We talked to Gilbert Mbeh about AbegYa, a leading Web and Mobile platform connecting consumers with top-rated service providers across cities in Africa and here is what he said about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Gilbert Mbeh: Thank you for this question. My family and I got into the 2021 calendar year safely, and we are thankful for it. Personally, I think 2020 changed the world and that things will never be the same again. The COVID19 outbreak led to a dramatic loss of human life worldwide; the economic and social disruption caused by the pandemic is devastating, to say the least. But we remain optimistic that the global healthcare community will find a lasting solution.
Tell us about how you founded AbegYa?
Gilbert Mbeh: I am the founder and CEO of AbegYa, a Company inspired by hurdles familiar to millions of African consumers. In 2017, I wanted to remodel my apartment. It was an unbearable challenge. I wasted precious time and money searching for experts. Not because they don’t exist in Cameroon, but because there is no easy way to find them.
Getting the services that one requires routinely — things as routine as plumbing or electrical work — can be very difficult. This also holds true for many business services and health care.
In much of Africa, service providers advertise by painting a sign with a phone number, and then they nail it to a street pole along with all the other signs. If you need a service, you must walk around the city and read the poles! If you find a few names, you have to ask around for references, validate and schedule them. If any of that fails, it’s back to the streets and staring at poles for more numbers.
I knew there had to be a better way – so I started AbegYa.
How does AbegYa innovate?
Gilbert Mbeh: Innovation is woven into AbegYa from top to bottom. We began with the gaping need for efficient access to top-tier professional services in modernizing economies. We are driven by consumers’ growing need for convenient access to reliable service providers and providers’ corresponding need to reach potential customers. Proprietary mobile technology developed by Africans for Africans propels this vital process into the 21st century. We adapt state-of-the-art digital communications solutions to the burgeoning African marketplace — with an eye to subtle distinctions in local attitudes toward service providers and preferred payment methods.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Gilbert Mbeh: Health is the linchpin of sustainability across the board. With businesses shuttered and jobs disappearing, economies are in peril. Absent everyday interactions by people, the social fabric frays. An environment that breeds illness is toxic for people and every business. So yes, our startup has been financially affected. We had a plan to raise our first round of capital from investors to propel our growth. The pandemic struck and cast doubts on the market outlook. For us, however, the pandemic actually accelerated the adoption rate of our technology as a source of accurate and timely information. This demand furnishes our most reliable economic, social and environmental bulwark in the current climate.
It facilitates sharing information that keeps healthy people informed and advises victims how to care for themselves without posing more risk to others.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Gilbert Mbeh: Yes. We had to let our entire field agents go when the travels and networking opportunities with investors we had planned for 2020 were canceled.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Gilbert Mbeh: AbegYa provides an online directory that empowers our customers to read and publish crowd-sourced reviews of local businesses and contractors. Screened and approved professionals populate our platform. All of our customer relationships are managed through an efficient online messaging system that uses our proprietary technology.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Gilbert Mbeh: AbegYa was selected for the 2019 Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Program, and we received a $5000 Grant. In 2020 we were selected for the highly competitive MassChallenge Accelerator program based in Houston, Texas, USA. During the four-month program, we received more than $250,000 in In-Kind support. In December 2020, the Africa Development Bank named AbegYa one of the top 20 solutions out of thousands that competed in the AfricaVsVirus challenge. A $20,000 grant will spur the development of our solution while accelerating our regional growth. Now that we are closing on completing our Android and iOS apps, we intend to raise a $500K seed round to grow our team and invest in marketing.
Your final thoughts?
Gilbert Mbeh: Experts warn that developing economies face disproportionate economic risk stemming from the Covid pandemic. Fragile economies cannot absorb massive distress without consequences. Health care systems are already stretched to capacity.
Workers lost to a pandemic pushes vulnerable countries toward a breaking point. But I strongly believe that timely information and access to new opportunities can breathe life back into economies across Africa. AbegYa was born to channel information that advises consumers, mobilizes professionals, and informs authorities. Public sectors and startups acting together can help African countries deploy healthcare resources faster, assist victims, create more employment opportunities and recover economic momentum.
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