Will the Third Time be the Charm for ZUMI?

Kenya-based B2B, ZUMI, has shut its doors. 

The company’s CEO & co-founder, William McCarren, announced the sad news with a heavy heart in a LinkedIn post, citing “the current macro environment has made fundraising extremely difficult, and unfortunately, our business was not able to achieve sustainability in time to survive” as the reason.

The company was on a mission to digitize commerce for 100 million African retailers, empowering small retailers to do big things. It built a marketplace for apparel merchants to secure inventory and financial services.

What started out as an online, woman-focused magazine almost seven years ago pivoted into an e-commerce platform for apparel, achieved over $20m in sales, and 5,000 loyal customers along the way. It also developed a staff strength of 150 with varied experiences from similar organisations, all of whom will be affected by this closure.

ZUMI joins a string of Kenyan start-ups – Notify Logistics, Kune Foods, Sky.Garden, WeFarm, Nopearide –which closed shops last year due to the same fundraising difficulty.

However, this is not ZUMI’s first rodeo.

Its digital magazine, back in 2016, shut down shortly after disclosing plans to shift to e-commerce. It was reported to have received about $250,000 in funding from UAE-based Majlis investment and a few other investors. But the company was struggling with low, digital advertisement revenue, a common challenge among digital media businesses. With this, it shut down.

But not for long.

In 2020, it emerged as a B2B e-commerce company, empowering retailers and suppliers, especially those in the clothing business. Zumi handled everything from the online sale/purchase of the product to delivery and payment. Via the Zumi app or through one of its agents, customers could place orders from suppliers or retailers. Through its partnership with logistics services, Zumi also ensured that the goods were delivered to and paid for by the buyer.

The question is: If it can bounce back from one closure and reinvent itself, who’s to say another recalibration is not in the works?

After all, “building businesses in emerging markets requires a special blend of ambition, grit, and craziness, and I’m incredibly grateful for the experience,” continues McCarren in his post. “. . .As we wind down operations, I will be taking some time to reflect on the lessons learned and what I can do differently in the next business. I will be sharing these reflections with you all in the coming weeks.”

Right attitude? Check.

Lessons learned? Check. Check.

New start-up on the horizon? Check. Check. Check.

All the very best to McCarren and his team of rock stars!

Related: Nopearide: 3 Business Lessons from Kenya’s EV Taxi Service

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