’t yet fully opened it up. From our market research, there are over 7.8 million agricultural and market traders in the country. So, we’ve barely started, but we’re doing a lot of things to prepare. We’ve done proper demand analysis in each market, and how many markets across the country. We’re also developing a map of these marketplaces, and geo-tagging the market traders within the marketplaces.
What other solutions or opportunities have you discovered through customer engagement?
During the financial literacy training, we provided paper cash flow templates to help track their spending, manage their inventory, and make sure they reserve funds for buying more inventory. After the traders kept asking us to leave behind more and more copies of the paper templates, we started developing a USSD application where the traders can complete the template on their phones, and we will then store their information for them.
We’ve already been talking to banks and other financial service providers in Mozambique to see if they’ll accept these cash flow statements, and better understand what volume level of transaction history would meet their credit requirements. This will also help us better understand what is the demand for each of our products, and maybe what new products we need to offer.
How would you describe your revenue model?
Thus far, it has been a combination of transaction fees and grant financing. We’ve won grants to develop the platform and to conduct the training program. Then, on each order, we charge a small percentage fee. In addition, we’ve had one investor who provided seed capital.
What’s next for moWoza?
We’re a small team of only five staff, and we’ve hired 19 trainers/agents. So, we feel that we’re ready to scale up our investments to reach more markets — through more geo-tagging, more training, etc. — and then open up our platform to more users with more products and greater access to financing.