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Social Entrepreneur

290 EpisodesProduced by Tony Loyd: Business executive and mentor to social entrepreneursWebsite

Social Entrepreneur exists at the intersection of profit and purpose. We tell positive stories from underrepresented voices, focused on solutions.


E-Commerce for Everyone, with Isaac Hunja, Sky.Garden

Sky.Garden is a SaaS e-commerce platform built for retailers in Africa.

People who work in the informal economy make up half to three-quarters of the non-agricultural labor force in many countries. In Kenya, the informal sector represents 82.7% of all employment.

Many of the people involved in the informal economy also have a job in the formal economy. Isaac Hunja, the Chief Marketing Officer at Sky.Garden, comments, “Every Kenyan has a side-hustle.”

One example of the informal economy is street vendors. They may have a kiosk in a marketplace or they may be selling goods from the back seat of their car. According to Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO):

  • Most street vendors provide the main source of income for their households.
  • Over half of street vendors surveyed said they source the goods they sell from formal enterprises.
  • Street vendors create jobs, not only for themselves but also for porters, security guards, transport operators, storage providers, and others.
  • Many generate revenue for cities through payments for licenses and permits, fees and fines, and certain kinds of taxes

Street vendors have a particular set of challenges. They may place a classified ad, offering their merchandise for sale. Customers call their mobile phone, with perhaps one in ten calls converting to a sale. Then the merchant must figure out how to deliver their merchandise and get paid. They may use a carrier. The carrier must deliver the merchandise, collect the payment and return the money to the merchant. The entire chain of events is fraught with problems.

Sky.Garden offers an alternative to this problematic process. Merchants can download the app and set up their online store in five minutes. They can take pictures with their phone and upload their inventory in less than 30 minutes. Each item in their shop has a unique URL. And their webshop has a unique URL. This allows the vendor to share links via WhatsApp, text message, or social media.

When a sale is made, Sky.Garden takes the transaction from there. They call the vendor to confirm the item is still available. They call the customer to confirm delivery details and dispatch a courier to deliver the item. Once the item is delivered, payment is made via mobile money, mPESA. Sky.Garden manages customer care using a machine learning framework. The process protects all parties involved and builds trust in the platform. Sky.Garden has over 3,000 unique web shops on their platform, featuring over 10,000 products.

Sky.Garden employs field agents to acquire new merchants, help them upload their first inventory, and teach the merchants to use e-commerce. While they are working with the vendors, the field agents are also vetting the vendors to ensure that they are not selling knock-off items. There is also a daily clean-up process on the platform to ensure all merchandise meets Sky.Garden’s requirements.

Social Entrepreneurship Quotes from Isaac Hunja

“We’ve been able to handle it by getting our hands dirty.”

“Make the world your business.”

“Every Kenyan has a side-hustle.”

“They had a lot of money falling through their fingers.”

“We’re trying to make e-commerce accessible to the market.”

“We have a big city expansion plan.”

“We only charge per transaction.”

“We give the merchant the freedom to choose.”

“I guess the startup blood is in me.”

“They wanted to give e-commerce back to the hands of the people.”

“We mapped 6,000 to 7,000 merchants and spoke to about half of them.”

“Using the merchants’ networks really helped.”

“You speak to one merchant in a building, and he would act as a gatekeeper.”

“We were able to build a platform around them.”

“Building the platform around Kenyan merchants, we realized we needed to build I with Kenyan developers as well.”

“We were built out of a fantastic program called iHub.”

“Nairobi is a melting pot of really bright young people who are developing things every day.”

“Every single product has a unique link. Every single webshop has a unique link.”

“Launching a social-based company isn’t easy.”

“Knowing that you’re doing something good, continue doing it, and the money will follow.”

“Investors are there for social-based companies.”

“Most importantly, track everything.”

“Scale. Scale. Scale.”

“We are as agile as possible.”

“Our customer service is world-class.”

“We’re bringing e-commerce back.”

“In five minutes, you have a webshop.”

Social Entrepreneurship Resources:


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