How to provide a low-cost management solution to traders in the informal sector – predominant on the continent – while not limiting yourself to yet another mobile application? This is the question that Somtou has been trying to answer in Dakar for two years via a terminal that is easy to use and supposed to withstand the most difficult sales conditions.
“Where many believe that software and applications are sufficient to meet the needs, we believe that there is still a lot to do in the physical form and choice of materials of technological solutions”, says Ted Boulou, founder of the society.
With this in mind, the École Polytechnique graduate, who worked for Société Générale and IFC, the private investment arm of the World Bank, is doing everything to devote himself to this idea of a retail terminal better suited to Senegalese realities. And more widely on the continent so affinities.
Alongside Warren Nzeale, his partner, the company is testing several prototypes, both in terms of hardware (design, shape, material) and software (intuitive, functional), which can count on an initial fundraising of 100,000. euros to finance its start-up.
The final version of the console is made of wood and leather. It comes with on-board software, with a connected scale and a barcode reader included. All this allows the user to record their sales, manage customer slates, frequent in the Dakar markets, and ultimately facilitate the management of product stocks.
A device adapted to illiteracy
To make the console attractive to traders, two aspects were favored by the two entrepreneurs: a robust construction and an interface as accessible as possible, that is to say without text, adapted to the country, where the rate of illiteracy exceeds 50% according to Unesco (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization). “Our software works mainly on images and voice,” says Ted Boulou.
Somtou started production a few weeks ago on a first series of 100 consoles. To finance its construction, the company has implemented an original pre-purchase system: it is based on loans brought in by individuals which are then reimbursed by the hire-purchase of devices from traders. A form of collaborative financing among those which are in vogue on the continent. And it works: in December, the first 100 Somtou were pre-purchased in two days and raised 40,000 euros.
On the merchant side, 110 devices were ordered, mainly by women processors of agricultural and fishery products who will reimburse the terminals at the rate of 500 francs per day for two years (or 312,000 francs at the end of the reimbursement, six days per week).
“The question here is not a question of price but a question of being able to provide a simple solution to a real problem. The only question we were asked by women processors, for example, is whether they could finally know what the cost price of the products they produce is. Once we demonstrated it to them, they accepted the price without batting an eyelid, ”says the entrepreneur.
Another 500 aircraft are to be funded and built similarly in the coming weeks. Then 2,000 after a year, the income of which will mainly be used to pay off personal lenders.
Because Somtou’s real business model lies elsewhere, in the precious data that each device will record on informal, if not very opaque, activities. “For mass distribution, for banks and for many other sectors, this data is of great value as the informal sector weighs heavily in African economic activities. The turnover potential is much greater than the sole hire-purchase of the devices, ”analyzes Ted Boulou.
This will also fuel the growth of the company which now has 11 full-time employees (electronics engineers, developers, graphic designers, business developers and financiers) and which will soon move to Rufisque in the suburbs of Dakar.
It is moreover on this same vein of data that Weebi, a Dakar competitor of Somdou, has positioned itself, having also noted the scarcity of available data on purchasing habits in the Senegalese capital, especially on cosmetics or small food stores.