Globally, trade is an engine of growth for an economy, and logistics serves as its backbone, as economic growth depends on the effective movement of goods.
In Africa, bottlenecks and inefficiencies in the logistics sector have long hindered inter-Africa trade. The introduction of technology has been the catalyst for addressing many of these challenges and optimizing the transport of goods.
Well-positioned to meet the growing need for increased supply chain efficiency is SEND, the digital freight forwarder and customs broker, whose seamlessly integrated platform provides simple end-to-end solutions and 360 visibility to power unparalleled cross-border trade. Since launching in 2020, SEND has grown by 220% and is expected to grow by another 1000% over the next 2 years.
I spoke with Maureen Okojie, the co-founder and Head of commercial at SEND, about the freight industry’s landscape and SEND’s unique positioning, SEND’s growth and expansion, and what Built In Africa means to her.
How did your journey lead you to SEND?
I’ve spent 16 years in the logistics industry, and before joining SEND, I worked for the multinational MAERSK as a Customer Experience Manager for the Central West Africa Area. In 2019, after 12 years at MAERSK, I left and returned to the UK, where I later met Larry, one of the founder’s of SEND.
After he and Kingsley had finished Y Combinator, he came to the UK in search of a partner to join them in their quest to build a platform to digitize the supply chain. They had the tech figured out but needed to inject more logistics experience into the company. A mutual contact connected us; it was a no-brainer when presented with the opportunity. Nonetheless, I’m thrilled to be co-creating a phenomenal product that will address some of Africa’s supply chain challenges.
What is SEND?
Simply put, SEND is Africa’s digital freight forwarder and customs broker, managing the cargo shipping process from the point of origin to the final destination—including customs clearance, warehousing, and trucking services.
Our solution enables customers to orchestrate their supply chain by providing visibility and control with instant quotes, simple bookings, predictable costs, reports, and real-time tracking as their cargo moves via air, ocean, or land.
When you think about what it means to ship cargo from point A to point B, there are so many touchpoints. What we’ve built in the market is a way to bring all these touchpoints together in one platform to make it easy for customers to manage.
We work with businesses of various sizes, from multinationals to SMEs, and across different industries, from agriculture to manufacturing to NGOs. Some household names that use SEND include Flour mills, Olam, Indorama and Secado Group.
By leveraging technology, we’re hoping to revolutionize the African freight industry. We recognize that the problems we’re solving weren’t created in one day or a decade; our long-term vision is to enable the growth of intra-African and intercontinental trade by streamlining supply chain logistics.
What distinguishes SEND from other Freight/Logistics startups?
When you think about the supply chain in Africa, it’s a massive pie, and everyone is trying to solve it from different angles, whether from the haul, freight, or finance angle.
How we’ve positioned ourselves is at the heart of the problem by creating a solution that addresses the various needs of a business, including order management bookings, freight forwarding, supply chain financing, cargo tracking, etc. We’re truly a one-stop shop for everything.
Maintaining a quality customer experience alongside growth
We’re very clear on how we want to serve our customers in the market.
Provide a seamless platform experience:
We’ve reached the point where customers can go through the end-to-end process without talking to anyone. Similar to how someone can place an order on an e-commerce platform without talking to the company’s staff, that’s the experience we’ve built. The product is easy to use, but our team is always ready to support you if you need human intervention.
Enable a tailor-made experience:
Each customer is very personal to us. We check in regularly to ensure they’re delighted with our product and ask for feedback on how we can improve. We are not trying to force-feed our solution onto our customers. We want them to feel that SEND was designed for their business.
Initially, all of our customers were shipping from outside Africa into Africa. Then we began acquiring customers who would bring goods or materials into one African country and further distribute them across the continent. Now we’re beginning to see more intra-Africa trade happening on our platform.
But little intra-African trade is happening in general because of all the infrastructural challenges. But we hope that addressing these problems with our solution will lead to more. And we’re starting to see it. Because of our growth and expansion into new markets, we’re exposing our customers to new trade opportunities within the continent.
Expanding operations into Togo and Guinea Bissau
From the beginning, we were committed to creating an African solution, not a Nigerian or Ghanaian one. To increase our footprint in the logistics space, we’re expanding our operations into Togo and Guinea-Bissau.
What led us to these two countries was customer demand and market size. Some existing customers were looking to expand into these markets and wanted to continue using SEND. We see our customer relationship as a journey, so we wanted to continue meeting their needs as their business evolved.
What are some of the biggest challenges you’re facing?
Attracting the right talent:
The African logistics space has a small talent pool, and in tech, logistics is a space that doesn’t have the fanciest of cloaks. So it can be difficult to attract talent. We have to do more convincing than simply saying, hey, we’re doing something groundbreaking you should get on board. Initially, we could leverage our network to find people who believed in what we were building, but it’s been challenging now that we’re going beyond our network.
Overcoming barriers to innovation:
The shipping industry is very traditional in processes and thinking. It’s not a very progressive industry in its operations compared to other spaces. So breaking through and persuading people that we have a technology that can solve many of their problems is something else that we’re trying to muscle through.
Built In Africa. What does that mean to you?
When I hear the phrase Built In Africa what comes to mind is owning our solutions and technologies. Often companies from other continents try to force-fit a solution that is great for their continent but isn’t well suited for Africa. Now we’re in a place where we can define our own solutions, use our own technology, and, most importantly, own those solutions.
A message to startup founders
Be prepared. People tend to see startups as this nice and shiny thing and get into the space without being mentally prepared. Building a startup is very different from being a senior employee or manager at a Fortune 500 company.
Fortune 500s often have built proper structures and created the perfect systems, which allow you to waltz through. But as a startup founder, you’re expected to do the former and the latter. Which can seem overwhelming, but if you can persist, it’s extremely rewarding.
The adrenaline you get from building and solving a problem that’s making an impact is beyond comprehension. But that feeling comes at the end of the day. At the beginning, you’ll be met with a mountain of opportunities that you’ll need to work through. So being mentally and emotionally prepared for all the ups and downs is just as important as being excited about joining the space.
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