7 minute read
Startup Story

Logistics startup Buymore connects retailers and stakeholders to scale business for all

Buymore group photo

How two Kenyan founders aim to build Africa’s largest digital marketplace

“Silicon Savannah” may not be as familiar as Silicon Valley, but don’t underestimate it: Kenyan startups raised $266 million in 2020—25% of all startup capital raised throughout Africa. Two of the most ambitious entrepreneurs contributing to the Nairobi startup ecosystem are John Adams and Tony Kuchio. The Buymore origin story begins with Tony and his friend James, who wanted to connect students to select retail brands in Kenya at a considerably cheaper cost. John, a former schoolmate of Tony, joined the duo and in 2014, the Buymore Card student discount program was launched.

While they originally envisioned Buymore as a student discount card company, John and Tony pivoted the business in order to scale. The key learnings obtained from running the Buymore Card were a stepping stone to what Tony and John decided to embark on next. “We realised that 70% of the retail merchants that were accepting the Buymore Card were in need of a more integrated solution to help them keep digital business records, interact better with their suppliers and customers,” recalled cofounder and CEO Tony. Expanding their technology beyond recording student discount sales, Buymore added capabilities for capturing and tracking all other transactions and providing sellers with visibility into this data. The team transitioned their business model in 2018, launching the Buymore POS, a retail point-of-sale (POS) platform that businesses could access on their mobile phones. “This provided quite a unique experience to these customers compared to what the market was offering at the time,” added Tony. “We ran in beta for one year to a closed set of early adopters and in 2019 released version 1 of Buymore POS retail platform.” The newer version of the platform is enabling retailers to capture, store, and analyze their business transactions digitally, and reach a supplier network of product and service purveyors.

Today, Buymore serves retailers ranging from microstores called dukas, up to midsize wholesalers, liquor stores, agrovet farming and livestock suppliers, beauty shops, and other businesses. The marketplace application then links them to retail stakeholders including banks, microfinance institutions, consumer packaged goods distributors, and many other organizations such as NGOs. The founders’ ultimately aspire to build Africa’s largest digital retail network: “We’re shaping the world around us by providing opportunities and solutions that change lives,” said Tony. “We exist to help underserved businesses unlock new trade opportunities for economic empowerment throughout the region.”

From the get-go, Google Cloud was Buymore’s cloud platform of choice. “It was a no-brainer,” remembers cofounder and CTO John. After attending a Google Cloud masterclass boot camp in 2019, Buymore was accepted into the Startup Program by Google Cloud, which provides technical, financial, and business support for high-potential startups around the world. As part of the program, they received Google Cloud Platform (GCP) credits to support their growth and strengthen Buymore’s cloud infrastructure. The team primarily needed help with designing and supporting a highly- scalable, cloud-native solution to evolve their platform from a Minimum Viable Product to an enterprise-ready platform. “For us, the most important part of the program was the mentorship on Google Cloud services and how to optimize our infrastructure for greater cost savings,” John explained. “We also had high-level training on machine learning, enabling us to provide a better user experience for our customers. Additionally, we learned about startup funding opportunities, something we are actively pursuing this year.”

Buymore got the strategic partnership they needed to make their vision a reality—and the process was personal. “It’s stunning that, as big as Google is, the Google for Startups team still maintains personal engagement,” said John. “They were keen to know details about what our startup was doing and if we needed support with literally anything—the entire team was super responsive to all of our queries and requests. There’s this sense of genuine desire to want to help you to succeed by providing the necessary technical know-how.” He shared the example of an enterprise customer needing to conduct a security and technology audit on Buymore’s infrastructure: “Within 24 hours, the Google for Startups team responded with detailed answers to questions we hadn’t been able to answer. We got to learn by example and understand best practices for building with a cloud-first approach,” he continued. “We continually apply key learnings from the program, and we still engage Google Cloud as we’re truly convinced they are the right partner for our needs as a growing company.”

As Buymore began expanding and building more functionality into their platform, the team migrated to Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE) to power their application operations. “Running our backend and frontend workloads on GKE has had a net effect of 0% system downtime and always-up availability,” John noted. “Our engineering team, thin as it is, has a release velocity five times faster than before we started using Kubernetes on Google Cloud, and our enterprise-customer conversion rate rose to 90%.” Looking ahead, machine learning is a top area of interest for Buymore, as the company embarks on the next phase of their platform. “In our case, building a technology startup in Africa--especially without ‘the right connections’--is an extreme sport,” John concluded. “Participating in Google Cloud’s program for startups enabled us to overcome infrastructure and IT operations costs by a margin of 60% and tap into the support network we needed to take our business to the next level.”

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