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A new Ghana-based startup wants to give small African businesses a leg up via an online portal that provides tools and resources for financial management.
While studying Economics and Management Studies at Princeton University, Start Smart founder and CEO Juliana Taylor became interested in emerging markets and business development within those regions. “I enjoyed the prospect of being in an environment that was unpredictable and would constantly challenge me,” she explains.
After graduation, she moved to Ghana where she started working for Google, with the focus largely being on SME outreach programmes. During her work there, Taylor identified a need in the country that she felt she could help with: cheap yet professional access to consulting, training and bookkeeping solutions for businesses.
“My work brought me into direct contact with many entrepreneurs and in the process, I was able to infer that many of the challenges that they faced were tied to inadequate access to appropriate tools and training resources.” This lead her to launch Start Smart in January 2014 — a “startup for startups” that offers entrepreneurs with the advice, training and tools that they need to succeed.
Based in Ghana, Start Smart (not to be confused with South Africa’s StartSmart) is an online financial management portal, developed specifically to support the growth and development of African businesses.
Its intuitive and secure cloud-based approach aim to make financial management as stress-free as possible. Other key offerings include Start Smart’s ease of use and unique, innovative features such as being able to be access the bookkeeping tool both online and via SMS.
Without any background in accounting, people can track their company’s revenue, salary and expense information using any internet connected device. The fact that the service is cloud-based means that it’s very secure and comes complete with SSL certificates and regular data backup.
Current competitors include popular services such as Quickbooks, Sage Pastel, Bluubin, Wave, Ping Accounts and Uhasibu. Taylor says that Start Smart’s “ABC” approach will help the company stand out from the rest of the crop. This approach includes the following:
- Acquiring the skills necessary for success through our trainings and publications.
- Building strategies and frameworks for long-term sustainability through our consulting and bookkeeping solutions.
- Creating opportunities for growth by leveraging the strong foundation that our offerings collectively create.
The website offers a business collection of Start Smart consultancy books by Taylor, and an app called Pocket Consultant, but the startup’s main product is the access to the Start Smart financial cloud service. An annual subscription costs a bit more than US$100 (306GHC), a six month trial about US$50, while anyone can sign up for a free monthly trial.
Taylor says that Start Smart aims to have a broad impact while at the same time remaining sustainable. As such, the startup adopted a “low price, high volume” model, which focuses on pricing products affordably and leveraging high volumes to generate profits.
Helping entrepreneurs get access to formal institutions
Many entrepreneurs in Africa cite access to financing as a major issue. Apart from micro-financing, entrepreneurs often lack access to formal financial institutions because of tedious, complicated administration on their end or maladministration on the other.
Limited access to funds is one of the major factors explaining the development of the informal economy, which the African Development Bank Group estimates to account for as much as 55% of the region’s total GDP. With a service like Start Smart, entrepreneurs are able to keep track of and record their business performance, which could better their chances of receiving a loan from a bank to help it grow further.
“We are servicing SMEs who require and basic tools to improve their record keeping and governance structures, in order to make it easier for them to access resources such as funding,” echos Taylor.
The company is currently self-funded by Taylor but will most likely look for venture capital as it is set to expand soon. Start Smart currently only operates in Ghana, but its long-term goal is to engage with businesses in all of Africa’s entrepreneurial hubs, particularly Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, South Africa and Uganda.