How this Tunisian startup is digitizing cash registers

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There are over 250,000 neighborhood grocery stores in Tunisia. Many of those can’t afford the usual cash registers which cost between 3,000 and 4,000 Tunisian dinars (US$ 1,200 to US$ 1,500). Seeing them add up the prices of the purchases on small pocket calculators is a frequent happening.

Taher Mestiri, a World Bank consultant and IT professional, was triggered to find a solution.

He founded in 2013, Hadrum SA, with a 610,000 Tunisian Dinars seed fund ($300,000) collected through personal savings and private investors. His company created Ultimium, an cloud-based dashboard that organizes financial data of grocery stores and retailers.

After evaluating the idea, the company, and its potentials, Hadrum SA received in June 2015, a $250,000 investment from Tunisian-based Intilaq fund, to help them develop a marketable product. Hadrum then developed Ultimium’s cash register app and tested it as a prototype in the Tunisian market.

The cash register app aims at helping retailers keep track of their clients’ personal information, such as the name, phone number, email address to ensure customer loyalty, and purchases. It also helps business owners manage their sales, stocks, and procurement, in addition to their customers and suppliers.

The cash register software is currently sold in Tunisian computer stores as a package that includes a tablet, a printer, and a cash drawer, in addition to a one-year subscription to the Ultimium app for two users (the owner and the cashier for example) at 1,500 dinars (about $614). In case users have all the needed equipments, they can pay 30 dinars per month ($12) for the Ultimium subscription.

“The client can choose any tablet / smartphone as long as it is Android-based. [They] can also buy the tablet if [they] already has the printer for instance,” Mestiri told Wamda.

Optimizing the cash register

“The hardest part when building the solution was the app itself, as we had to make it work both online and offline,” Mestiri said. The Hadrum team, including Mestiri and five employees, managed to improve the app through a cloud synchronization system to make it a hybrid model that operates while connected and disconnected.  

The other added value, according to the team, was tracking what surveillance cameras were unable to film. “With this solution, a fraudulence is almost impossible as the business owner can see what has been sold physically and what has been taped nearly instantly,” Mestiri added.

In order to closely follow up with clients’ loan requests, Mestiri partnered with undisclosed microfinance institutions that use Ultimium dashboard’s data tracking and cloud management service.

“We are giving them [institutions], with the consent of their clients, a dashboard of how the loan is being used, what has been achieved, and the financial indicators of each of their benefactors so the microfinance institution can be aware of the status of each client,” Mestiri said.

Hadrum also played a role in facilitating e-payments. It signed a convention with the Tunisian Post Service (which offers users e-payment cards) to allow its clients to use e-dinars while grocery shopping through Ultimium.  

In addition, if the customer and the retailer use Mobicash, a prepaid mobile payment system, they can also do direct transactions through Ultimium.

Testing in Tunisia

The team is still test proofing the product in the Tunisian market but has already three clients using it on a daily basis. These include Cheesecake Side, a shop that sells cakes, e Icebox, an ice cream store, and Oishi, a delivery Asiatic caterer.

“Since we adopted the device in 2016, we were able to trace the products we [sold]. One of our big challenges was supplying the shop with fresh cakes from our factory, which is not located at the same place of our store. The tablet allowed us to closely follow the sales of each product and refill when one is out of stock,” said Mohamed Khlass, the cofounder of Cheesecake Side. “We discussed with the team our need for a better way to register the customers’ contact details as the current method is not the smoothest,” Khlass added.

All data is secured through the cloud and through Hadrum’s internal security procedures that backup, encrypt, and isolate all sensitive data.  

Hadrum SA isn’t profiting yet and needs to sell at least 500 stores to start generating profits.

Expanding the network

While continuously improving the product, Mestiri is aiming at targeting bigger businesses so they can spread the platform adoption through different retail channels.

Instead of contacting every grocery store in Tunisia, Ultimium is going through big groups to deploy the cash register app more quickly. The startup is now negotiating a contract with a group that specializes in hygienic products and is present all over Tunisia.

One of the scaling goals of Ultimium is to penetrate the European market by 2018. European countries like France are currently changing the laws relative to cash registers to make them more secure and transparent to counter fraud issues. In France for instance, the total fraud in the cash register is valued at 3 billions euros ($3.5 billions) per year.

“The aim is to create on the long term a network of connected cash registers since we want every small shop or retailer to be able to use them,” concluded Aymen Mbarek who is in charge of the investments at Intilaq.

Feature image via Ultimium

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