Zimbabwean startup Esaja, a marketplace where African businesses can connect, has raised funding in a round led by Hong Kong-based firm Swastika Company, which will be used to adapt the product based on market feedback.
Esaja, which launched in May 2013, essentially operates like a dating site for businesses to “check each other out” and discover business leads they might not previously have been aware of or had access to.
Disrupt Africa caught up with founder Clinton Mutambo late last year and heard about the strong growth Esaja had achieved, and it will now be making further changes after securing investment from Swastika, which has until now been focused on the Indian startup ecosystem.
The Hong Kong firm joins existing investors including South Africa-based CRE Venture Capital and local backers in Zimbabwe, with Mutambo telling Disrupt Africa the funding was a vote of confidence as Esaja moves forward.
“We’re tackling a big pain point and have spent tonnes of time and resources travelling, learning from, and working with thousands of businesses from across the continent,” he said.
“We’ve found ourselves crossing African borders, like Busia between Uganda and Kenya, grinding it out on factory floors and tackling industrial policies with officials. Suffice to say, we’ve paid a lot of school fees. All this has been achieved from a nation which in the recent past, was breaking all the wrong records. Zim’s been tough but it’s given us a very unique perspective of Africa’s development trajectory.”
Mutambo was last year named by Forbes magazine as one of Africa’s 30 most promising entrepreneurs under the age of 30, and came to the realisation of the need for a platform like Esaja from a personal business experience.
“I started my first formal business when I was 19,” he said. “One of our key projects was bidding to develop a mascot for Southern Africa’s biggest soccer tournament in 2009. After a lengthy and overtly bureaucratic process, we got the greenlight to develop Fabula the eagle. The search to identify a supplier in our part of the world was just too painful for words.”
Mutambo did finally find a supplier, with only two weeks to go until kickoff, but only through what he calls “sheer luck”. The idea for Esaja was born.
“The gap we saw was really out of scratching our own itch, it should be simpler for businesses to find out about opportunities around them,” Mutambo said.
Esaja’s revenue model is based on the value-added services it provides to its members, an example being real-time business intelligence.
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