Shypmate, which is part of Y Combinator’s Winter 2016 batch, is a quick, low-cost international shipping solution that relies on everyday people to transport items from the U.S. to Ghana and Nigeria.
Why Ghana and Nigeria? Well, the founding team (pictured above) has members from both Ghana and Nigeria — two African markets they’re familiar with and have a need for this kind of service, Shypmate co-founder Perry Ogwuche told TechCrunch. On average, it takes shoppers Nigeria about five weeks to receive packages from the U.S., Shypmate says. It’s also a very costly process.
In Shypmate’s test with DHL shipping a $50 pair of shoes to Ghana, it took about a week and cost $250, Ogwuche said. With Shypmate, the cost of shipping is just $25. Shypmate guarantees deliveries within 5-10 days after receiving the item from the retailer, but has been averaging deliveries of just three to five days. Secondly, people in Nigeria and Ghana don’t have access to a lot of the items in the U.S. because some stores, like H&M and Zara, for example, won’t ship to those countries.
“Hundreds and hundreds of other stores in the U.S. that people really want to get stuff from just won’t deliver to those countries,” Ogwuche said. “So what people end up doing is trying to do the same thing we’re trying to solve. They try to find someone who’s coming down or find a relative, and they ship it to a relative and the relative holds onto it for months [until they come to Ghana or Nigeria]. It’s already happening in a very inefficient way and at a very low scale.”
For shoppers in Ghana and Nigeria, all they need to do is send Shypmate a link to whatever it is that they want to purchase. Shypmate then takes care of the entire process, from purchase to delivery. Some initial fears that might come to mind for travelers could be, “but what if I end up carrying something illegal?” Shypmate gets that question a lot, and it’s not going to happen, Ogwuche said.
“These items are not coming from people,” Ogwuche said. “We don’t deliver stuff that isn’t purchased through Shypmate. Items that travelers take come from trusted e-commerce stores, like Amazon or Zara or eBay, or any of those online stores. They come directly from them.”
Here’s how it works for people in the U.S.: Let’s say you’re planning a trip to Ghana or Nigeria, and you have some extra space in your luggage. You would go to Shypmate and sign up as a traveler, share your flight information, and provide the best address for you to receive the item. Before you’re approved, Shypmate conducts a background check.
Once you arrive in Ghana or Nigeria, the shopper will meet you at the airport. Once the transaction is complete, you’ll receive 70 percent of whatever Shypmate made. On average, Shypmate travelers have made $100 per trip. One Shypmate traveler went to Ghana in November, and ended up making $370. (Side note: my jaw dropped when Ogwuche told me this because when I went to Ghana and Nigeria last August, I spent about $1,000 on flights. That $370 would’ve been pretty sweet to offset the costs of my trip.)
In the last two months, Shypmate has facilitated over 150 transactions with a 100 percent satisfaction guarantee, and is growing 10 percent every week. So far, people have been using Shypmate for shoes, weaves, iPhones, laptops, jewelry and other products. For the shoppers, Shypmate’s fees are based on the weight, size and price of the product, as well as the willingness of travelers to carry the product. Shypmate’s business is dependent upon how many people are actually traveling to Ghana and Nigeria from the U.S. In a year, over 200,000 people travel from the U.S. to Nigeria or Ghana, Ogwuche said.
“The supply part of it is not going to be an issue,” Ogwuche said. “The reality of it is we have a couple of travelers a week and they can meet a lot of demand. In total, we’ve had 35 or so travelers and they’ve met all the 100+ shipments we’ve had. You only really need a small number of travelers to meet a huge ton of demand.”
Down the road, post-Y Combinator, Shypmate will likely relocate to New York, where there are more direct flights to Ghana and Nigeria than from the San Francisco Bay Area. Shypmate also wants to expand its offering to other countries.
“We have a global vision for this,” Ogwuche said. “This is not something only needed in African countries. We’ve gotten requests from people all over the world, like in Hong Kong, and in the most random places saying they need this stuff. There are lot of things people want to get from different places that they can’t get, like a wine from Australia, or this cologne that they don’t necessarily sell in the U.S., but sell in Dubai.”
For now, if you’re based in the U.S. and planning a trip to either Ghana or Nigeria, you may want to consider signing up to become a Shypmate traveler to help offset the costs of your trip.