Founder's Corner: Sacad Musawi of SomSite
Company Name: Somsite
Category: Internet, Web solutions, web development and design
Location: Hargeisa, Somalia
I was born and raised in Hargeisa, Somaliland, northern Somalia. I pursued a bachelor's degree in civil engineering and information technology.
- How did your journey with entrepreneurship start?
My first venture came about in 2010 business when I started an IT firm called ITland solutions with a college mate. We were troubleshooting computers and did electronics repair for local government and NGOs. As both he and I were preoccupied with school and could not dedicate the required time to the business, it started failing. However, we could not stay away.
As somalia recovered from the war and still is, it needs a new image of its business sector, its government, its people, all aspects of the country. And the one question we kept asking ourselves was “how can we build project the image of the new somalia to the world”?
We began to notice a huge need for website creation and then decided we decided to pivot and create somalilandsites in 2011. Our first customer was NGO which had issues with web hosting and that’s a service we decided to offer from the onset. It was an uphill battle i tell you. At that time there was not any banks around and therefore we did not have bank cards which meant we could not purchase the hosting services we needed from abroad. We had to resort to calling people we knew in the US or UK to buy domain and hosting space for us. As you can imagine this was not a good business model. There was the time difference and those people also had their own lives which meant while customers were relying on us, we were at the mercy of people thousands of miles away. Again we succumbed and failed and my co-founder unfortunately decide to move on as there was enough money in the business he thought.
- How Did Somsite come about?
I think Somsite is the culmination of all those experiences, struggles, hardships and lessons. It was hard to be oblivious to the need, it is so glaring and i always believed in its potential. I regrouped and this time went in full steam. In the beginning I traveled to Djibouti to open a bank account and was finally able to make business purchases online. Of course today things are better and we have two local banks that can meet our needs. I started with two staff members, a marketer and content developer. Today we have an office for a 6 person team, with 400 websites hosted. We are the market leader in Hargeisa. Having placed second at VC4Africa’s accelerator also was great validation.
- What does Somsite offer its customers?
We offer a full service IT solution. We are mainly known for providing domain and hosting for companies. We also have an in house full service design team that is capable of building websites for clients who need it. Most of our clients from abroad, sweden, US or UK have resources to build their sites so they usually just need hosting. But with local businesses, especially those offline business that are just starting to establish their online presence. We also have a growing clientele of freelancers. As the needs of businesses to go online grows, freelancers are stepping in to fill the gap. They purchase hosting and storage space from us to build websites for their clients.
- Walk me through using somsite
On our website, users can search for domain names they desire and if they are available. After this, they create a user profile and add their payment method to prebook the sale and submit their order. On our end, our sales team reviews the order and calls customer to make sure to review, confirm then process the order using mobile money services if client is in Somalia. If they’re in the diaspora, they use credit cards or money transfer services. The process takes 30mins. Potential clients can also come to our office in which case this process can take as little as 3 minutes. If the client wants inhouse design and web development, we have a face to face meeting and present to them a proposal based on their requirements. If they already have their content ready, we can have their site up and running in four to six days. A Problem in Somalia is that most of these clients are new to this and don’t have any content, sometimes not even a logo. In this case we refer them to external partners we work with who can help them with content creation.
- What challenges have you faced in your journey as an entrepreneur?
Trust: people and companies here do not trust the local talent. You’ll find established companies that would rather hire from India, Europe and the US and to hire local entrepreneurs. The mentality unfortunately for many is still that anything that comes from outside is better. If our own people don’t have confidence in us, who will? Even though local entrepreneurs are really talented, they do not have the chance to showcase their capabilities.
Financing: there is a lack of money, to put it plainly. And in somalia, you may go to a company for financing and get rejected and I know of cases where the company turns around and creates the product or establishes the project internally. Increasingly, funding has also come from the diaspora. The civil war pushed thousands of somalis to emigrate and now they’re the source of large amounts of remittances. For the most part, somali entrepreneurs are masters at bootstrapping but at some point you need capital injection to take a company to the next level. . Another challenge is there’s a lack of african investors. There may be foreign ones but there’s lack of understanding. Local investors can relate to the entrepreneurs better. They know their environment and their experiences. Their support can really help startups grow to the point that we’ll be able to challenge companies internationally. We may be better than those startups in Kenya, Nigeria or Ghana maybe but we don't’ know because we haven't unlocked our potential.
Human capital: you need a team that can help your startup grow. Many startups in Somalia, believe it or not struggle with turnover, especially when ex employees become competitors. In many cases that I have seen, you give staff training based on your experience, when they feel they are capable, they leave and start their own thing. This is great because we all want collectively to create jobs and contribute more and more to our economy, but it becomes a challenge and can slow down growth. I offer employees an opportunity to receive shares when they invest a number of years working at Somsite. Interestingly, family structure helps! Somalis are loyal to their own clans so hiring those close family members sometimes can lead to committed employees. Working with family also comes with its own sets of challenges.
- Does the business environment in Somalia encourage entrepreneurship?
Somalis are naturally entrepreneurial and always drawn to business. But also they don’t like change, they stick to the status quo. For example my father is a businessman and runs an electric supply company. Once I told him “dad there are new and better products being made around the world. We should invest in new inventory which can help us grow”. He tells me i don’t know anything and i should just focus on my business because he’s been selling the same things for decades and so far no problem. We are entrepreneurial but sometimes we don’t invite innovation. But youngsters are doing well against the tide. Also obviously with the civil strife that has gone on in somalia for decades, an inviting scene for young people to become entrepreneurs is not priority when there is no peace.
- How has the lack of safety at time or the legacy of war impacted your business?
The civil war in Somalia had a huge impact all over the country. Just the fact that we did not have any reliable banks here in Hargeisa until a few years is an example. With that being said, we enjoy much more security here in the northern part of the country. However, with Mogadishu being the capital and economic hub of the country but also can be very insecure. Expanding to Mogadishu as a business is a great opportunity but you can imagince it is an easy decision. For example it will become imperative for me to invest in security which will increase my budget. This does not create an environment that’s good for entrepreneurship. If you’re not from Mogadishu and you go there as an outsider to create something new that’s a risk. I am planning on forming partnerships with with local companies as part of my expansion.
In the meantime, ourWe have customer all over somalia, even mogadishu. Internet has eased that. By july we’re planig to open office there, in talks with local partner. Potenital is huge 4 million live there and recognized gov’t. We’re online but somalians are used to face to face so to tap into that potential we need an office but the problem is trust. 50% of our400 customers interact with us online but most of them are abroad, somalia/ethiopians, djibouti, kenya, UK and sweden.
- Vision for somesite in the future
Our goal is to be the leading web hosting company in east africa in the next 10 years. Africa is the future because of its large number of young people. In our sector in east africa - we’re doing ongoing research - there’s this online revolution that’s creating a huge market especially in kenya and ethiopia especially with its large population. We’re trying to reach 2 to 3 hundred thousand paying subscribers in the next 10 years with a and reach a 20 million USD book of business.
- What potential do you think entrepreneurship has in terms of helping somalia and young somalis build a future?
As an entrepreneur in Somalia, you are showing the world that Somalia is not just about war and piracy. We are trying to change that image of our country. We’re young and ambitious entrepreneurs capable of creating robust companies. That’s the new picture we want to paint. Locally we’re trying to make Hargeisa the new silicon valley of East Africa that’s our moto. Somali entrepreneurs are just looking for a chance to present their solutions and the more barriers are removed, the better we’ll be able to compete on the global stage. We want to become global companies so people around the world can say this is from Somalia. If we get build a conducive environment to fuel the young peole and invest in their development, we can see great things come from here.
- What advice do you have for new entrepreneurs?
Keep going despite challenges. Keep working hard. We like sleeping can no longer sit and wait for good or the government to meet us the whole way. we have to work hard for the sake of our countries, for Africa and to inspire young people. Do not wait for someone to give you a job or what you need. Start your own thing with what you have available right now. It does not have to be much but if you keep moving forward, no matter how slowly at times, you’ll get it.