Sukhiba eyes expansion to power WhatsApp conversational commerce in Africa


Kenya's conversational commerce startup Sukhiba talks expansion after pivoting and raising $1.5M funding.
Image Credits: Sukhiba

The social commerce market size in Africa is expected to continue growing as businesses and micro-entrepreneurs embrace digital media, driven by the rising usage of apps like WhatsApp, TikTok and Instagram.

Yet even as sellers leverage these social sites for online presence to showcase their products and connect with customers, the end-to-end buying experience is not always as smooth. For instance, a customer might have to navigate to non-digital channels for payments or delivery. These are some of the gaps that emerging social commerce startups such as Sukhiba Connect, are working to solve.

Sukhiba has built a B2B conversational commerce tool that enables businesses to reach and sell to their customers through Meta’s messaging app, WhatsApp. It offers sellers the ability to manage orders, accept local payment methods like mobile money service M-Pesa, send notifications and group customers. Buyers are also able to browse product catalogs, add/remove products to carts and even check out without leaving WhatsApp.

“We have brought to WhatsApp the ability to do the entire transaction from conversation, purchase and payments to delivery,” Sukhiba co-founder and CEO Ananth Gudipati told TechCrunch.

The startup claims to have, so far, enabled WhatsApp commerce for more than 30 companies, most of which are major manufacturers and distributors that serve close to 15,000 micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), including retailers.

Gudipati said manufacturers use Sukhiba to help their sales teams, which largely operate offline, widen their areas of coverage and gain new customers.

Sukhiba has also built features that enable manufacturers to, for instance, group customers according to routes, which are then assigned to sales persons for tailored in-app support.

“African customers order via trust, and trust is often built with relationships. Salespeople have that relationship with retailers and we are not trying to replace it, that is why routing the chat was a very essential innovation for us,” said Gudipati.

“We can power an entire CRM function through WhatsApp with routes, sales staff, view mapping, monitoring and all other features that manufacturers need,” said Gudipati, noting that while they enable B2B commerce, companies such as Uncover are using it to sell to retail customers.

The startup is now set to expand beyond Kenya backed by $1.5 million seed funding secured in a round led by CRE Ventures, with the participation of Antler, EQ2 Ventures, Goodwater Capital, Chandaria Capital and a number of angel investors.

WhatsApp penetration in Africa

Kenya is among the top five countries with the highest WhatsApp user base in Africa, and its penetration in the country means that the no-fuss and convenient app is nearly the default messaging channel for mobile users. Zooming out from Kenya, WhatsApp usage is also widespread in Africa, especially in countries such as Ethiopia, South Africa, Egypt and Nigeria, one of the markets Sukhiba is keen to expand into.

The high usage means WhatsApp has provided an opportunity for communities, including buyers and sellers, to connect easily. However, while it has built some features to enable businesses to set up in-app shops, some functionalities are missing, and localization is required. Sukhiba, and other social commerce startups like Tushop and Kapu are bridging some of these gaps, with the opportunity still being vastly unexplored, according to Gudipati.

“Significant transactions and conversations are happening on WhatsApp. They might not get recorded on WhatsApp, because the app does not have all these functionalities, but a lot of commerce — whether it is enabling commerce or the conversation leading to the eventual commerce — is happening,” said Gudipati, who co-founded Sukhiba with Abhinav Solipuram (CTO) in 2021.

Sukhiba was initially launched as a community commerce platform aggregating orders from buyers, and facilitating bulk buying from manufacturers. It was an asset-heavy model that, Gudipati says, was capital intensive forcing them to pivot mid last year to conversational commerce.

“Our strength from day one has always been to develop software that is innovative and scalable. We didn’t want to lose our focus around that,” said Gudipati. “Communities are being built on WhatsApp and we are coming into the market saying that maybe, there is no need to have an app, you can do all the selling on WhatsApp.”

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