Maka, an African fashion and beauty e-commerce platform, has raised a $2.65 million pre-seed round led by Pan-African venture capital firms 4DX Ventures and Janngo Capital. Other investors include Palm Drive Capital, angel investor Jonathan Shipman, founder of EVP and Twitch founding member, and executives from delivery platform Wolt.

In 2021, co-founder and CEO Diana Owusu-Kyereko founded Maka as an interactive social commerce platform, which, through live try-on hauls, reviews, and user-generated content from both creators and customers, enables users to discover products tailored to their styles in a scalable way.

Before starting the e-commerce business, Owusu-Kyereko was the ex-CEO of Jumia Ghana and ex-CCO of Jumia Kenya. She said launching Maka began during the pandemic when she was in Ghana and struggled to find inclusive fashion inspiration. As a typical repatriate, Owusu-Kyereko had a routine of traveling to London whenever she needed to shop. But realizing she couldn’t do that during restricted travel prompted her to explore alternatives. When seeking recommendations, friends directed her to mainstream sites and influencers.

Owusu-Kyereko said she became intrigued by why everyone suggested shopping on platforms like ASOS and Instagram or visiting expensive boutiques. To delve deeper, she surveyed hundreds of people in Ghana and Nigeria, focusing on their preferred shopping avenues; it became evident that shopping was a challenging experience and a gap that needed addressing.

According to her, among explored shopping methods, Instagram stood out as the “Wild Wild West,” where what you see may not be what you get, and pre-payment is often required with limited options for refunds or returns. Meanwhile, while offering a personal touch, traditional markets could be stressful, leading to reliance on personal shoppers. Additionally, cross-border shopping from platforms like ASOS and Shein presented challenges related to payments and logistics.

“In all, it was quite complex and complicated for the user. And so I saw that you had a problem with trust in the buying process. People had their horror stories about buying online. Then the other thing was that this aggregation of everybody’s needs in one place was also not there. And that’s what sparked Maka,” the founder and CEO said. “So at first, it was like COVID, and being unable to travel to buy stuff felt like a me-problem. And then, like, doing interviews and surveys in the market and realizing that this is a wider challenge for consumers than I thought.”

Diana Owusu-Kyereko (co-founder and CEO, MAKA)

Owusu-Kyereko launched Maka six months after departing Jumia, targeting Africa’s millennials and Gen Zers in an e-commerce market that is a largely untapped market for fashion brands. The surge in technology adoption, particularly among the younger demographic, has propelled e-commerce penetration from 13% in 2017 to 28% in 2021, reaching 334 million users. This rapid expansion presents substantial opportunities for Maka to connect with a broader consumer base across the continent, specifically focusing on the fashion sector and the creator economy.

Maka’s platform identifies and solves two fundamental problems: a trust issue in the buying process and the challenge creators face in monetizing their influence. To address the trust element, Maka leverages videos as a means to connect users with trusted creators. In low-trust markets, we have observed that video is a powerful tool for building trust. It effectively conveys information, drives conversion, and establishes rapport between the user, the reviewer, and the buyer.

Seeing items on a creator they trust gives users confidence in their purchasing decisions. Initially, the startup considered building a marketplace where creators, consumers, vendors, and brands coexist, with creators showcasing products. However, it realized that customers prioritize the assurance that what they see is what they get, optimizing their limited disposable income on meaningful purchases. In essence, every customer can become a creator.

Notably, the platform offers a review option, allowing customers who make purchases to share their feedback through video reviews, usually between 30 and 60 seconds long. These reviews provide valuable insights for other users, influencing their buying decisions. According to the CEO, this feature has significantly impacted both those making purchases and those creating the reviews, fostering a sense of community and trust within the Maka platform.

“That’s what makes us so scalable because I think in the creator economy, if you focus on sort of just the big creators, you have a small pool of creators that you can work with, and that’s what we’ve kind of learned from the beginning,” she said. “What you need is kind of like a scalable base of creators, and that’s why the user-generated content model is so powerful, and that’s why everybody can be a creator is so powerful because then it’s scalable because you have an infinite amount of people who can create video content on the platform based on purchases, versus working with only a select group of creators to create content on the platform.”

Additionally, the company has a rewards system to incentivize users to upload these video reviews. Each time a customer/creator uploads a review, they earn N500 (50 cents); on average, a creator on Maka produces about seven videos per user,  according to Owusu-Kyereko. In addition to earning points for each video review, creators accumulate points when others make purchases based on their reviews. Furthermore, creators can download their reviews from Maka and share them on other social media platforms, earning additional points for each share. These points can be converted into cash to shop on the platform.

Since its inception, Maka claims to have garnered over 500,000 downloads, numbers it acquired via its initial model of engaging with creators through live sessions. However, from its user-generated content model launched two months ago, the two-year-old startup has seen over 2,000 reviews created. What’s next for the company? Owusu-Kyereko said that Maka will use the funds to expand its team and operational development, enhance its technology, and deepen its presence in Ghana and Nigeria.

Fatoumata Bâ, founder and executive chair of Janngo Capital, speaking on the investment, said her firm was drawn to Maka’s vision of leveraging technology to empower both consumers and creators, cementing the startup’s position at the forefront of the junction between e-commerce, creative and cultural industries across Africa. “These three sectors are jointly poised to grow by 4x by 2050 and generate up to $200 billion GDP while creating 184 million jobs,” she noted. “We are proud to lead this funding round to help unlock a potential of massive growth and impact on the continent.”

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