In conversation with Niama El Bassunie of Morocco's WaystoCap

Image courtesy of WaystoCap

WaystoCap is a business-to-business e-commerce marketplace that enables companies in Africa to import and export goods. The platform evolved from a trading company founded by Niama El Bassunie, who recognised the need to find trusted buyers and suppliers across the continent.

Prior to founding her company in 2016 with co-founders Anis Abdeddine, Mehdi Daoui, El Bassunie worked at consulting firm PWC in London.  

WaystoCap became Morocco’s first startup to complete the Y Combinator accelerator programme in San Francisco in 2017, and then went on to raise $3 million in its seed round, with participation from Y Combinator. 

Today, the company provides verification, logistics, financing and payments for African businesses and offers goods in ten categories including in fast moving consumer goods (FMCG). WaystoCap recently opened two new offices in West Africa – in Burkina Faso and Togo and is now looking to expand its service to include more countries across Africa.

Why did you become an entrepreneur?

In 2010 a friend wanted to launch a bio-diesel cab company in the UK and he asked me to find a supplier for used cooking oil. I thought it would be a good idea to source it form Morocco and then I thought of looking into Egypt and find a supplier there. But then then in 2011 the Arab Spring happened, and the supplier couldn’t guarantee the volumes. That was my first experience of entrepreneurship and it opened my eyes to arbitrage, trading and selling products internationally. I started trading Moroccan olives and rock salt to places like Canada and then a few months later I left PWC, I felt it was an opportunity, but I hadn’t figured out what it was properly. It wasn’t a vision of what this would become.

How did the idea for WaystoCap come about?

I went to Conakry in Guinea in November 2011 with the intention of staying four days. I ended up staying close to eight months because I got involved in different projects to extract and recycle wrecked ships at the port. I met one of my co-founders when I tried to get financing for the project, but there were too many risks involved so I came back to Morocco and did a bit of trade and consulting and was focused on bringing Moroccan industrial companies into West Africa. It became clear the more interesting opportunity was not in trying to get people to set up factories straight away, but to get them involved in commerce and trade. This idea for the platform started developing.

At the beginning I put up a website and went to the local supermarket, took pictures of a lot of food products and then we started getting requests for different products from different buyers in West Africa.

What have you learned on your entrepreneurial journey?

Patience and perseverance and the curiosity to learn. Always to be curious to learn, don’t be afraid of things you don’t understand. There is so much information out there, there’s so many networks you can join.

It’s a cliché but it’s a roller coaster ride with the highs and the lows, but at the same time it’s worthwhile. With every challenge you push yourself more and it’s so powerful and interesting how far you can get out of your comfort zone. At a personal level, you evolve and learn.

How was your experience at Y Combinator?

In a way, we were forced to do it. When we wanted to fund raise, the ecosystem in Morocco wasn’t there for us to get the funding we needed. I had to look abroad for it. It was a challenging four months to be there while our company was here, but Y Combinator opens up your mind to many things are not necessarily exposed to here, that’s the reality of things because of its nature in silicon Valley and the startup mentality that exists in that ecosystem. It’s a really rich community as an accelerator and obviously for fundraising which is something that helped in our case.  

How has the Moroccan startup ecosystem evolved since you launched WaystoCap?

You can definitely feel the changes not only in Morocco but throughout the region over the last two years. There are more startups, more investors and a greater willingness to fund startups and change the mentality. For me the challenge was hiring, there are not that many startups within the ecosystem, you can hire people with experience, but they don’t necessarily have experience working with a startup – the attitude, mindset is different. One of our roles within the ecosystem is to bring that culture and mindset and hope it will be passed on.

What will your industry look like in the next 10 years?

It’s interesting to see the changes happening already. There’s a lot of interest at the macro and technological level in being involved in different parts of the supply chain including in credit and financing. In the next 10 years there will be a lot of innovation happening at different speeds in different regions, the landscape will look very difference in terms of industry, access and regulations. There are barriers to trade, it is something that will take time, but it will happen.

 

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