SleepOut, Africa and the Middle East’s largest accommodation marketplace founded in 2012 in Lamu, Kenya is shifting its headquarters from Nairobi to Mauritius to grow into a world-class accommodation marketplace for the entire globe and not just for Africa and the Middle East.
TechMoran received word late last year about the firm’s planned move to Mauritius and has been following developments since.
In an interview with TechMoran today, SleepOut CEO Canada-born Johann Jenson said, “We started SleepOut on a small island (Lamu) so we thought we should get back to our roots. But actually on a more serious note Mauritius offers an excellent business environment for tech companies and the government has thus far been very supportive.”
With just 1.3 million inhabitants compared to Kenya’s 40+ million inhabitants, the island nation has the highest GDP per capita in Africa and boasts excellent skilled labour with trilingual customer support i.e English, French and Portuguese. It also has a good pool of both domestic and imported technical talent and what fascinates Jenson so much is that 40% of visitors to Mauritius stay in vacation rentals so SleepOut is finally home. And the Mauritius Investment Board welcomes the move.
“Our plan is to run our management, software and customer support teams out of Mauritius while keeping ground operations where we deem it important for growing communities of hosts and travellers. Kenya will obviously remain the most important hub for our activities in East Africa,” Jenson told TechMoran.
The expatriate turned entrepreneur says the tech scene in Mauritius is like Kenya 5 years back. In the days before 88mph, iHub, Nailab, GrowthHub, iLabAfrica, and the University of Nairobi’s CD4DLabs and all the hype surrounding the Silicon Savannah. Jenson says that because Mauritius has a very small local market, the country focuses a lot on providing banking and outsourcing services to European, Asian and African clients.
“There is a single accelerator on the island which launched 8 months ago at the recently built CyberCity. The project received substantial help from the government through the very active Mauritius Board of Investment. There has always been a certain level of tech investment on the island but more focused on the BPO and old school multi-nationals. It’s refreshing though to see a growing community of tech entrepreneurs,” Jenson says.
Apart from the tech investments through the investment, the entrepreneur says there are also some good government incentives and some of the world’s nicest beaches and mountains, which make it a pretty desirable climate for investment and business. “There are a lot of opportunities here but more importantly it’s an excellent base for any tech company looking to run Africa-focused tech products that require minimal or largely distributed ground operations,” he concludes.
Jenson’s move to Mauritius is not a surprise. To compete global accommodation giants like Airbnb, SleepOut needs a stable business environment. Many businesses are contemplating such moves due to the rising cost of living in Kenya. Recently, a cross-section of Kenyans celebrated that Nairobi beat Lagos to become the most expensive city in Africa, even as local business close shop or sell out to multinationals. Doing business in Kenya is simply becoming harder, especially for the young and upcoming entrepreneurs, the country is ridden with corruption, high taxes and bureaucracy-a turn-off to startups.