Africa is getting its own version of Amazon. Or at least, Nairobi, Kenya, is, with potential to one day see this marketplace representing all major cities across Africa.
The software-as-a-service (SaaS) eCommerce platform is called Sky.Garden, and merchants use its virtual shelves to peddle everything from mobile phones and electronics to fashion, from household items and décor to art, and even safety equipment.
It costs merchants nothing to join or remain on Sky.Garden; all they provide is their shop name, MPesa phone number and a few personal and business details (such as operating hours).
Previously, African merchants had the opportunity to sell their wares on platforms such as OLX and Jumia or by leveraging social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram. Sky.Garden isn’t looking to replace those methods, said Isaac Hunja, the company’s marketing director. Rather, Sky.Garden hopes its merchants will use those social media channels to share the links to their unique web shop pages to easily convert advertising to cash.
What the Sky.Garden platform does differently is allow sellers to manage online inventory just as they would in a brick-and-mortar setting. Using the mobile app, they can upload as much inventory as they want, indicate how many of each item is in stock, adjust prices, change photos and introduce product variations from within the Sky.Garden mobile app.
The app also facilitates instant payments via the mobile money service provider MPesa as well as same-day deliveries within Nairobi, where it operates exclusively (for now).
The Place Of eCommerce in Africa
That’s not exactly what people picture when they think of “Africa.” Yet despite outsiders’ classification of its countries as “developing,” this massive swath of the world does indeed have eCommerce needs.
Hunja explained that eCommerce in Kenya currently caters only to those at the top of the economic pyramid. Individuals and businesses in the less-wealthy segments of the economy have little opportunity to reap the benefits of online commerce.
Outside of the formal marketplaces, businesses lack a sophisticated eCommerce platform to help expand their geographic reach, and the cost and headache of offering delivery often drives business owners to simply rely on commerce from walk-in customers. Others don’t even have a brick-and-mortar store and must invest their time transporting goods from Point A to Point B.
Beyond the physical challenges, a plethora of fraudulent merchants and wares on those platforms make it nearly impossible to establish oneself as legitimate. Sky.Garden attempts to answer all of these issues.
The Sky.Garden Story
Sky.Garden was founded in Denmark in 2015 by Martin Majlund, then head of global marketing technology at Carlsberg Breweries, and Christian Grubak, creator of an eCommerce software company (of which he is still a partner).
The founders were colleagues first, then friends, then visionaries, believing that purpose-driven business were always strongest. They spent several months traveling and researching before raising their first capital from friends and family in early 2016. They soon moved to Nairobi and tested a prototype.
Sky.Garden entered beta testing in December 2016 and went live to the public four months later. Today, it hosts 1,000 merchants and counting. It’s eyeing East African countries as its next area of expansion, with Ghana and Nigeria to follow.
Whether Sky.Garden can grow as eCommerce giant Amazon has done across the rest of the world remains to be seen, as the platform is still quite young, but it’s certainly seen rapid growth in its early days – 400 percent month over month since it launched to the public in April, according to Disrupt Africa, and the company has now been selected as one of 12 startups to receive hands-on assistance and up to $100,000 USD as part of the Norway-based Katapult Accelerator impact-tech program.