Growing up in Kibera, Nairobi, Carlos Kisangi, 24, used to buy goods at the nearby Toi Market. One day, when he came back from university, he realised that Toi Market had been razed by fire. It is this fire that became the spark he needed to launch his online web business.
His idea solidified when he saw some university students juggling between business and studying. If only they could have a website, he thought, they could do their various businesses conveniently.
Mr Kisangi, who did a diploma course in Computer Science and graduated in 2018 from Zetech University, decided to develop an app known as Toi Market Online, to help bridge the gap between buyers and sellers.
“I used to buy goods in Toi Market, so I came back home one day and found that Toi Market had been burnt, and people were crying and I said let me do something related to what I am studying. I also used to see students in university doing business. I decided to start a place where they can display their products,” he says.
“The main reason for starting Toi is to bridge individuals, businesses and communities.”
The idea, he said, started taking shape in his mind in 2019, and he developed it a year later.
“We have a website and an app. By the end of 2020, we had the whole system, and we started to pilot it in 2021, slowly until now,” he narrates.
He has partnered with Joel Miruni, 25, whom he met during internship.
“When we finished our internship, we looked for what to do,” says Mr Kisangi, adding that the app cost them a lot of money.
The entrepreneur says that anyone from Kisumu, Eldoret or any other place can have a store in Toi, so long as they can deliver when a customer needs the product.
One has to have a physical location in order to sell using the app.
“If you are selling clothes, maybe in Githurai, you just take pictures of your shop, your contacts, as well as your terms and conditions,” he says.
“You can download the app on Google Play Store. You can also go to any browser and locate the website at toimarket.africa,” says the innovator.
Vendors have to fill in their details - their name, ID number, user name, business name, email address, phone number, social media details, and register. Those who want to purchase products have to sign up too by creating an account using their names and email address.
Vendors have different packages to choose from.
“To be a vendor, you have to subscribe to any of the packages. We have bronze, platinum and gold. So when you are registering as a vendor, you have to buy one of the packages,” he says.
“The minimum package is Sh200 every month. Maximum one is Sh2,499 for six months. The gold one is for two months and cost Sh399, bronze is Sh200 every month. Diamond is Sh2,499 for six months and it is unlimited product.”
The app is only available in Kenya, but the innovators are contemplating to project to other countries like Tanzania and Uganda in future.
“We launched it in January this year, and now we have over 800 users and over 500 vendors, most of them are from Toi Market, and others are scattered around Kenya,” says Mr Kisangi.
He says Covid-19 has helped his business to grow, adding that people order on mobile phone and the products are conveniently delivered in the homes.
Baby clothes are the main products sold on the app. However, sales for utensils, furniture, books, and cars are beginning to rise.
“As long as you are doing business and you are genuine, anyone can sell on Toi Market,” Mr Kisangi says.
“Our systems are very flexible, they can work on a laptop, phone, so anybody with a smartphone can log in and upload pictures, wherever they are.”
To avoid fraud, someone who is buying from Toi has to pay to the app.
“Once the seller has delivered a product, we call the client. We are seeing everything that is happening at the system, so we call the customer and clarify if the product is okay,” he says.
“When the customer is satisfied, we release the vendor’s money.”
One of the challenges the techpreneurs face is that some vendors want to place products on the platform and don’t want to pay for using the app until after they make a sale.
Mr Kisangi has big dreams for his e-commerce platform:
“I am looking at Toi as Alibaba of Africa, it will be a bigger market where sellers will meet buyers. I also want to incorporate services, whereby if you are offering services you can also sell them there,” he says.