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Analysis > Interviews

SOKO Insight: A Game Changer

Anna Lyudvig
Sept. 14, 2015, midnight

Word count: 1337

Africa Global Funds catches up with Yannick Lefang, Founder of SOKO Insight, an internet-based information platform that empowers business leaders and organizations with reliable data and actionable insights from Africa.

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Africa Global Funds catches up with Yannick Lefang, Founder of SOKO Insight, an internet-based information platform that empowers business leaders and organizations with reliable data and actionable insights from Africa.

Africa Global Funds (AGF): Yannick, please tell us about yourself and SOKO Insight.
Yannick Lefang (YL): I was born in Paris, France and grew up in Cameroon, Benin (Africa). I moved to Canada to study engineering where I graduated Cum Laude with a B.Sc. Electrical Engineering. I have 10 years’ experience in engineering, business and banking. In 2003, I founded Forum Baobab while in university to foster entrepreneurship among African students so they could go back and start businesses to create jobs. In 2008, I co-founded beunick (www.beunick.com), a photo tagging app that turned Facebook photo into interactive content to connect brands and consumers. ​I have been involved in several projects back home including a study to build a meat processing plant, a rental building in my hometown and helping friends and families with their businesses.

As to SOKO Insight, it is an internet-based information platform that empowers business leaders and organizations with reliable data and actionable insights from Africa. With deep roots in Africa and the best business intelligence tools, we crowdsource data and deliver insights from millions of middle class Africans to help you understand, track and serve the fastest growing consumer market in the world. Our customers choose a country or countries, ask questions and we provide answers and insights within two weeks. The company was founded in 2013 and is headquartered in Canada. We have over 200 local partners in Africa and still growing.

AGF: How did you came up with your business idea?
YL: I've always struggled to find timely, reliable data and information back home - unlike here in Canada where a simple google search will give you a wealth of information, trying to estimate the meat consumption in a city in Africa is almost impossible from your PC. Personally, I am a member of diaspora and it has been very difficult to get information back home when looking for business opportunities. You can rely on your family, friends or even a business partner in Africa, but even the information they provide is not always accurate and unbiased.

In 2013, I started looking at ways to fix this and with the rise of Internet/mobile, it is possible to some degree to get on-the-ground data. SOKO Insight was born from that quest and piloted in Cameroon. After testing our collection process for one year, we are now ready to expand and make data available to people facing the same challenge. I strongly believe that data (not aid, FDI, etc.) will drive Africa economic prosperity. Why? It's simple - you can't manage or grow what you can't measure.
SOKO Insight was launched to provide a reliable, robust and cost effective way to collect business data in Africa - Yannick Lefang
AGF: Can you tell us a bit more on the reasons behind the launch?
YL: SOKO Insight was launched to provide a reliable, robust and cost effective way to collect business data in Africa. More broadly, there is a huge data and information knowledge gap in Africa, which presents a significant challenge for understanding, analyzing and investing in Africa’s markets. Due to the lack of data collection and dissemination infrastructures, business information on Africa is unstructured and unreliable. Even macro data from Africa is inaccurate, not transparent and misleading. Several countries (Ghana, Nigeria and Kenya) restated their GDP over the past 6 years. In addition, Africa consumer market is a $1.2trn market and getting insights on the rising consumers is challenging.

AGF: Why is there a need for SOKO Insight?
 YL: Because of the challenges of marketing in Africa – A recent research study by WFA on the state of marketing expertise and opportunity in Africa reveals that one of the main challenges of brands in Africa is the lack of reliable data (media consumer, retail performance):
·         55% of respondents agreed that global marketers do not understand consumers in local markets;
·         62% of respondents said the lack of basic market level data is hindering attempts to generate insights;
·         55% of respondents said the lack of basic data is holding back investment in advertising and from accurately measuring return on investment;
·         According to a recent CEO survey, 80% of respondents said the marketing is always requesting more budget but they don’t have a way to measure the ROI of the marketing investment.
 
We believe the future of marketing in Africa is SPIDE – Speed / Precision / Insights / Data / Engagement. Our platform solves the main challenge by given marketers access to data that’s timely, affordable and reliable. It’s a game changer.

AGF: What are your core markets to date and why?
YL: · Regional financial / telcos – B2C companies looking to expand in Africa and gain market share in a very competitive environment. Data driven innovation will give them an edge and drive revenue for these companies.
·     Foreign SMB (Cosmetics, Beverage) – We provide a quick and reliable way to validate market entry assumptions and to gather consumer insights for brand positioning, marketing analytics.
·     Diaspora entrepreneurs – They are looking for ways to reduce their (small budget) project risk by leveraging an independent source of data to validate business opportunities.
·     Academics / researchers  – They are looking for ways to collect reliable data in a timely manner in Africa.
· Research companies (whitelabelling) - We can be an addition to their suite of data collection suppliers and methodologies.

AGF: What is your value proposition and what makes you standout?
YL:  We provide reliable data and actionable insights in two weeks from the 20 biggest countries in Africa. You can send a request from your PC anywhere in the world and get on-the ground information / data, collected in real time and insights on your PC. Gone are the days when you had to wait for months or rely on series of multiple intermediaries.

AGF: What makes your business standout?
YL: Unlike face to face where there is high operational risks, we collect directly from the consumers and get responses and insights available almost immediately. Unlike mobile collection, we have enough real estate to deploy simple or complex surveys without reducing the response rate allowing you the get deeper in your research. As part of our promotional launch, our customers can get insights for as low as $500 in 5 countries and our rates are usually very competitive. Overall, we offer a compromise between face to face and mobile. We also offer features like drill-down capabilities that can allow you the get insights down to a neighborhood in a city. We can help our clients with data analysis and business intelligence advice.

AGF: Who are our customers and how can they use your product?
YL: So far, our customers are diaspora entrepreneurs looking to start businesses in Africa and in need of independent information and data to validate their business models / assumptions. We also did pilots with local financial institutions in Africa looking to innovate with their marketing strategy and to optimize their marketing budget. We have received interest from African market research companies as wel. Finally we are also starting to work with media to provide data to back up their stories.

AGF: What is your coverage and plans for the next 12 months?
YL: After a pilot in Cameroon, we are now expanding rapidly and are currently in 5 countries and 6 cities. Our plan is to be in the 20 biggest cities by the end of 2016. Being in the cities allows our customer to get insights from the Africa middle class.

AGF: Thank you Yannick, would you like to add anything?
YL: SOKO Insight has recently conducted a Mobile Banking Habits Study: an online survey conducted in Kenya and Ghana on consumer behavior and attitudes toward financial services offered by banks and telcos. Please visit our blog and read the report to see what the final result looks like.

Link to the blog and the report:
https://medium.com/@sokoinsight

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