Startup snapshot: Y Combinator-backed B2B marketplace wants to be the Alibaba of Africa

Niama El Bassunie

Morocco-based WaystoCap is an online B2B marketplace for businesses in Africa to buy and sell goods. CEO Niama El Bassunie answers our questions.

1. Give us your elevator pitch.

WaystoCap is creating a trust network for African businesses. The WaystoCap marketplace allows African businesses to buy and sell goods internationally in a trusting, verified, and secure environment.

Since 2015 we’ve been helping small and large businesses all over the continent trade in a 100% secure ecosystem. Technology allows us to verify, and allow trading in a fully automated way. For the first time small and midsize businesses all over Africa are able to trade in full security, and find competitive, trustworthy partners.

2. How did you finance your startup?

We bootstrapped the business for the first one and a half years, and were profitable. In early 2017 we raised a seed round from Y Combinator (YC), Battery Ventures, and a number of other great early-stage investors.

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

Keep doing what we are doing, but faster. We would likely hire across the board. We have a great development team, and an excellent commercial team too – but they could certainly use help to move faster. We are starting from scratch, so funds would be used to move faster and execute on what we are trying to do.

4. What risks does your business face?

Like every startup we face many risks: execution, recruiting, competition, etc. But rather than focus on risks we focus on a mitigation strategy: to build an uncrossable moat, against each of the inevitable risks that exist for us (and every startup). Particularly, when we consider the dynamic nature of technology and African startups. Certain risks we face as a startup in Africa are ones that other startups in Europe or the US do not face, including political risks too.

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

It has been a mixture of online and offline. No one element has proven to be a magic bullet.

We have seen good results from things we’ve done to capture users both online via platforms, and offline via local offices. We’ve found a mixture of both is necessary in our markets, so we can build trust and verify users.

6. Describe your most exciting entrepreneurial moment.

Helping our first clients to find their markets in Africa, and making sure their transactions went smoothly, were some of the most satisfying moments. Also pitching and meeting some of the greatest entrepreneurs and investors in tech at YC’s demo day was a highlight.

Previously I also lived in Conakry for seven months before starting WaystoCap. It was one of the most eye-opening and life-changing events in my life.

7. Tell us about your biggest mistake, and what have you’ve learnt from it?

We are tackling a huge opportunity in B2B trade in Africa. Our early plans were wildly ambitious in terms of timeline; we’ve now tempered those somewhat to make sure we build solid foundations as the company grows.

I would not call it a mistake, but simply a miscalculation: the startup ecosystem in Morocco is still nascent, so fundraising there will always be a process of discovery. We decided after initial conversations to focus our efforts in the US, before returning to Morocco.