Senegal’s Yobanté Express seeks to make parcel delivery more efficient

Oumar Basse

Yobanté Express is a Senegal-based online marketplace that connects commerce with local couriers for domestic, cross-border and last-mile delivery. The company was started in 2018. Co-founder Oumar Basse (28) answers our questions.

1. Give us your elevator pitch.

Yobanté specialises in the affordable, easy, efficient and reliable delivery of parcels for e-commerce operators, retailers, businesses and individuals in emerging markets. Yobanté does this by making use of independent and casual couriers. We deliver parcels at 40% cheaper, two-times faster and more efficiently than existing solutions.

To start the journey, a client requests a delivery in our app or can go directly to a nearby relay point. Once the independent agent packs the item into a Yobanté-branded parcel and attaches a shipping label with the unique online tracking code, then our machine learning algorithm determines an optimised route for the parcel all the way to its destination.

A motorbike rider, a passenger, a bus or truck driver will then bring the parcel to the next relay point. And this process iterates over and over until the very last-mile delivery. At that point, the recipient uses a unique four-digit PIN code to confirm the receipt of the parcel and that completes the journey.

Literally, anyone owning a vehicle, anyone travelling in the general direction of the parcel and anyone with a shop or physical location can now make money as part of the Yobanté Express network.

2. How did you finance your startup?

We started with our own money. I had a bit of capital I made from my first startup. My co-founder also contributed money he made from his football business, which is doing really well. At the moment, we are funding the business from the revenues we generate and from an angel investment we received. We have raised $500,000 as a seed round.

Yobanté Express delivery vehicles

3. If you were given $1 million to invest in your company now, where would it go?

We will use it for marketing and to establish additional kiosks. In addition, we will use the funds to support our growth in other countries. Currently, we operate in five other countries besides our home market of Senegal. We are in South Africa where we deliver within South Africa and to Harare (Zimbabwe) and Gaborone (Botswana). We are also piloting in Nigeria and Ghana. Our future pipeline includes Mali, Côte d’Ivoire and Kenya.

4. What risks does your business face?

In Africa, every city has its own reality and challenges. I will give you the example of language issues we faced in South Africa. During the first weeks of launching in Cape Town, we spent more than $1,000 on Facebook marketing campaigns. However, we discovered we were not using the correct language. We were targeting people in English, but found out the majority of our target market was not using English as their Facebook language. We lost a lot of money on that campaign.

Training the informal couriers we work with has also been a challenge. We need to provide them with a lot of training on how to operate our technology. In the beginning, we also struggled with incentivising our couriers but we solved that with our rating system.

A Yobanté Express’ relay point

5. So far, what has proven to be the most successful form of marketing?

One of our most successful initiatives has been to offer our services through WhatsApp. We have developed a WhatsApp bot, named Tima, that allows our clients to send their parcels directly via WhatsApp. They can also track their deliveries without having to go out of WhatsApp.

6. Tell us about your biggest mistake.

In the beginning we thought scaling up a business in emerging markets required a lot of money and resources. What we’ve learnt so far is that you actually only need solid tech and an understanding of each local market. You also need to know how to enrol local couriers, relevant local partners and how to sign up corporate clients.

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