Tesh Mbaabu and Mesongo Sibuti, 29



Tesh and Mesongo are the founders of MarketForce, an e-commerce platform that has digitised retail distribution of fast-moving consumer goods by connecting informal shops, commonly referred to as dukas, to their suppliers.

The platform dubbed ‘RejaReja’ meaning retail, allows informal merchants in Africa to source, order and pay for inventory through the digital channel, access credit facilities, collect digital payments and earn extra income by offering agency banking services and reselling digital financial services such as airtime, electricity tokens and bill payments.

The firm was conceptualised in 2018 when Tesh and Mesongo noticed the inefficiencies between manufacturers and informal merchants as goods moved from the factory to consumers.

“MarketForce aggregates merchants’ highest demand stock keeping units usually items like flour, oil, sugar, and personal care items from which merchants order on the RejaReja app and get it delivered within hours,” says Tesh.

"We learnt an important lesson about conducting more customer research and analysing external factors before jumping headfirst into building a product."

MarketForce operates in five markets — Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Nigeria, with more than 200,000 merchants and 50 consumer brands trading on the platform.

This is the third innovation for the pair that met at the university.

The duo built their first startup in 2015 after graduating from the University of Nairobi, creating a procurement automation platform that aimed at digitising and creating transparency in an organisation’s tender process.

“We hoped that the platform would help change this, creating efficiencies and eliminating manual processes. However, because of the widespread corruption at the time, the fledgling startup quickly failed. We learnt an important lesson about conducting more customer research and analysing external factors before jumping headfirst into building a product. After the failed first startup, we were not dissuaded,” says Tesh.

They started their second business — Cloud9xp — after their experience as travellers visiting Diani Beach in 2016. The platform aimed at enhancing local excursions and experiences during a trip.

Rooted in the desire to facilitate meaningful travel experiences that would lead to lasting memories, Tesh, Mesongo and a third co-founder Emmanuel Miriti launched Cloud9xp, an e-commerce and travel marketplace, in 2016.

After building Cloud9xp for two years, and learning best practices for building a two-sided marketplace platform, the pair exited the business.

The entrepreneurial spirit and successful launch of platforms have seen Tesh and Mesongo build a reputation with venture capitalists and entrepreneurs across Kenya and East Africa.

The two launched MarketForce after selling Cloud9xp.

MarketForce early this year raised close to $40 million Series A round – one of the largest on record for Africa from Kenyan fintech company Cellulant co-founder Ken Njoroge, new investors including Ten13VC, SOSV Select Fund and Uncovered Fund.

Elizabeth Kivuva