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How Yellow increased revenue by 1 500% during pandemic

Currently, Africa-based fintech Yellow has more than 250 000 customers, and is onboarding more than 20 000 customers per month. Photo: Supplied/Ventureburn
Currently, Africa-based fintech Yellow has more than 250 000 customers, and is onboarding more than 20 000 customers per month. Photo: Supplied/Ventureburn

With its mission to supply solar home systems in Malawi and Uganda, the African fintech start-up Yellow grew its revenue by 1 500%, and scaled its agent network by over 3 000% between January 2020 and 2022.

This, confirms Yellow chief technology officer Ben Walwyn, was achieved after the company started leveraging Zoho Creator, a low-code app development platform provided by global technology company Zoho Corp.

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Yellow, which relies on a vast network of sales agents spread across multiple countries, built a complete ERP system called “Ofeefee” on Creator within five months.

Michael Heyink, chief executive of Yellow, a South Africa-founded start-up now operation in four different African countries. Photo: Supplied/Ventureburn

Founded in 2018 by Michael Heyink and Maya Stewart, the Africa-based start-up announced in June 2022 that it had raised $23 million in debt funding to scale further.

“Ofeefee enables our agents to earn commissions for sales, know when customers need technical support, and track deliveries. The agent’s whole operation runs on this application,” said Walwyn.

In the two years since its deployment, Yellow increased its revenue from $1 million in 2019 to $16 million in 2021, witnessing a year-on-year growth of 350%. During the same time, it scaled its workforce from 30 agents to over 1 000 agents.

Currently, it has more than 250 000 customers, and is onboarding more than 20 000 customers per month.

Yellow is on track to cross $40 million in revenue in 2022. It has also expanded its product range to include TVs and smartphones, and expanded successfully to two new markets, Rwanda and Zambia.

“Most importantly, we are profitable and sustainable, and on track to raise sufficient funding to reach our goal of making life better for 10 million households by 2030 across existing and new markets,” said Walwyn.

“Low-code platforms are immensely powerful and can provide a competitive edge to organisations that utilise them effectively,” said Andrew Bourne, regional manager for Zoho Africa.

He described Yellow as “an excellent example of how a business can catapult its growth by optimally utilising powerful low-code platforms like Zoho Creator. Its ease of use and ability to quickly deploy new solutions allows businesses to stay nimble, adapting to the changing market conditions.

“Yellow is also aligned with Zoho in its business philosophy, as it is focused on serving the underserved, and helping generate employment in the areas where opportunities are fewer, which are also core philosophies of Zoho.”

Andrew Bourne, Zoho Corporation’s regional manager for Africa. Photo: Supplied/Ventureburn

Yellow’s goal is to make electricity accessible to even the poorest households in countries like Uganda and Malawi where many do not have access to basic necessities. To make the solution affordable, it was imperative for the start-up to keep its costs low across all areas, from technology and physical operations to finance and reporting.

It initially started operations in Malawi, while the management team was in Cape Town.

At first, the agents used a third-party sales and CRM system along with an online spreadsheet from a popular customer care vendor. However, the two systems did not integrate, and therefore, they could not automate data pipelines or measure productivity. Then, Yellow discovered Zoho Creator.

“It took us five months to understand the scope of Creator’s capabilities, but once we did, our turnaround time was measured in days, not weeks,” said Walwyn. “The development cycle is extraordinarily quick, so implementing projects is rapid and users require minimal training, as the default objects are so intuitive for a Web 2.0 world.”

Yellow incentive scheme

Using Zoho Creator, the Yellow team developed Ofeefee where they could track every step of the product journey: procurement, inbound delivery, inventory management, outbound logistics, account management, commissions, billing, payments, payroll, rewards, and more. Because its operations were completely digital,

Yellow was able to build incentives for every action an agent or employee performed, increasing productivity, efficiency, and effectiveness of their staff and sales agents.

In fact, its Android app was created and deployed within a day by an employee who had no previous programming experience.

“Being able to deploy the APK in one day was a game changer for us, as it allowed us to scale the agent network without high development costs,” said Walwyn.

“The mobile views are there by default, easily configurable, and packaged into the APK in a few simple steps. We were able to create unit economics that made the product affordable to people in our markets, but also still keep track of and manage the product, people, and customers effectively.”

Only six people are required to maintain the ERP, and the team is able to quickly build and deploy new workflow (sometimes within a day), staying nimble in an ever-changing market. With Creator, Yellow’s app works even when there is low data availability.

“If it did not, we would have had to find an alternative or pay much more for agents to use it,” said Walwyn. “Data is a scarce resource and an application’s consumption often determines user engagement.”

Ofeefee integrates with a third-party loan management system for webhook events and polling, Google Sheets for a learning management system, Calendar, and other apps. The company is also using Zoho Analytics (business intelligence platform), Zoho Flow, and Zoho Vault (password management) for other business functions.

ALSO READ: African fintech start-up Yellow raises $20m in debt financing

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