Ramani’s billion dollar vision

Ramani’s senior leadership team. PHOTO | COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • As two brothers and their best friend have been able to prove, a functioning community is key to any type of growth

For many of us, growing up, we heard that businessmen do so well for themselves and as a result, we aspired to run businesses of our own someday.

Today, through the advancement of technology, running a business is no longer a long dream, only to be attained in your thirties.

However, accessibility and ability to run a tech-centred business is just one side of the coin. The other; sustainable innovation to keep the business floating and eventually, thrive.

CEO and one of the three co-founders of Ramani, Mr Iain Usiri, is another living testament that the right mind-set, drive, partners, sprinkled with enough hard work is just another good recipe for youth in business; especially in the tech sector that demands evolution and growth every single day.

“We are three co-founders with backgrounds in computer science, engineering and finance from Stanford, Google and Capgemini. I am the company’s CEO, with a degree in computer science from Stanford. I started this company with my younger brother, Calvin Usiri who did software engineering at a company called Capgemini. He is our Chief Technology Officer and handles the engineering side of the business.”

“The third partner, who handles our finances as the Chief Operations Officer is Kibet Martin. He has a degree in economics from Morehouse College and has worked in finance at Google,” Iain explains to me as we settle down after an interesting tour of the Ramani offices.

“Kibet and I are friends; we met at Stanford University in our first year of studies during an exchange program we took part in. We then started working together immediately after we graduated. Unfortunately, we were not completely satisfied with the working environment there and so we thought of starting our own company. We also agreed that it would be meaningful to move back home and start the company here. In 2019, I decided to quit my job, against my parents’ wishes, and then I moved back to Tanzania. A few months later, Calvin and Kibet moved and joined me on this journey,” he shares.

Moving home felt a lot more meaningful to the team and they decided to take the leap of faith and open their company. “Kibet and I were about 26-years-old and my brother Calvin was 23 when we made the decision to venture out on our own,” Iain said. The trio founded Ramani, a cloud network of third party, micro-distribution centres for Africa’s trillion dollar consumer packaged goods (CPGs) supply chain.

“What we’ve done is build software that micro-distribution centres can use to manage their operations. This means a distributor can keep track of where their sales people are going to, who they are selling to, how much are they selling, how much inventory you still have in your warehouse and so much more. The app then helps you track all that data in real time,” Iain explains.

In addition to that, Ramani has also created an app where the same micro-distributors can place product orders and have them delivered. While these may seem like separate functions, they actually work together and communicate to create a smoother means of businesses to run. It is also a pay-as-you-sell model which helps ease the burden of prepaid ordering for smaller businesses. There is also the Ramani Finance part of the business where the company lends funds to distributors and helps them buy their inventory in advance. This was made a success after they received their lending license from the Bank of Tanzania.

Recently, the company successfully raised $32 million in a Series A debt-equity round which will go into further digitising CPG supply chains and lend resellers. This came a year after an undisclosed seed funding round last year which was led by Flexcap Ventures and entrepreneur, Jared Schreiber.

The journey itself

While the Ramani journey itself began in 2019, officially, they were already working as distributors and had a fleet of vehicles, a team of salespeople and a warehouse, and were selling to smaller shops.

“We got our first investment from growing that business when we got into Y Combinator, a USA investor known for investing in companies like Airbnb, Reddit, Substack and Dropbox among others. Ramani became the second Tanzanian company that Y Combinator invested in, after Nala,” Iain shared.

“We got into Y Combinator as distributors and while there, we learnt the challenges that distributors face as they manage their operations and accessing inventory and decided to turn our business into a solution-oriented one to help businesses deal with these challenges.”

During this journey, they managed to raise capital from Village Global, Hustle Fund and Gold Capital Funding amongst others.

“It took a lot of working through corona, pivoting and looking for solutions and in 2021, we were a team of seven people and we have grown so fast to now a team of eighty. We were doubling in size almost every two months and this growth and business evolution was quite challenging to manage initially,” he says.

Ramani is in five cities in Tanzania, Dar es Salaam included, and in Nairobi with operations spanning across East Africa. There is however, a team of distributors and software engineers on a global scale with the Head of Capital Markets stationed in Canada.

Challenges and opportunities

Like any other start-up, youth-led or not, challenges are inevitable. Iain attests that they were not immune to those, especially being friends and getting into business together. “Like any other start-up, finding the right talent is really difficult, especially when we are innovating so fast,” he explains.

While the work environment and atmosphere at Ramani is rather flexible, allowing staff members to work remotely and come in as needed, the reality on the ground is that it is even more challenging because one finds themselves working crazy hours to deliver on their KPIs.

As a result, Iain explains that finding talent that can assimilate into a fast-innovating, open and flexible culture is not as easy or nice as it sounds.

Culture integration has been another challenge that Ramani has had to face and is also a win-in-progress that they continue to take pride in. “We treat our people with dignity and respect and offer as much support as we can, such as competent health insurance, fitness assistance and more to our field agents and in unfortunate events, they go out there, on-board people into the business and these people don’t always reflect the culture and fail to treat their staff with the same level of respect,” he shares.

This then reflects poorly on Ramani and the culture that the team works hard to nurture. Building the right culture and then integrating that culture into the community and other factions of the business then becomes a challenge.

Unfortunately, culture challenges in the Tanzanian space aren’t unique to Ramani alone but Iain credits the people that surround them for the successes they enjoy in the shaping of a healthier work culture.

“Tanzania is a good place to do business when you look at how supportive private individuals are. However, the way the regulatory environment is designed is not optimised for young businesses that are resource strapped,” says Iain.

Start-ups tend to depend on how much cash the founder has in the bank. “There may be a good reason for this but there are plenty of fees and upstart costs which businesses have to pay on the regulatory side and these are just the hidden costs,” he says.

While many start with having their operational costs and registration costs accounted for, these other hidden costs and abstract fees that need to be paid make building the business a lot harder and they make it much more fragile.

“The way the regulatory plan is designed may be for the likes of Coca-cola or Stanbic Bank or a Barrick Gold type of company that comes to set up shop with the resources to pay these fees but when you are a Tanzanian, starting a business and resource-strapped, this isn’t a very supportive environment. I think there is an opportunity to redesign some of the regulatory requirements for young businesses that are cash-strapped and fragile,” Iain notes.

“You want the market to tell you that your business is not great; you don’t want your business to die because of abstract costs.”

Impact and mentorship

“While we are a work in progress, my brother and I both feel that we are still not experts in anything, at least not enough yet to begin mentoring others, but both have mentors of our own that have equity in the company,” he says.

However, in the spirit of mentorship, Iain does share that in the long run, he will begin to mentor those he can and has consented to being held accountable for it.

“I think creating jobs is the biggest way you can give back to society. I remember how much my job meant to me. I worked in a place that was conducive to my growth, paid a good salary and had an overall healthy work culture and this was the same experience for Calvin and Kibet,” he shares.

“We then want to give the same feeling to the people in my community and what better way to do so than giving them their own opportunities?”

“Another impact we are proud of is the impact our business has had on our customers and the feedback we get from them in terms of how our services have helped them scale their businesses and the satisfactory results they’ve had with us, which has also helped us grow.”

“We are also proud of the way we have been able to put Tanzania on the map. A good example is when I go pitch and my audience doesn’t even know where on the map Tanzania is located. In that moment, I am introducing my country to that person for the first time and this creates interest in the country,” says Iain.

This plan doesn’t stop there as Iain says they are working to build a billion dollar company, not just in Tanzania, but across Africa.