Kountable Wins Runner-up for Doing Business in Africa Award

Utrecht, Netherlands – Of the four companies nominated for NABC’s 2018 Doing Business in Africa Award, Kountable has won Runner-up. It’s the first time the global trade network has been nominated for the prestigious award, which NABC’s members give annually at their African Ambassadors’ Dinner. This year, 25 countries were represented at the ceremony.

“The Doing Business in Africa Award is primarily meant to recognize our members who do business in Africa successfully and with impact,” said NABC representative, Arne Doornebal. “We selected [these companies] based on criteria like profitability, inclusiveness, job creation and in general conduct of business.”

Delft Imaging Systems, which provides diagnostic imaging devices that diagnose TB, won first place this year. Kountable took second place, based on its achievements in developing middle-class economies through entrepreneurship and its technology-based trade platform.

Thijs Boekhoff, who oversees Business Development at Kountable and accepted the award, detailed the company’s scope: “Most global suppliers haven’t created solutions to access the African marketplace. Kountable’s platform increases access and helps to grow revenue in the biggest African markets by lowering the barriers of African trade with funding, technology and management.

“We support African entrepreneurs to access global markets, and on the buyer side we support payers with transparency in their supply chain, guaranteed in every step and at every level.”

Boekhoff described the nomination for the Doing Business in Africa Award as a jumpstart to communicate the company’s presence in the E.U.

“With more than 6,000 suppliers in NABC and the African countries’ embassy network,” said Boekhoff, “Kountable was able to position itself as a new and innovative solution to one of Africa’s biggest problems to date: access.”

Kountable, along with Delft Imaging Systems and JobnetAfrica, the third-place winner, had the opportunity to present their business model and impact to the attendees of the event.

Boekhoff said, “It was fantastic to get the opportunity to speak about Kountable to so many African Ambassadors at the same. NABC did a fantastic job getting this great crowd and turnout.”

When asked what can be expected of Kountable since winning Runner-up for the award, Boekhoff said, “We help to build, develop, nurture and grow African middle class economies in a sustainable way through entrepreneurship and technology. We will continue to do that. More rapidly and at a bigger scale.”

Read more about the Doing Business in Africa Award nominations.

How Kountable Is Becoming the Trade Network of Kenya

By Michelle Boise, Kountable

 

A new technology-based trade platform, Kountable, is celebrating more than a year of success in Kenya, its second market place after Rwanda. The company has made a unique business of facilitating trade deals between SMEs, global suppliers and pay masters such as government agencies, NGOs or multi-national corporations.

Since the company has opened its doors, it has funded nearly 200 projects valued at $54 million and $23 million has gone to local SMEs in gross revenue.

“I think 2017 and 2018 were certainly proof of concept years,” says Kountable CEO Chris Hale. “It takes a while for people to understand what we do and why we do it the way we do it. We are not a lender; we’re not really a finance company at all.”

Instead of lending SME suppliers funds to procure goods, Kountable sources and purchases the goods for them, guaranteeing quality and insured product as well as help with trade logistics to get the goods to the paying end customer. They even manage currency risk.

“One of the things that a lot of our customers don’t think about is currency,” Hale explains, “when you’re doing a project that’s going to take six months, you can see currency decay, maybe even by 10-12%, and some of these suppliers’ margins are slightly more than that. So they’re working for free if they don’t think about this.”

Kountable is more than a trade partner though, it really is a trade network, with not only buying power to help complete big contracts but also the valued experience of knowing who to work with in these emerging markets and ICT verticals. Each deal is a collaboration with local SMEs, global suppliers and the organizations that are buying the ICT product.

Kountable has picked the right country to do it in as well.

Last week Kenya was re-elected to the Council of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the UN specialized agency for ICTs. More, the East African country earned the highest number of votes (140) for membership of any country in the continent. The overwhelming selection of Kenya on this platform is a vote of confidence from the global ICT community.

Confidence in Kenya’s markets wasn’t always there though. In fact, Kountable launched in Kenya during the controversial elections of 2017, a time when political uncertainty forebode economic trouble.

“Nobody knew who the Kenyan president was for a while,” says Hale, “so the macro environment has been a big education. When I talk to our customers and they tell me that last year was one of the most difficult years in their professional years given all that turmoil, and it was our first year, and it was a success, I’m pretty enthusiastic about our future in Kenya.”

Hale emphasizes the importance of relationship building in the country and that the talented team they’ve built there is excelling in it: “I think the human touch in East Africa, and specifically in Kenya, is an asset. And we’ve been lucky to build the team that we have there. We’re a new company with a very new idea, but we have an 80% return rate of our customers.”

Now that Kountable has established its position in the country, Hale says the company is looking to deepen its banking relationships, to build institutional partnerships with the Kenya ports and with the government getting involved in the new free trade zone.

“We want to really institutionalize the experience for the large end customers that are benefiting from the reseller community that’s powered by Kountable,” says Hale. “Because the more institutional grade the platform becomes, the more institutional grade the experience becomes. And the more money our customers make.”

This development of the company and its deepening relationship with all of its trade constituents seems like a natural next step.

“The most exciting thing in both [our] markets, but particularly in Kenya, is this partnership model that’s evolving. Businesses in general, but procurements departments of businesses and governments are witnessing the results that we deliver. They’re seeing how effective, efficient and high quality our supplier network is. And so they’re starting to come to us as large payers that procure large volumes of goods through resellers. The more of those partnerships that we can activate, the more effective we can be on behalf of our reseller community.

“One of the things that we’ve learned,” says Hale, “is that Kenya is really dynamic. There’s lots of change and at the highest levels.”

Recently, in an interview with CNN’s Richard Quest, Kenya President Kenyatta stated, “Our position is a very clear one. We have an infrastructure gap that we need to fill. And we are going to work with our partners across the globe who are willing to partner and to work with us to help us achieve our socio-economic agenda.”

The statement comes in the wake of the Kenya and United Nations housing initiative that was announced in September of this year. President Kenyatta has promised to build 500,000 housing units for low-income citizens before the conclusion of his second term in office. It’s estimated the project will require $13 billion in investment to complete.

In regards to the project, Hale says that Kountable has been talking to some of the major participants around that supply chain.

“One of the challenges that comes up when you set up a big goal and you circle the right people around it,” says Hale, “is when you get to the execution phase. You need to know how you will ultimately manage this project.

“When you say, ‘We’re gonna build 100,000 homes,’ that’s more than 100,000 doors, lighting fixtures and refrigerators. All of that needs to be coordinated and inbound and synchronized against a project plan. Not to mention the inputs to the houses themselves — the steel, stone, tile, etc. You need to make sure the product is high fidelity, that it’s corruption free, that the inputs are quality inputs and that they get there on time.

“When you have the will of the people and the will of the government to make something like this happen, Kountable wants to come in and be the platform on record to make sure that it’s run correctly.”

It appears that Kountable is in a position to do just that.

 

Kountable: Our Journey So Far …

By Chris Hale, Kountable CEO

 

There’s an entrepreneurial revolution underway in the developing world. Technological progress, access to the Internet, smartphones and a desire for a better life mean that these countries are producing a staggering number of small to medium-sized businesses (SMEs). For many of these capable entrepreneurs, the major obstacle to their small business growth is not geopolitical, cultural or even economic, but simply access to capital.

Oftentimes even the most successful of these entrepreneurs don’t have the required assets to secure traditional financing. Local banks may be unwilling or unable to finance the entrepreneur’s transaction in the required time, while alternative sources might offer financing, but at staggering interest rates.

So how does Kountable work? Using a cloud technology platform we deliver supply chain as a service, helping entrepreneurs with the procurement of goods, logistics and overall trade management of their tender.

We piloted the platform with Bigger Future, a group of successful Rwandan entrepreneurs organized by a successful Chicago based entrepreneur named Dave Ormesher. Every quarter for five straight years, Dave has been flying to Kigali, Rwanda, to coach entrepreneurs and had experienced first hand their frustrations in searching for financing. The night before I was to present to the group, I was up late perfecting the pitch deck wondering how a group of Rwandan entrepreneurs would respond to my thesis, presentation and technology concept. I needn’t have worried – they inherently understood the problem we had identified for they lived it every single day in a resource challenged environment strengthening their social capital and networks in response. They wanted us to build it immediately and agreed to become our first users, partners and champions. That was almost four years ago.

From this initial group we have funded nearly 200 projects valued at $54M, and of that have created nearly $23M in gross revenue to those SMEs. It’s clear that Rwanda was just the beginning.

Our team at Kountable has grown and we now have offices in San Francisco, Kigali and Nairobi. Our entrepreneurial partners have continued to grow rapidly and we are currently evaluating additional markets to grow into as well. Rwanda will always be our birthplace and we look forward to the day we can call it our launchpad as well.

A Year Ago, a Lifetime Ago

by Chris Hale, Kountable CEO

 

It seemed funny to ask the bank teller to take my phone and shoot a photo of me signing a wire form, but my co-founder Craig Allen insisted that I capture the moment because it would be the first of many.  Today, I look back on a year filled with dozens of these moments and over $2 Million in projects completed in Rwanda and I’m grateful we took it, Craig was right.  These days I use the tech platform we’ve built at kountable.com instead of going to the bank but I wonder if that teller remembers me from a year ago today….

Why Rwanda?

By Chris Hale, Kountable CEO

 

One question we get asked a lot is why did we choose to start our business in Rwanda?

Kountable assesses market opportunities based on a balance of government policies, business friendly environment, anti corruption regulation and technology access. But to answer the question about “Why Rwanda” specifically we need to look back at recent history.

In 1999, after managing to break a 50 year cycle of violence that culminated in the horrific 1994 genocide, the Rwandan government set out some big goals to bring stability and a long term vision to the war torn country—these goals were outlined in a document called Vision 2020 and much progress has been made during the last 15 years towards their implementation, leading to a growth revolution for the country and its economy.

As part of these goals, the government committed to support and develop its entrepreneurial middle class—widely acknowledged as the key to creating a strong middle income economy. They also committed to and have achieved an efficient state with a low corruption, SME friendly policies, and a sound technological infrastructure.

These developments have created a uniquely positive environment for entrepreneurial growth, making it a role model among emerging economies. Rwandan entrepreneurs are tech savvy, internationally connected, and well supported by a government that believes in entrepreneurship.

All these factors and the market opportunity made Rwanda a logical place to launch Kountable. However, we must give credit to a special group of entrepreneurs in its capital, Kigali, for helping us really see the potential of what Kountable could be in Rwanda.

 We were fortunate to be able to develop the business model for Kountable and then run our pilot program with a group of exceptional Rwandan entrepreneurs who are part of the Bigger Future Program, led by David Ormesher, a successful American entrepreneur from Chicago. David has been traveling to Kigali every quarter to coach these entrepreneurs for five years, and my co-founder Catherine had been involved in developing Bigger Future from the start. When we needed a place to test the initial idea that would become Kountable on a real group of developing world entrepreneurs, the Bigger Future group was a natural fit, and the group’s enthusiastic response and willingness to share about their challenges with financing made Kountable what it is today.

On hearing their stories over the course of a year, it was clear that these entrepreneurs were ready to grow much faster than available access to finance would allow. It was a headwind that they would do almost anything to get around, even taking financing at very unfavorable rates in some cases just to be able to execute high-profile deals to prove their capability. Affordable financing was the major missing ingredient in their ability to take on the bigger contracts and projects that would allow them to expand more quickly, hire and train more staff, and develop capacity and learn. In doing so, they would significantly multiply their contribution to Rwanda’s economic & social growth goals.

By working with Kountable, the entrepreneurs we’ve partnered with have been able to keep more business inside Rwanda. Many are providing vital supplies for hospitals, schools and government agencies, allowing these institutions to provide better services for Rwandans. Some of these projects could have been done by foreign companies, but then the know-how, employment and increased capability would not be generated inside Rwanda. Investing in Rwandan entrepreneurs is investing in Rwanda’s future.

Kountable has now evaluated over 500 small to medium-sized businesses (SMEs) and has partnered with 30 on projects delivering $5 million in gross revenues to these businesses and into the Rwandan economy. Our entrepreneurs there have worked with us in good faith and many are now repeat customers. The challenges we’ve overcome together have helped us strengthen our model and build better tools to make the process easier and more efficient for all. Rwanda has been a great place for us to learn and grow our model while having a significant positive impact.

In the weekend of our official launch in Kigali, we received requests for $12M US in fundable projects. This was the tip of the iceberg in terms of demand for what Kountable offers. The Rwandan institutions we have approached to partner with us to better address this demand have been open and willing to explore new possibilities, and highly supportive of our growth and presence. They understand what this kind of financing can do for the country and its base of entrepreneurs and how important this is in order to reach their ambitious 2020 development goals. As Kountable scales and branches out into other markets, we look forward to continuing to play a role in Rwanda’s growth and development by supporting its inspiring and capable community of entrepreneurs.