Meet Optimetriks, the startup digitizing Africa’s informal distribution

Nairobi-based Optimetriks’ leverages a community of users, paid per visit, to perform retail census and audits, collect data on the ground and take pictures at outlets through Optimetriks’ native Android application and a Facebook Messenger chatbot. The data is then processed (screened and cleaned), photos are analyzed through an artificial intelligence solution, and the results are displayed to FMCG companies through live web business intelligence dashboards. The company was launched in 2015 and has since garnered 1,500 users. By 2017, the company had conducted over 250,000 visits to outlets and collected over one million data points. TechMoran spoke to Optimetriks about their progress so far and goals moving forward.

Tell us about yourselves; your team, your educational and professional backgrounds
Before Optimetriks, I worked 5 years in Africa, in the mobile telecommunications sector, more specifically on Mobile Financial Services. My first entrepreneurial experience was launching the Tigo Cash service, similar to M Pesa, in one of the countries at the bottom of the World Bank Doing Business index, Chad… Yet it turned out to have a great success and meet customer needs, including in very specific parts of the informal economy, like the cattle market for example. After spending 3 years and a half in Chad, setting up all the aspects of the business, I spent two years at Airtel Uganda, growing Airtel Money, where I oversaw its growth to 4 million active customers. Becoming an entrepreneur was, therefore, a natural evolution. From my first jobs in advisory fields, bank and consulting, to a business unit launch within a multinational, and then a fully independent start-up. Two things attracted me to this entrepreneurial project: the liberty that comes with it, which is especially important when you want to develop an innovative product, which corporate decision-making process can stifle, and the importance of Optimetriks mission: transforming African retail and improving retailer and consumer lives.
The team brings diverse skill sets as well as an educational and professional background. We operate from two offices, Paris and Nairobi, where we are connected to top innovation ecosystems, Station F and the iHub.

How would you best describe Optimetriks briefly, what does it do?
The company is three years old and develops a Sales Force Automation that helps digitize the distribution workflows and operations of consumer goods companies and distributors. Typical use cases are route managements: defining where the sales rep need to pass, checking on his visits and productivity, providing him with guidance and background information on the retailers he engages with, etc; outlet management, to identify, register and onboard new outlets, Retail Audit: checking on stock levels and merchandising displays; order/delivery management, etc..

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In short, it is needed essentially to give more transparency and visibility in the distribution, to know how the resources are employed for manufacturers. We help our clients implement a scientific distribution that is data-driven, where every action is logged in the system and can be tracked. Our clients access our platform either through the mobile app for the field users, or the web app, for office users who need to navigate in the reporting dashboards and configure the deployment.

What market gap did you spot that motivated you to start this company?
The starting point is that we, as the three founders, have had first-hand work experience of the data/distribution related challenges in Africa. At Airtel Uganda, I had to manage a network of 30,000 agents, be able to provide them with training and support, etc. The two others founders worked in the consulting sector, helping large companies or institutions make sense of a market potential or consumer behaviors for example.

From that observation post, we have been able to witness the key issues in Africa consumer goods distribution. First, the lack of reliable market information and the costs and limitation that exist when trying to collect and analyze data on a large scale. Second, the fact that there are information asymmetries and sometimes misaligned interests between the actors of the ecosystem: brands, distributor, sales rep, retailers, etc. Finally, that middlemen take unnecessary margin at the expense of retailers/consumers, and distort the value chain. Those challenges result in operational inefficiencies for the distributor actors and a high cost of sales. Retailers are also poorly satisfied with the irregular supply and the support from the manufacturers.

To put this in perspective. In Sub Saharan Africa, yearly consumer goods sales amount to 1,4 trillion$ and 90% of them go through the millions of small retailers. We conducted a proprietary census of all outlets in Nairobi and found 60,000 of them! Despite the emergence of the modern trade (malls) and of a middle class, these retailers, located at every corner, who have built social relationships with their customers, to the extent that most sell goods on credit to them, will remain a convenient option for basic consumer goods purchase, and an economic and employment backbone.

Who is your target market?
Our clients are consumer goods manufacturers or distributors that are looking for an efficient system to take their products to the market.
It can be both multinationals with well-known household brands or smaller scale manufacturers/distributors with a few sales van.
We also work with international institutions that can have specific field management needs.

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How does your company make money?
We make money through two revenue streams. On the product side, we sell the license to use our Sales Force Automation solution. It entails a fixed setup fee based on the customization that is required to incorporate the workflows into our solution. And then as in a typical Software as a Service, licenses per the number of users of our mobile and web apps.

On the services side, clients purchase an access to both our product and to temporary workforce, typically interviewers that will go on the field and collect the information, such as identifying outlets selling a particular product, or assessing distribution performance, such stock or merchandising présence. Other use cases for this workforce could be about managing an agent network, running customer education campaigns, etc

Who would you say is your major competition in this space at the moment? and why are you the better choice for prospective users?
Our first competitor is the reluctance of companies to embrace change..! For various reasons: budget constraint, low technology adoption capacity, refusal to bring on transparency, and comfort of habits, like using pen and paper for call cards.

Clients can also be tempted to develop things internally, leveraging their existing resources, to save on costs and leverage internal knowledge. Yet, there can be challenges in lack of focus and time to market.

Not to quote name, there are other IT companies that offer Sales Force Automation solutions, but we differentiate by delivering it in the form of an agile SaaS, which brings key benefits: the ability to deploy remotely, easy to customize, stability. Among the other differentiators we take pride in: emphasis on compelling Business Intelligence dashboards/ visualizations, localized customer service through WhatsApp and an offline and very light/ user-friendly mobile app.

What is your vision for the company in the next 5 years? What is your plan for expansion? Any new products coming soon?
Our ambition is to be the reference platform that connects directly and on a daily basis consumer goods brands with the millions of Africa retailers that distribute their products on several key dimensions.

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First, to share information, so that brands can get reliable and accurate data on stock levels and merchandise, and retailers, in turn, get up to date info on products, promotions, training, etc, and report issues, that can be dealt with quicker.

Second, for the retailers to be supplied with faster deliveries at the best prices thanks to more convenient ordering process, and the ability for retailers to compare distributors pricings and delivery timelines, essentially have choices, and avoid being out of stock.

Finally, once the “data pipes” are in place, we are planning to bring in the ecosystem financial lenders, such as Micro Finance Institutions, that could use these independent supply data as a basis for establishing a reliable credit and provide working capital funding to the retailers. If our first step is to bring operational efficiency to the consumer companies in the Operational Expenditure they support to take their products to the market, our long-term goal is really to be able to impact the retailers on a large scale. We know they face working capital constraint as they buy cash the goods, and themselves provide credit to their consumers, which leads to out of stock, a revenue loss and eventually an inability to grow their business outlook.

At the moment, how do you measure your own success? What are your metrics
For us, success is measured in terms of our ability to strengthen our relationship with clients on a long-term basis, meaning the length of the commitment of our SFA deployment, and the repeat business. From the usage angle, we monitor how frequently our app and dashboards are used and information submitted through them. We currently serve more than 25 companies or institutions across 16 countries in Africa. Our clients operate in various sectors, beauty products, lubricants, telecommunications, food, professional services, etc. Users of our system, be it through the mobile app or our web app, are in the range of 1,500.

What advice would you give to upcoming entrepreneurs?
The first advice is to talk to your target clients as much as possible to validate the market need for the product/service you build.
The second is that clearly investors in Africa startups are more cautious, and it is, therefore, better to be able to generate some revenue and show some company traction, even if it is through side services in the beginning.

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