Aug 3, 2021 • 42M

BIG5D Podcast Episode 20: Sky.Garden CEO Martin Majlund

"We built Sky.Garden for the guys with the side hustles."

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In-depth conversations with the innovators and entrepreneurs building the tech ecosystems for small and local businesses in Africa & The Middle East.
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Episode 20 of the BIG5D Podcast features an interview with Sky.Garden CEO Martin Majlund. Sky.Garden is a Kenyan mobile-first SaaS company that provides an eCommerce platform for small merchants.

The company sees itself as a Shopify-like solution for merchants in East Africa (and perhaps soon, West Africa) looking for tools to help them sell online. In June the Sky.Garden raised a US$4 million Series A round to fuel the company’s growth, including international expansion.

Sky.Garden takes an asset-light approach. It partners with local boda networks for delivery. It doesn’t touch inventory. It provides software and a wallet to make the entire process much easier for merchants to sell online and get paid immediately. Majlund believes this asset-light approach will make it much easier for Sky.Garden to expand internationally.

Majlund is a former management consultant who later led tech efforts for the Danish brewery Carlsburg. He says the idea for Sky.Garden emerged from conversations with Christian Gruback, then a vendor of his, about creating a set of simplified eCommerce tools for businesses in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The company was formed in 2015 by the two Danes, Majlund and Gruback, and two Kenyans, Isaac Hunja and James Mwai.

Majlund told us it was critical to launch the business with local partners. And today, he and Gruback remain the only non-Kenyan employees out of 37 on the Sky.Garden payroll.

“From day one, we knew that if we were ever going to solve a local problem, we couldn't be arrogant enough to think we could actually solve it from the north,” Majlund said.

“The mindset we had from day one was that we should bring in some experience from European eCommerce. And then find some really, really talented local partners where we could build the company with them from the ground up.”

Sky.Garden tested a prototype in 2016, and the platform formally launched in 2017. In 2018, the company raised a $1.8 million seed round.

Our conversation with Martin focuses on the opportunities and challenges associated with eCommerce for Africa’s small merchants. We also get into the hard lessons learned in the course of building an African eCommerce business.

Here is the full interview on YouTube.

Here are a few key passages from this episode.

What problem is Sky.Garden trying to solve?

“In Kenya, I think 80% of the economy is being driven by the informal sector. So we always say that we've built Sky.Garden for the guys with a side hustle. Today, we're much more than just the side hustle. The pain points we identified were cash flow and access to stock. So making sure that merchants would get paid the second they sold something, I think that's the problem Sky.Garden was out to solve from day one.”

Does a company like Sky.Garden today need an ‘impact’ story in order to raise money?

“I think especially in Sub Saharan Africa it's almost impossible these days to raise early-stage money without having a powerful impact story. But then when you get to the post-seed round, and before Series A, you'll see a pretty massive vacuum. Because then, while the impact story still has to be there, it becomes a pure numbers game. You're not going to raise a dime if you can't show scale.”

How is the intense competition for engineering talent impacting your business?

“There is quite a lot of talent, but in just the couple of years we've been around, it's gotten so much harder to access it. And as far as the pricing, there is not a big discrepancy between hiring a European engineer and a Kenyan engineer now.”