Nan ga def! Mangifi!
Welcome to Dakar. Nestled in the Cap-Vert peninsula, Dakar is the westernmost point of the African continent.
A city of contrasts where gleaming Range Rovers and broken Renault cabs jostle for space on the same lane, towering beachside mansions overlook decrepit shanties. And bold new-age enterprises, dysfunctional government and age-old agriculture makeup the Senegalese economy.
The first thing that strikes you in Dakar is the construction. There is an undercurrent of urgency in a city bursting at its seams as people from all over Africa, and around the world flood to it, seeking opportunities in a resurgent Africa. We visited and met scrappy entrepreneurs in a number of incubators in Dakar – working on bringing technology to transform deep social causes.
Africa has leapfrogged the traditional banking system, with mobile banking. With over 100% mobile penetration, mobile payments and mobile money transfer are slowly replacing the cash based economy. Our host InTouch hopes to make this readily accessible to a wide swath of the population with a digital point-of-sale system as an aggregator of payments. From day one, we hit the ground running to figure out a strategy for expansion and growth for InTouch’s products.
Our main focus was understanding the market landscape and the adoption of InTouch’s current product. We had already prepared a couple of solutions before landing in Senegal – so that we could quickly validate our hypothesis and present to InTouch.
We visited CTIC (an incubator) and Jokkolabs (a co-working space) in Dakar. It was fascinating to meet and interact with the entrepreneurs from all over the world working on making a deep impact on some of the social challenges in Africa.
Vincent, the Innovation director at UNICEF was looking to use data analytics to become a nimble and agile organization. Adam at Voto was working on technology that could be used to gather survey data from social workers in far-flung regions. Malick at Africa Mobile sought to build a service to reach uneducated massed via web and mobile communication tools. And Bagore & Edouard at La Laiterie du Berger are looking to create a distribution channel for milk produced in rural Senegal to meet the burgeoning demand in cities like Dakar. We also met a passionate Daouda Gassama at the AEME who is bringing in an age of energy efficiency to Senegal.
As a part of our secondary research, Mike also figured out that Senegalese eat 29 Kgs of fish every day. One of our goals was to consume 29 Kgs of fish in 2 weeks. Thus began a search of the local Ceebu Jen (thiéboudiène), Yassa Poisson, Grilled Thiof, Crevette et lotte, and all sorts of deliciousness. Incidentally, we also found that Ravi does not like to wait for his food – a point made amply clear while waiting repeatedly for the local made-to-order Thiof.
Yogesh earned the nickname of “Yekini” given his uncanny resemblance to the professional Senegalese wrestler Yekini. That and his love for fish heads and sparkling water.
Our gracious hosts took us sight-seeing over the weekend to Sine Saloum islands in South Senegal. This was a weekend of touring the local villages, fishing in the delta, pickup soccer on salt flats, seeing our first ever sun halo and attending a local wrestling competition. Evenings were spent taking in the spectacular African sunsets and more eating.
This was one of the best experiences we have had at Haas. Thanks InTouch team for hosting us.