Cooffa: a smart cash register for merchants
The startup Cooffa was ranked in the 2nd place at "L'Arbres à Palabres" Hackathon. His project is a suite of software applications that organises information flows between the producers of everyday, mass-market products, distributors and end customers.
What’s the story behind your project and what sparked the idea?
We initially designed a mobile money solution for the Algerian market, Mobicash. But the government toughened the regulations and eventually decided to ban the activity altogether. So we had to abandon that idea. But as part of the project, we’d developed the concept of a smart cash register. It could be used by shopkeepers to buy produce from their suppliers. In the course of our conversations, many producers and distributors of everyday, mass-market products told us about their need to improve the distribution process by being connected to a network of retailers. And that’s when we had the idea for the Cooffa project.
In what ways is your project innovative?
Firstly, we’re providing technological innovation, through the use of Bebond technology, for example. It allows the smart cash register to stay connected to the server even without Internet coverage. Blockchain technology helps set up a network-based loyalty programme. But the main innovation lies in its economic model. We’re offering to provide shopkeepers with the cash register - the machine itself and its software solution - totally free of charge. We make money via 3 types of service. Firstly, we offer paying services such as remote shop surveillance. Next, we collect data about the status of stocks or consumer habits which we then process and make available to the brands. Finally, we offer to host the services of other POS software editors on our cash register. YUP, the new mobile money solution deployed in Africa, could for example incorporate a payment solution integrated into the cash register, which is a secure, controlled environment from a technical point of view. That would avoid the need to convince shopkeepers to acquire another credit card terminal, which in turn makes for less maintenance. Another advantage is the fact that our cash register can even operate offline.
What does Lab Innovation represent for you?
It is an outstanding relational accelerator. Thanks to the Lab, we’ve been able to meet with professionals from the banking sector and the African ecosystem. It also constitutes a dynamic hub that helps bring together startups, professionals from the world of banking and finance, and the companies that will potentially use our solution.
What were your expectations for the Lab?
We hoped to gain genuine recognition, which would then give real credibility to our project. We can now say that our concept has been approved by the Lab of a global bank.
What advantages does that give you?
Firstly, fresh impetus and a really positive boost that makes us determined to go even further. But above all, it puts our project on an entirely new scale. Cooffa is no longer just for the Algerian market. It’s now an African project.
What are the benefits of your project for the African market?
The first benefit is the fact that the distribution network for everyday, mass-market products is optimised. Our solution also reinforces traceability, so consumers are more likely to have access to better quality products. There is also a major benefit as regards the development of consumer loyalty strategies on the African continent. At present, $5000 billion of loyalty points are in circulation worldwide. Yet our continent remains a marginal player in this field. Why? It has a lot to do with the economic fabric, comprised mainly of small stores that operate within the informal economy. The initial investment required is often beyond their means. With our technology, we allow hundreds of thousands of small stores to take advantage of state-of-the-art technology, that used to be reserved for the big brand names.
How do you see your startup 10 years from now?
Well, we’re an ambitious team! So I reckon we’ll have covered a large chunk of Africa and be on the way to winning market share in Asia and Latin America. We’ll also have added to our range of services, using Big Data solutions and Artificial Intelligence, providing evermore precise understanding of consumer habits in each region of the world.
What would you say is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
(Laughs). I have to say I’ve received three very precious pieces of advice. The first one was given to me during the “Palaver Tree” Hackathon. Maria, the Chair of the association of female retailers in Cameroon, made me aware of something essential. I had to do my best to make this forward-looking solution available to as many users as possible. And one way to achieve that was to step away from my engineering background and always seek to simplify things for the end user. Again during the Hackathon, the CEO of YUP advised me to find a sponsor for the hardware based on its content. Finally, the third piece of advice came during the Learning expedition in Bangalore, from the founder of the startup Momoe. He emphasised the benefits of launching a startup on a vast market. That reinforced my decision to give Cooffa an African dimension and market it throughout the entire continent.
Interview with Ahmed-Medhi Omarouayache