Super App Africa: A Trend Here to Stay?

An evolving trend towards ‘Super App’ products in Africa — Baobab Insights asked seven leading market voices to help unpick the topic.

Is the Super App a short-term trend in Africa?

Over 2020, our analysts at Baobab Insights saw a new trend emerge. Company announcements made by start-ups in Africa in the e-commerce and logistics sectors mentioned a raft of new products and services. Specifically, they noticed companies broadening their service offering towards services that are commonly termed as a “Super app”. In our ‘Tracking Tech Developments in West Africa Q2 2020’ report for example — Baobab Insights identified four well-established start-ups introducing new products and services, iterating from their original core service.

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So, is this the start of a long-term trend, or a short-term response to the COVID-19 pandemic? We asked several voices within the African venture capital and start-up community to see what they thought.

The question posed to key market voices:

We have seen a lot of product announcements regarding payments companies moving into the E-commerce and delivery space. Likewise we have seen a lot of E-commerce companies begin to diversify their business models. Is this a trend towards more super app* style services or a short-term reaction to growth in the E-commerce sector?

*Super apps typically combine several product/service offerings in one app


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A proven model in frontier markets…

Some of our respondents, such as co-founder of Gozem, noted that the Super App business model is one that has been very successful in other frontier markets. Given the similar market dynamics and challenges present in markets across Africa they suggested that perhaps the Super App model might be a good fit.

Raphael Dana Gozem

“The super app has been clearly recognised as the winning model in frontier markets, thanks to Grab and Gojek in Southeast Asia. It’s all about winning the user engagement and everybody gets it.”

Raphael Dana, Co-Founder & Board Member — Gozem

Serag Meneassy Wasla Browser

“There is definitely a general trend of ride-hailing/e-commerce/payment and content players expanding their offerings with the goal of capturing as much as they can from a typical users online spend. This trend follows successful super app use cases from China and SE Asia where platforms have multi-modal revenue streams (payments, e-commerce, ride-hailing and content). However, we are yet to see a successful consumer facing internet company in Africa execute a successful super app strategy.”

Serag Meneassy, Co-Founder & Head of Growth — Wasla Browser

Hamza Butt Chandaria Capital

As things stand, I think it’s a blend of both. Several companies still integrate third party technology’s into their product offerings, e.g. gaming companies incorporating several payment gateways into their games, building in payments into high touch point interactions.

However, we are seeing several companies incorporating in-house tech developments along their product roadmaps that offer a range of different services, for instance, logistics companies building in their own e-commerce and payment platforms.

Additionally, larger, well backed companies like Glovo, have shown that companies can incorporate several products and services in “one-app”.

Hamza Butt, Associate — Chandaria Capital

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A reflection of the blurring of sectors in Africa…

Our respondents also recognised that for some founders finding existing service-providers and strategic partners can be difficult, especially in nascent markets. The lack of partner companies in the payments, or infrastructure space is forcing tech founders to address challenges along a greater proportion of the value chain besides their core offering.

Llew Claason Newtown Partners

“The tendency to deliver a solution covering adjacent parts of the value chain is a response to the realization that in most African markets, e-commerce interfaces are not well defined, mature and modular and there may not be enough capable, mature vendors addressing the adjacent area of the value chain. It becomes necessary to integrate these into a viable solution, rather than remain focused on just one part of the value chain. An increase in e-commerce order volumes and conversion rates since COVID has probably accelerated this need, rather than it being a short-term reaction.”

Llew Claasen, Managing Partner — Newtown Partners

Karl Nichte Goodwell

“The story of innovation in Africa is intertwined with the story of the convergence of sectors. In order for startups to adequately serve their end-clients, who often sit at the bottom of the pyramid, startups must have a variety of offerings. For this market segment, the more that they can derive from one startup/app, the better. It reduces a lot of barriers that they would otherwise face. This wider range of offerings would suggest that I sit closer to the super app side of the spectrum than the short term reaction, as asked above.”

Karl Nichte, Investment Analyst — Goodwell Investments

A necessity for unit economics and sustainability…

In certain sectors, such as e-commerce, margins can be narrow especially if building to service bottom of the pyramid (BOP) customers. Respondents reflected that diverse service offerings can help to maximise revenues.

Maria Inziani Baobab Insights

“E-commerce is capital intensive business venture. With many players across the value chain, it becomes necessary to integrate other products and services into primary business model as a profit-maximisation strategy. The growing demand for customer centric products will make need for super apps lasting rather than a short-term market reaction.”

Maria Inziani, Data Scientist — Baobab Insights

Philani Sangweni E4E Africa

“I think in a market like Southern Africa and the rest of the continent super app type services are inevitable. There are a number of businesses that need to diversify to stay relevant in order to generate sustainable growth.”

Philani Sangweni, Co-Founder & Managing Partner — E4EAfrica

Matthieu Marchand Partech

“I haven’t seen a lot of payment companies going into E-Commerce to be honest and I feel this trend if any remains marginal. On the other side, e Commerce / B2C product and services marketplaces going into payment is the reflection of their challenges in terms of unit economics in their core products and it’s a way for them to improve customer monetization. Super apps have the advantage of working well for the bottom end of the pyramid as you get multiple revenue streams per user and enables you to properly monetized even customers with limited purchase power.”

Matthieu Marchand, Investment Officer — Partech

A customer-centric model…

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has forced consumers to explore e-commerce and online retail, the super app model builds upon this customer experience whilst also unifying discrete services.

Wanjiku Kimani Baobab Ventures

“I think the trend towards the super app model is a long-term one but it has been further accelerated by COVID’s impact on e-commerce. From a customer adoption perspective, most African’s still access digital services via USSD and the behavioural shift towards app usage would be well supported by providing a one-stop solution. Customers have started fully appreciating the convenience of digital payments and on-demand services. It makes sense to reduce the psychological burden of adopting new products by extending the range of existing products. It will be really interesting to see who will successfully aggregate services as I believe that the super app model creates a winner-takes-all market.”

Wanjiku-Kimani, Venture Partner — The Baobab Network

In conclusion…

From our own analysis and insights from those interviewed, it would appear that the shift towards the super app model is a trend that was inevitably always going to reach Africa, having proven successful in comparable markets. So while we would suggest this is not merely a short-term trend, the impacts of COVID-19 on e-commerce and adjacent sectors, has no doubt played a role in catalysing this trend at a much faster rate.

Let us know what you think?

This article was first published November 2020.


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