By Gloria Mwaniga Odary
When COVID-19 struck Africa and country-wide lockdowns began, Obi Ozor, founder and CEO of Kobo360 —an African company that is digitizing cargo delivery and connecting truck drivers with cargo companies—knew he had to act fast. Kobo360’s drivers, who carry goods to clients across 16 African countries, were facing delays at borders and ports. This held up cargo and mangled schedules. The volume of goods transported across the continent began to drop, threatening businesses and livelihoods. The company needed to adapt—or risk losing everything.
Ozor called his staff and told them they had no option but to face the crisis head-on. The only way the business would outlast the pandemic, he realized, was if Kobo360’s operations went 100 percent digital. In May, the company fully digitized its operations and the company’s business grew by 7 percent. The following month, it grew almost 10 times that, to 68 percent. October 2020 has been their best month yet, with the highest ever gross revenue recorded in the history of the company.
COVID-19 might have been an especially unwelcome challenge, Ozor says, “but for me, entrepreneurship has always been about survival and solving problems.”
In the three years since Ozor and cofounder Ife Oyedele II established Kobo360, there’s been a lot of problem-solving. It all started when Ozor, as a college student in Michigan, tried to import diapers into Nigeria, and saw first-hand that the slow movement of cargo added so much to the cost of basic items that they became unaffordable to many Africans.
“It used to take one week to transport goods 1,000 km (621 miles) from Lagos to Kano,” as he told CNN Business.
Obi Ozor. Photo by Dominic Chavez/IFC
It’s a familiar complaint about logistics in Africa. Nigeria loses an estimated $19 billion annually because of red tape, delays, and corruption at its ports, according to a 2018 report by the Lagos Chamber of Commerce. The relative cost of moving goods in Africa is among the highest in the world: up to 75 percent of a product’s costs in Africa go to logistics, compared to only 6 percent in the U.S.
But Kobo360—often referred to as the “Uber” of trucks—set out to change that. It has already helped ease delays at the borders of the countries it serves, and Ozor says he estimates that users of his e-logistics platform save an average of about 7 percent in logistics costs.
Kobo360 also allows cargo owners to choose drivers online, access data, and tap into real-time information on the location of the trucks. For its 50,000 truck drivers in Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Togo, and Uganda, the digital platform speeds payment and offers other valuable benefits. They receive half of their fee immediately upon matching with a client, at which time they access the relevant information about weather and traffic conditions. Storing money in the app helps drivers stay safe, too—because traveling with a lot of cash posed a security threat and left them vulnerable to theft and physical attack.
Investors, including IFC, have helped Kobo360 raise $42.3 million in equity funding.
Ozor’s next mission for Kobo360 is just as ambitious as the company’s first goals seemed to him three years ago. It includes building a Global Logistics Operating System to ensure fast and low-cost movement of goods for businesses on the continent.
‘‘The challenge now is to come together and deliver a company that is truly pan-African, successful, and has something to offer to the rest of the world,’’ Ozor says. ‘‘For me, it's not just about building a half a billion-dollar company now, I want to build a $2 billion company in the next few years. As the current generation of entrepreneurs, we owe it to the next generation to deliver a success.’’