For six months, Victor Maina’s employer asked him to stay on at his job. He was working at a logistics multinational, overseeing operations in 26 African nations.
The employer was willing to better his terms if he had asked. But Mr Maina had spotted a gap in the market.
He wanted to create a solution for the informal settlements supply chain that has been ignored by big players in the industry.
He was looking to set up a retail-tech platform that links manufacturers to small customers and vice versa.
He had tried out such a venture in Mombasa—supplying drinking water in biodegradable sachets.
By the time they sold the company, Mr Maina and his partners were supplying about 100,000 sachets in coastal towns.
So he knew the odds were in his favour.
In 2021, Mr Maina and two other co-founders Dudu Moilwa and David Angwenyi set up Duhqa, a platform that creates a direct link between manufacturers and small-scale retailers, mostly in informal settlements.
Initially, they used their own money as capital, hiring a team of 10 people.
Through a mobile application, Duhqa enables small retailers to source goods in quantities from manufacturers and gets them delivered for free to their doorstep, reducing the cost of doing business by about 15 to 20 per cent.
The business picked up fast, and they were recording triple digits growth month-on-month. This prompted them to join TechStars.
This is a community of investors that partners with startups by injecting capital, mentoring, sourcing for customers, and talent recruitment.
They met seasoned investors such as Mo Angels, Roselake Ventures, and CrossFund.
“Initially, we pumped in our own money to get the numbers going. Then we got to a place where we felt the need to expand.
We needed more capital to sustain the growth. During this time, we joined the Techstars Accelerator cohort of October 2021.
We went for the $2 million (Sh243.4 million) seed funding. After rigorous vetting and training, meeting investors like Mo Angels and others, we got the money,” says Mr Maina, the CEO of Duhqa.
With good funding at hand, they expanded their reach from their initial focus of two regions. They now supply to Eastern Kenya, Voi, and Taita Taveta and are making inroads into Northern Kenya, having supplied to retailers in Garissa.
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Madagascar is their newest focus point in Africa.
“The reason we took to Madagascar is that they have a mass market as unique as ours. The informal settlements are faced with the challenge of the availability of commodities due to bad roads, capital deficiency, and security.
By providing this platform to them, we make commodities available without much hassle,” he says. They have also made inroads in Canada, Rwanda, and neighbouring Uganda.
Currently, Duhqa actively serves 7,743 merchants.
“These are the ones that make at least two orders a week,” he says.
From a lean team of three to 10 and now 50, Duhqa which started exclusively with fast-moving consumer goods has expanded to cold chains and partnered with a meat processor.
Duhqa now supplies about 1,000 packets of sausages to vendors in Nairobi every morning.
“We have studied our consumers’ behaviours. We know their pain points. Understanding the market has helped in reducing operational costs for both Duhqa and the clients.
Now, they do home deliveries further expanding their reach,” he says.
Recently, they launched a product that Mr Maina says was created from the many requests from clients they had supplied meat to.
The customers wanted beverages to accompany the meat. They came up with a product, Duhqa Party, where an app can suggest to a consumer the drinks that go well with the types of meat bought.
“We are also looking at a situation where you, a shopper want medicine for a child but can’t access it because you don’t have money. Through assessing creditworthiness, you are allowed to get supplies on credit and pay later in the agreed terms,” says Mr Maina.
In a world saturated with startups what has kept Duhqa above water? Mr Maina says it is their understanding that they did not want to be a startup forever.
This they learned very early in their business and therefore they pushed themselves to break even.
What has he learned as a CEO of a startup?
"It is as simple as, Steve Jobs says, stay hungry. Stay foolish. I am just one person and I have a team of over 50 and a client base of about 7,000. So, I learn to listen, and in listening, I find my moment of cleverness. The other thing I have learned is that tomorrow is not promised in business as it is in life," he says.