We talked to Joseph Rutakangwa of Rwazi on how they are gathering and analyzing world’s data to facilitate effective decision making.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Joseph Rutakangwa: We are doing well, healthy, and safe throughout these COVID-19 times. Fortunately, Mauritius wasn’t heavily affected by the pandemic in terms of numbers of patients and deaths, thanks to the government’s prompt response on handling the situation well.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Rwazi.
Joseph Rutakangwa: I love data, but, in Africa, on-ground data on products, services, and market activities is nowhere to be found. I first identified this as a problem when I was in secondary school doing research. I couldn’t find accurate data on things such as the number of hospital beds in a district and single parent homes per city. Years later, I got an opportunity to work on consulting projects for multinationals expanding into Africa, which is when I experienced how organizations need on-ground data to build market entry strategies, plan for growth, and monitor performance on an on-going basis.
For consumer goods businesses growing in developing countries, it is particularly difficult to access data on product performance from traditional retail outlets, which is needed to optimize distribution. In most developing countries, including those in sub-Saharan Africa, shops, kiosks, and tabletops defined the retail scene – accounting for 98%. However, these outlets do not have access to POS systems and digital equipment; therefore, no way exists to extract and analyze data from such.
On the other hand, millions of young, educated people in developing countries need income-generating activities. They use smartphones, have daily access to the internet, and have traditional retail outlets in their neighborhoods.
After conducting comprehensive research and testing the concept, I shared it with my now co-founder, and Rwazi was established. I founded Rwazi to utilize Africa’s growing workforce by crowdsourcing data collection to qualified unemployed youngsters. It’s a win-win: young people now have income-generating activities, and companies can access fresh on-the-ground data. Today, we track over 100 brands across tens of thousands of retail outlets with a network of mappers spread across 40 countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
How does Rwazi innovate?
Joseph Rutakangwa: We think of our customers as partners – in building the best process to serve their objective. We listen to their feedback, features they would like to have, their struggles, and future plans, and this information dictates the direction of our product iteration journey. Further, we map how both our customers and mappers interact with our process and identify areas to improve or change. I believe that short iteration cycles are the best way to innovate. After all, it’s really fun to always optimize and see happy user reactions.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Joseph Rutakangwa: Our primary customers have been companies selling fast-moving consumer goods, and in the wake of the pandemic, these products were classified as essential. This helped a case for fresh, on-ground data on the availability, visibility, and pricing of consumer products as purchase speed increased, and prices hiked – creating a greater need for optimal distribution. Further, we got other types of customers such as government agencies tracking price gouging, telecom companies tracking mobile data needs, and Fintech companies monitoring effects and effective solutions for small businesses. As a result, we’re now adding more capabilities to our process to better serve all types of organizations seeking fresh, on-ground data from developing countries.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Joseph Rutakangwa: Our biggest challenge in 2020 was raising our pre-seed round during the pandemic. We started fundraising in January, and we were in the later stage of the discussions with interested investors when the COVID-19 became a pandemic. Some investors withdrew while others paused until an unknown date. Luckily for us, we ran on a lean model; therefore, we took drastic measures to further reduce cash burn. We adopted the pay-per-task approach, where each one of us was paid per specific task completed rather than hours worked.
Further, we provided a dozen remote-work internships and built partnerships with other companies on an exchange-of-services basis. We’ve secured pre-seed investment seven months later and have maintained our growth rate thanks to the new models of operating. We will adopt this new style going forward and improve on it.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Joseph Rutakangwa: I listen to and make music, watch movies religiously, and spend weekends having long conversations with family and close friends over extended meals.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Joseph Rutakangwa: in the following ways;
1. Pen-and-paper (most commonly used): Only basic infrastructure is needed for data collection and storage. Low setup costs but high overall cost for manual analyses, storage, and lost business opportunity due to poor insights. I have not been able to cover and segment all retail universes and not designed to handle big data.
2. Spreadsheets: Use of spreadsheets for data collection, validation, calculations, formatting performed by sales teams. I have not been able to cover and segment all retail universes and not designed to handle big data.
3. Sales Force Automation apps: Some companies equip their sales teams with SFA tools to do data collection from traditional retailers. However, sales teams cannot cover tens of thousands of outlets over larger geographic areas; therefore, the limitations that come with an internal team make it impossible to gather intelligence across multiple countries, regions, districts, and cities/towns on an on-going basis.
Rwazi has a large network of mappers, now across 40 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, and growing at a fast pace. Further, we can extend our network to our customer’s preferred countries in a matter of days – providing access to on-ground data on demand.
Your final thoughts?
Joseph Rutakangwa: We believe creating gigs is the most effective approach to reduce the rising unemployed population in developing regions like sub-Saharan Africa. Our objective is to provide data harvesting gigs to 10 million people by 2025. We aim to provide data harvesting gigs to every person in every country.
This is a mission worth investing in, and we are committed to it.
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