Releaf is a new B2B marketplace that aims to help African businesses network and find partners they can trust.
According to news from TechCrunch, the startup, which is currently taking part in Y Combinator, has signed up about 1,000 African businesses since its public launch in Nigeria on August 3.
Releaf’s founders — Chief Executive Isaiah Udotong, Chief Operating Officer Ikenna Nzewi and Chief Technical Officer Uzoma Ayogu — knew they needed to address cultural differences when building their platform. Since fraud is rampant in the area, many Nigerian businesses rely on word-of-mouth referrals and one-on-one networking before hiring potential vendors.
“We polled how many transactions people need in order to build trust, and people are still pretty timid about who they trust,” says Udotong. “That’s why we’re so excited to have transaction histories and to be able to show that these people have done business with this person and this person and this person, and that these are verified companies and not just random people.”
The company’s team verifies all potential users of the site themselves. Businesses provide their registration number from Nigeria’s Corporate Affairs Commission, as well as references that the staff calls to ensure they are legitimate. Then Releaf boosts African businesses that have made successful transactions through the site by making them more visible.
The company is focusing on Nigeria, but will look at other markets once it raises its Series A. Its main priority right now is agriculture because it constitutes about a quarter of Nigeria’s gross domestic product.
“The leading motivation for our company is to do something tangible that can create value for the continent long-term, and the quickest way to do that is to work in the private sector. We saw an article that said agriculture is 11 times more likely than other industries to alleviate poverty,” says Nzewi.
Releaf is also addressing a major barrier to growth in Nigeria: backwards and forward integration. So, if a company wants to develop a new product or get more of an ingredient, for example, they might need to start a farm, and if that farm needs power, they might also need to open a power plant.
“For a company to become successful in Africa, they need to have the power to go up and down in a supply chain. We want to link up companies and put them in conversation with one another so they can grow and focus on areas that they have expertise in,” says Nzewi. “If we can link up actors who know what to do, we can really enable value chains in Nigeria to grow.”
With that in mind, the B2B marketplace wants its business networking to mimic the interactions on WhatsApp but enable them to go more smoothly by displaying who each business has already worked with, as well as key information, like pricing, that might otherwise take several days to address.