Entrepreneur capitalises on a gap in Senegal’s logistics industry

A Paps delivery driver

A Paps delivery driver

Paps, a logistics and delivery company based in Senegal, was founded by entrepreneurs Bamba Lo and Rokhaya Sy. Jeanette Clark speaks to Bamba about identifying an opportunity in the market, building the company, and pivoting to a business-to-business model.

Bamba Lo, the youngest sibling of two older sisters, grew up in Senegal. After completing his higher education in marketing and management in France, and acquiring some work experience from brief roles at a handful of companies, Bamba co-founded a call centre business. While the offices were in Paris, the operation was grounded in Senegal.

But the company didn’t succeed, partly due to a lack of sufficient technology to support its operations. Afterwards, Bamba transitioned back to being a salaried employee for a time, taking on the role of head of sales at Elise Technologies. This company utilised artificial intelligence to predict the success of emerging recording artists. “The promise was: we can find the next Beyonce,” shares Bamba.

“That’s when I realised I am an entrepreneur through and through,” he says. “It was a great company with a wonderful pitch to clients, but I just didn’t have the same feeling I had when I had my own business.

During his time running the call centre, Bamba noticed a challenge: customers in Senegal were struggling to get to different agents and depots to collect parcels before the end of business hours. To solve this, the call centre began providing an additional service, using local drivers to get the parcels to their final destination. This experience led to the idea of starting a logistics company to handle last-mile delivery on a more permanent basis, and in 2016, Bamba, alongside co-founder Rokhaya Sy, established Paps.

Though the team was still situated in Paris, they hired developers in Senegal to create an Uber-like app that customers could use to request pick-up and delivery of goods. The app was launched a few months later and after another year, Bamba and a small team moved permanently to offices in Senegal.

Growing pains

The initial app left much to be desired, according to Bamba. “We were asking developers to build an app based on Uber, a service that they’ve never seen or experienced,” he explains.

Despite being aware that the initial app might receive poor reviews, the team decided to go ahead with the launch. They were eager to test the business model on the ground, and then use the feedback to improve.

“Customers were, as expected, struggling with the booking process on the app, but we had wonderful feedback on the experience with the actual Paps delivery person. We focused on that while improving our technology,” Bamba says.

The delivery experience has always been at the heart of the company’s vision – a fact even reflected in its name. ‘Paps’ is the nickname of their ideal driver persona, dubbed ‘Papi’ – a 24-year-old, gentle, well-educated, amiable and trustworthy individual who simplifies your life by delivering your purchased items right to your doorstep.

Bamba Lo, CEO and co-founder of Paps

Changing the approach with drivers

In early 2018, the company decided to purchase its own delivery vehicles and lease them to drivers. Prior to this, Paps had been using independent drivers for deliveries, which often involved navigating the challenge of incentivising them to prioritise its orders.

With this change, the drivers became clients of Paps, rather than contractors. “It changed everything,” says Bamba. “The quality of the service improved because the drivers realised that they could build a business for themselves as Papsers. We also established our Paps Academy where we provide training and support to these drivers, professionalising their service to the clients.”

The company invested time in defining the values a ‘Papser’ should embody, fostering a sense of pride in being part of the team. Today, it even hosts regular Papser events, such as boot camps or friendly football matches, to cultivate healthy competition and camaraderie.

Pivoting to B2B

In its initial years, the business experienced steady growth. By 2018, Paps’ roster of business-to-consumer (B2C) clients had steadily ascended to 2,000. However, the income generated from these B2C clients was on par with the revenue from merely three business-to-business (B2B) clients the company was servicing. From a financial standpoint, pivoting the company’s focus to B2B was a sensible move. “It was a hard, but obvious decision,” notes Bamba.

From an operational standpoint, shifting the focus to business clients also made the company’s life easier. B2C customers, requiring services like pharmacy purchases or food delivery, do not adhere to typical office hours. This meant the Paps team often found themselves working extended hours, from 8am to 11pm on most days.

The platform, app and technology that forms the backbone of the business have improved significantly from that first “terrible” app that Bamba jokes about. Today the company offers an end-to-end logistics service supported by this tech: importation, customs clearance, storage, dispatch and last-mile delivery.

“Clients can, flexibly, plug in and use what they need when they need it.” The company either integrates into a client’s existing business ecosystem via an API or provides a login to the Paps platform where clients can access a specific service on-demand.

Depending on the industry, some services are more in demand than others. Bamba clarifies that in the retail sector, for instance pharmacies and grocery stores, the company often sees regular usage of storage, dispatch, and delivery services.

Paps also offers a solution tailored for e-commerce businesses aspiring to expand into new markets. Small and medium enterprises can ship a pallet of their inventory to any country where Paps operates, and upon completion of a sale, arrange for deliveries directly through the platform.

Paps offers a range of logistics services, including importation, customs clearance, storage, dispatch and last-mile delivery.

Paps offers a range of logistics services, including importation, customs clearance, storage, dispatch and last-mile delivery.

In Senegal, Paps can now deliver nationwide, linking large cities with even the most remote areas. This is facilitated through a network of central warehouses and smaller relay centres located in various towns. Parcels are transitioned at these locations to local fleets. These third-party couriers, all trained by the Paps Academy, either lease from the company’s fleet of 600 vehicles or use their own.

The company also holds a partnership with UPS, which provides access to 220 export and import destinations from Dakar.

Paps has recently launched Discovery, a new product tailored for companies seeking to gather specific regional data or requiring mass distribution services. These tasks are facilitated through the Paps network of fleet operators. Delivery drivers can check on the platform if there are any tasks assigned to their respective locations. This might include collecting census data for government entities, delivering invoices to remote areas, or assisting with surveys companies seeking market insights.

Local solutions for local logistics challenges

While numerous logistics companies have encountered difficulties with last-mile delivery due to the absence of formal addresses across the African continent, Bamba perceives this as a non-issue for Paps. In his own words, “It is what we know.”

Paps has devised a system that accommodates landmarks and directions to serve as addresses on its platform. After a Paps driver completes a delivery, they can store useful information in the database, making subsequent deliveries easier for the next driver, even if the initial address was as basic as ‘Nadja’s house’.

Regional growth

In 2022, the company raised a $4.5 million pre-Series A funding round to expand its tech-enabled logistics solution into the broader West African French-speaking region. This funding was utilised to kickstart operations in Benin and Côte d’Ivoire.

The company has also established a modest operation in Guinea-Bissau, in collaboration with UPS. According to Bamba, Paps will not expand further for now, opting to focus on enhancing services in these regions. “Our operations in the new countries are still very young and we need to establish credibility first.”

Paps CEO Bamba Lo’s contact information

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