Young people between the ages 15 and 24 constitute around 20 percent of sub-Saharan Africa’s population, thus making it the youngest continent in the world (African Union, 2019). Even though this trend is a huge opportunity for increased productivity and innovation, it also poses a huge risk if education, training and employment are not widely available in the region.
The risk is heightened as currently the vast majority of Africa’s youth work informally, with many underemployed or remaining in poverty despite being employed as a result of low wages and the lack of a social safety net.
Waape, a startup based in Uganda is trying to tackle the problem of unemployment and underemployment in Africa with the use of cutting edge technology. For this Startup Spotlight, we caught up with Collins Mbulakyalo, one of the Founders and Ops Lead at Waape to dive deeper into how they are making the African job market more accessible and equitable. Enjoy!
The startup at a glance
Startup Name: Waape
Industry: Talent, Marketplaces, HR & Staffing
Location: Kampala, Uganda
Date founded: June 2020
Number of employees: 21
Vonage API used: Verify, SMS
In one sentence, what does Waape do?
We are building Africa's Digital Talent Marketplace to make hiring underrepresented African freelancers more accessible for startups and SMEs.
What is the problem you are solving? Was this the initial problem or did you pivot?
280 Million of Africa’s Youth are either unemployed or underemployed and at the same time, 89% of startups never make it past the first year. This is the same problem we’ve been solving since we started, the only thing that’s changed is the approach we’ve taken to solve it, from starting out initially as a Talent Agency to becoming a Marketplace.
What differentiates Waape from your competitors? Is there a secret sauce?
Our product is built on top of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at the core with a blind matching algorithm, we do this to make sure opportunities are curated for all equitably and made as easily accessible. But above all, we use a lot of cutting edge technology to build our product with the goal of helping businesses find their match within less than an hour of posting a job.
VC, Angel, Bootstrap or Other?
What’s the biggest challenge you faced and how did you overcome it?
While starting out we had to run training cohorts with the talent on our platform and because we started out during the heart of the pandemic, we were unable to run training sessions physically for a greater part of our first 4 months. We later then figured out a platform we could use to run training and even issue certifications remotely and ended up using that.
The biggest mistake Waape has made so far and what did you learn from it?
We initially started out our marketplace model with a focus on freelancers rather than balancing effort on both employers and freelancers and we eventually ended up with the chicken and egg problem of marketplaces. We learnt about how important it is to be intentional about balancing both ends when it comes to customer acquisition and sales.
You can choose one to be on your board: Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates. Who do you choose and why?
Elon Musk, his diverse portfolio of companies and his unconventional methods that got him growth are rather interesting. It's because of this that we’d greatly benefit from him, because he is building companies for the future and understands what it means to go rock bottom and rise up, which is greatly inspiring.
How have you been using Vonage’s APIs?
We’ve been using Vonage’s APIs to verify our user phone numbers and send product SMS notifications via our platform for things like new jobs, job status updates, payment completions amongst other things.
What progress have you made since launching?
We currently have a pool of 500 users with 400 of those being freelancers and 100 employers and have helped 70 businesses find the right talent they need to scale their business since then.
What’s next for Waape? Where do you want to be in 3 years?
In the next 3 years, we want to have created 100,000 job opportunities and expanded to cities like Lagos, Nairobi and Kigali. We truly want to live up to the term Africa’s Digital Talent Marketplace.
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