WHY WE INVESTED
Advanced tech, a growing economy, and smart regulatory developments make Egypt an ideal fit for Quona’s MENA expansion.
The Egypt-based ride share startup Swvl became another unicorn startup this thriving ecosystem could claim when it announced this summer plans to go public in a $1.5 billion SPAC merger. So last July when its co-founder Mahmoud Nouh decided to branch out and start Capiter, a B2B marketplace that brings fast-moving consumer goods, wholesalers, and merchants onto one platform, it wasn’t a far-cry to expect him to knock it out of the park again. Swvl has served not only as a use case for what is possible in the tech space across Egypt, it has also helped get the momentum going for a country ripe for innovation. “When you have a successful tech company that attracts foreign investors and you spawn off a bunch of other entrepreneurs, it’s like a hummingbird pollinating multiple flowers,” says Monica Brand Engel, co-founder and Managing Partner at Quona Capital.
In September, Quona co-led a series A investment of $33 million into Capiter, adding Egypt to its existing MENA portfolio. With a population of 110 million, 30 percent of which is under the age of 15, Egypt is on track to become the seventh largest economy in the world, growing at a 7% annual rate. It’s a country not only quickly expanding, but also poised for tech innovation.
Why Egypt? Why now?
For Quona, the move to begin investing in Egypt comes from a confluence of forces. The second largest market on the African continent and the largest in MENA, the country has a highly educated and forward-thinking population. As importantly, its market is sophisticated, with regulators looking strategically at successful regulatory models like India’s to help accelerate the country’s digitization. “The central bank of Egypt and the FRA have been incredibly thoughtful in terms of proactively going out to learn from other models, regulators and ecosystems,” says Engel. “On every technical and strategic front, they’ve done a phenomenal job creating an enabling environment for fintech that expands access and quality of financial services for the underserved.”
But at the crux of every business investment is the seed of an idea and a team committed to seeing it through. For Capiter, that focus has been clear from the start, in large part, because of its seasoned founder. “He’s made his money. He has had his success with Swivl,” says Engel. “He’s doing this because he wants to have an impact on the ecosystem. That’s very much aligned with Quona’s vision.”
Serving an unmet need
After Nouh and his co-founders launched Swvl in 2017, it quickly became apparent to him how dysfunctional the entire retail financing payment system was. “There is no one actually serving the businesses,” says Nouh. “The big pain SMEs are having is how do they get products, and how do they pay for them?”
It’s a challenge SMEs in emerging markets across the globe are faced with. “The retail industry represents more than 90 percent of the economy in emerging markets,” says Nouh. “There are 1.87-million SME merchants in Egypt alone and the market size is $120 billion.” Because SMEs are caught in the middle of the supply chain between suppliers and consumers, they are left with little buying power.
Nouh understood that whoever is able to control the middle layer of the supply chain, would maintain more control over what’s happening on the consumer side. His goal with Capiter, which launched in Cairo in July 2020, was to connect suppliers and buyers of consumer packaged goods to significantly streamline the supply chain. “If you want to launch a consumer payment product, whoever is controlling the merchants is the one who is going to win because they’re going upward and downward to manufacturers and consumers,” he says.
Capiter addresses challenges across the supply chain for both sellers and buyers. On the seller side, it is able to offer reach, automation, and price transparency. Because commodities are cheap and costly to ship, companies selling them lose on delivery costs. Capiter is able to circumvent this problem with aggregation to help save on costs. The platform is also able to connect sellers with far more retailers than they could otherwise connect to on their own, increasing their purchasing power.
On the buyer side, Capiter addresses the challenge of access to financing and price transparency by offering a buy now, pay later model previously unavailable to SMEs in Egypt. SMEs are able to use Capiter as a one-stop-shop where they can order inventory and have it delivered and by qualifying for financing, they are also able to choose a buy now, pay later model that enables them to purchase on credit.
A data-driven approach
While there are other players in the market who have been around for longer than Capiter, the company’s focus on logistics, its integration of financial services into an e-commerce model, and its smart use of data really set it apart. By developing sophisticated algorithms, the company uses data to lower delivery costs and place banner ads more effectively. “Unlike most other incumbents, Capiter can give you specific KPI-driven answers to how they are leveraging the data they collect,” says Engel.
What’s more, Capiter is able to offer consumers an automated buy now, pay later option because of the advanced algorithms built behind its scoring engine that measure behavioral analytics data points of participating merchants. By aggregating and examining various data points including the number of SKUs, average revenue, and location, Capiter develops a credit limit score for each merchant that goes up or down based on their behavior on the platform. Once orders are out for delivery, real-time data is used to let dispatchers know the size, weight, and routing of each order.
A hybrid model
Another factor that sets Capiter apart in the region is its hybrid operations model — a strategy used by sophisticated e-commerce players like Amazon. “A lot of the other incumbents are focused on being very capital-light, but if there are breakdowns in delivery or fulfillments are late, these small mom and pop shops are going to drop the service,” says Engel. “What Capiter is doing is a really smart way of not being too asset-heavy, but also realizing you still need to invest.”
Capiter buys and delivers 70 percent of its inventory directly from sellers and acts as a marketplace for the remaining 30 percent of inventory, listing sellers’ products. That hybrid model helps safeguard the supply chain in the event of inevitable disruptions. “We want to scale very fast and it’s impossible to scale everything,” says Nouh. “Using suppliers as your warehouse ensures a high scalability.”
Goals for future growth
Rapid scalability has certainly been front and center for Capiter over the past year. While the company had a team of less than 100 last December, today its team is more than 1,000 employees across operations, logistics and sales. The engineering team alone has 60 people and Capiter has plans to open another engineering office in India. “We are trying to double-down on our engineering because that’s what keeps us growing very fast,” says Nouh.
This year, Capiter has plans to launch in nine more cities across Egypt and will expand to North Africa and the Gulf Cooperation Council — which includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates — at the start of next year. The company also plans on expanding its verticals to include more SKUs like electronics and will be growing its financial services to offer B2B payments between manufacturers and retailers. “We are building a network of buyers and sellers and giving more value-added services to them,” says Nouh. “That’s the network effect. You build a network and then you leverage the effect on it.”