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This gig-work startup thinks West Africa is poised for economic explosion

COMPRISING 17 countries and more than 407 million people, West Africa is poised for an economic revolution. That’s the viewpoint of local entrepreneurs Daniel Heinen and Sydney Vandyck, who are looking to innovate the way West Africans work with their startup, Ajuma Technologies.

Founded in 2018, Ajuma has created a marketplace platform that matches customers to small businesses and freelancers through a live bidding system. The company is currently beta testing the platform and plans to make its official launch early this year.

‘We aim to be “user first” when it comes to everything we do,’ said Heinen, who heads up Ajuma as co-founder and co-CEO. ‘For small businesses [and] freelancers, we want to build the best tools to help them obtain customers, keep those customers and understand what is going on in their business. For customers, we want to build a seamless experience where they can hire trustworthy people, in a safe, secure and affordable manner.’

To use Ajuma’s app, customers first choose the specific category of work they need and create a job post. These job posts include a description of the work, the location and a desired price point and are divided into ‘instant’ and ‘scheduled’ services. Next, small businesses and freelancers bid on jobs. With its live bidding system, customers are matched with businesses based on ratings, availability and cost. The customers can view vendors’ profiles, past work and ratings to determine which business they like best.

A contract is created between the customer and vendor once a bid is accepted. Payment is held until the job is complete and a photo of the finished work is uploaded to the app. Once the customer verifies the finalized work and approves it, payment is released to the service provider.

Although Ajuma has a variety of work categories that customers can choose from, the company is currently focusing on jobs that can be completed on-site like painting, plumbing and towing.

The app is currently free to download. Ajuma brings in revenue via a 5 percent service fee charged to both the customer and provider.

The startup is based in both Boston and Accra, Ghana. Although the app hasn’t launched yet, Ajuma has conducted beta testing in Ghana with about 100 users so far.

‘We have received a lot of positive feedback,’ Heinen said. ‘People love the idea and want to be a part of it. We have gotten so many different suggestions and ideas from the community. We have had suggestions like “add job training,” “educational tools” and many more. We love our community, and we try to listen to them and build things they want to use and they get excited about.’

So, why West Africa? Heinen highlighted a key difference between the US and that region: the self-employment rate. In West Africa, about 80 percent of workers are self-employed, compared to 30 percent in America, he said.

‘If you want opportunities, you have to create them for yourself,’ Heinen said. ‘While in more Western countries, we are used to just going to a big-box store or chain for a product or service, West African countries often have much more small businesses and self-employed, focused economies. This means that many people own small shops, stands [or] service businesses, or just do a lot of gig work.’

Heinen also believes West Africa is poised for major innovation in its economic market. He cited the region’s young population, high level of English language proficiency and adoption of smartphones, along with global economic trends like the adaptation to remote work and rising costs of labour in China.

As investment grows in West African countries, so too will infrastructure, access to education, internet service and more, Heinen said, priming the region for “an explosion in economic growth.”

‘West Africa is going to be a big player in the world,’ he said. ‘I don’t think it is unreasonable to think that both global and local freelance work will become more common. We want to build technology that plays a role in the economic revolution of Africa as a whole.’

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