Accelerating digital commerce in Ghana to benefit young womens’ livelihoods: What we learned from our work with Tendo

Co-authored by: Keeya-Lee Ayre and Jane del Ser
March 3, 2023 - 4 mins read

Tendo is a Ghana-based startup operational in both Ghana and Nigeria that we had the opportunity to work with through the Catalyst Inclusive Digital Commerce (IDC) Accelerator. Through this partnership, the team at BFA Global was able to learn several key lessons from working with Tendo, including the value of their reseller model, the benefits of data-driven decision-making, and the importance of effective operations management to scale.

Driving livelihoods opportunities for young women

One of the standout aspects of Tendo’s business is their fast-growing reseller model (the number of registered customers grew over 3x during the program), which allows young women and university students to sell products online as social commerce resellers for fashion and discretionary products without having to cover the upfront cost of inventory. Tendo connects these resellers to suppliers through their platform and handles the procurement and delivery fulfillment, creating a scalable and organic model for reselling. The numbers were very clear at Tendo: women are successful as resellers, and are often top sellers. Tendo’s top sellers figure out a sweet spot for their offering, invest time in their sales businesses, spend on ads, and set prices in a way that generates more sales than other resellers. In the case of one top seller, the reseller was essentially managing other resellers, acting as a wholesaler and using a WhatsApp group to manage them.

Reselling lends itself to women as a demographic, as they are already familiar with and employ informal social networks in real life, and for many, the flexibility of running online sales from home is appealing. Of medium and small enterprises (MSEs) recently surveyed in Ghana, 49% were young women operating their businesses from home, versus 29% of men.

Tendo’s no upfront capital requirement may be especially appealing to young women and university students. In a recent survey conducted by our team among the customers of our portfolio companies, 55% of MSEs led by young women were started after COVID-19, probably as a coping mechanism, which meant that these businesses were smaller in size and younger in nature. While 74% of MSEs on average agreed that the IDC portfolio companies helped them grow, only 69% of young women did, reporting less income and fewer clients. The MSEs surveyed that were led by young women also tended to be overrepresented in low-margin industries like fashion and beauty, putting them at a disadvantage. In order to support more young women and help them derive more of the benefit of digital commerce, Tendo, and other e-commerce platforms could target young women as a customer segment and even direct them toward more dynamic sectors such as electronic and prepared food, to give them more of a potential income and growth advantage.

Navigating Tendo’s growth roadmap priorities

Tendo uses channel marketing, namely WhatsApp and Telegram, and community-based partnerships to reach and engage with university students and other potential customers. Through this approach, they can target and onboard thousands of potential young sellers. While Tendo is able to use its understanding of these platforms and its reseller demographic to effectively acquire and onboard new resellers, it also faces challenges in managing and supporting these resellers at scale.

As a very early-stage company that needed to meet fast-growing customer demand, Tendo had to focus on improving the customer experience with the product, building out their operations, including setting up a warehouse and operational knowhow of the team and acquiring the necessary tools and talent to run the backend and logistics aspects of their business more seamlessly.

Our approach to venture acceleration support for Tendo was three-fold. By first analyzing their existing data, we realized that there was high attrition of activated users after the first month. We first sought to implement better data dashboards and solutions for tracking and helping Tendo make even more robust data-informed decisions. By focusing on streamlining the app experience through a new design, customers could more easily register, search, and set up product pages resulting in improved retention. Our operations specialist also worked with the Tendo team to restructure the customer support and service team. Given such a large influx of unstructured customer tickets that were coming through all their channels, the team redesigned certain channels for announcements, and customer support tickets were moved to the app to be managed with specific CRM tools. Finally, our investment readiness specialists supported Tendo’s investor relationship management and reputation management, as they worked with legal and investor specialists to incorporate in Delaware and set the foundations for future growth.

Contributing to an expanding digital commerce ecosystem in Ghana

In addition to these efforts, Tendo has pivoted to offer more support to their suppliers, specifically by providing a suite of business tools and solutions to help small and medium-sized suppliers digitize their operations. This includes tools for inventory tracking and invoicing, which can help wholesale suppliers to better manage their stock and pricing in real time. Tendo sees the wholesale supplier market as another key customer segment by evolving into a solution for sourcing challenges to provide products with competitive market prices and by importing directly from abroad.

To expand the ecosystem around Tendo and drive growth in the digital commerce sector in Ghana, there is a need for investment in digital onboarding and logistics solutions that are both effective and cost-efficient to support fast-growing digital commerce platforms like Tendo. They will increasingly need to partner with reliable, transparent, and high-quality logistical partners like Swoove that can grow with the business and allow Tendo to focus on their core reseller and wholesaler business by outsourcing the tricky delivery component of digital commerce to trusted and scalable partners.

What’s next for Tendo?

We look forward to seeing Tendo continue to grow in Ghana and throughout West Africa, and continue to open up new livelihoods opportunities for young women in social commerce.

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