The large global online platforms like Google Search, Facebook and Instagram are so well established that they are hard to challenge out of Africa. LinkedIn is the global jobs and networking equivalent of these platforms aimed at professionals. Russell Southwood spoke to afringa, founder and CEO, Victor Thien who has a formula for being a challenger to LinkedIn.
Hootsuite/We are social's January 2019 report gives some idea of the scale of LinkedIn use in Africa. The table below shows a comparison between Twitter and LinkedIn use as a percentage of internet users in three key markets:
Nigeria 30% 12%
South Africa 42% 38%
Kenya 33% 16%
Afringa's Founder and CEO Victor Thien worked for ten years with Ernst and Young as a management consultant, answering questions about how to set up shop in Africa. One continual challenge was the difficulty of finding the right talent in Africa. So Thien started to develop the idea in his mind of a simple LinkedIn for Africa.
Eventually two years ago, after a research period, he jumped ship and set up a company in Rwanda with ten people to make the idea a reality:"We started to refine the idea. LinkedIn covers mainly the executive level but not below that. Most young people don't know how to use it. So you see a lot of empty profiles. We wanted to be able to connect the young with companies."
There is a working population aged 16-65 of 680 million people, 150 million of whom are in the formal working population. The rest are in the informal sector and this is the starting point for afringa:"We want to give informal workers a face. There are a lot of job platforms that do one thing. They connect people to jobs but they don't give them a profile".
The site offers jobs 6,000 jobs across 40 countries. On the other side, there are currently 15,000 profiles on the site, all of which are free entries. The long-term aim is to create a free and a paid-for version of the site, allowing users access to things like professional development courses.
But what are the lower income afringa users looking for through the platform:"I've had someone contact me saying they've found a young entrepreneur selling food, bio and textile products. Another has found distributors in other countries. A Rwandan entrepreneur found a South African investor. We always stress that the platform is not Facebook. It's there for you to build a professional network.
Another innovation is to allow job applicants on the site to create very short videos in which they describe their skills and personal qualities:"We've replaced cover letters with videos. Candidates create a 60-second 'selfie' video using either a smartphone or featurephone". So far, 300 people have made these 'selfie' videos.
So how will afringa go from connecting tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands and then millions:"Word of mouth is currently the strongest tool for growth rather than online advertising. We also need to get more companies using it". There are currently 300 but not all are paying yet:"We're not charging some. We work with them and capture their experience." The service is free to the profile owners.
Afringa is in the process of fundraising US$500,000 to build a team of fixed employees in different countries. It also wants to hold local career marketing events with both companies and job-seekers:"We're talking to quite a number of people, but particularly two angel investors."
In terms of countries, it's focused on Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Kenya and Nigeria:"We're trying to get Ethiopia working but the internet has gone down and it's still too expensive. South Africa is interesting but there are a lot of mature competitors." In 2-3 years time he wants to become the talent acquisition platform across the African continent.