Name: Abdishakur Ahmed
Company Name: SomLite
Date Launched: December 2014
1. How did you come up with your idea and what was the inspiration behind it?
I was raised in a rural village without electricity and this later inspired me to start sustainable energy company that focuses on off-grid rural communities across Somaliland. This is how I came up with SomLite.
2. What is your elevator pitch (your business in a snapshot)?
Rural Somalis don’t have enough cash at one time to buy solar products outright; nevertheless, they spend far more on a year’s worth of kerosene than the total cost of a solar light. We therefore have introduced a rent and own financing model that lets customers pay in instalments on their mobile phones.
3. How did you know there was a market for your product?
Rural communities are already spending a lot of money on Kerosene and low quality solar products with upfront sales. We introduced to them a better and cleaner products with flexible payment schedule that inquire them to spend the same amount as they are spending on kerosene.
4. Describe your business model – how do you make money?
We sell solar products to rural customers on instalment. We have commotion-based sales agents in all the communities we operate now and our sales agents earn a percentage of every sales they make.
5. When did you launch and tell us a bit about the challenges of getting started?
We started SomLite in December 2014. Some of the biggest challenges we faced and still facing are lack of access to finance and road accessibility. Small businesses in Somaliland don’t have access to financing that matches their category. Most of the debt financing available in the country have unrealistic collateral demands that small businesses cannot provide. Road to remote and rural areas are also a big challenge to our operations especially during raining seasons. Proper roads do not exist in most rural areas thus we are forced to use rugged roads.
6. How did you finance your start-up?
Grant money and co-founder’s contribution
7. To date, what has proven to be the most successful form of marketing?
99% of our customers are villagers and the best form of marketing for our project has been a direct reach out to customers. Then getting customers to talk about our products and spreading the news to nearby villages. Our customers are our biggest ambassadors.
8. What have been the key challenges to date?
Lack of access to reasonable debt financing
9. Tell us about your biggest mistake and what you’ve learned from it?
When we started SomLite we entered agreements with our community based sales agents, however, as the legal framework in the country is not strong these agreements were not enforceable if any part infringes it. We had a number of cases where our agents infringed the agreement and we couldn’t do anything about it. From this experience, we learned to reduce our dependency on the legal framework and explored other traditional forms of engagement, such as evolving community influencers to safe-guide the agreed terms.
10. Tell us about your future vision for the company and where you see yourself in 5 years?
I believe sustainable energy is the base pyramid on which other foundations of agricultural and livelihoods are build. Our vision is to bring affordable, clean and reliable electricity to rural and peri-urban communities in Somaliland so that communities will use electricity to harness and utilize their local resources. For example, increasing agricultural productivity by providing affordable energy for irrigation, and increasing electricity connection to rural social services like health clinics and schools.
In 5 years time we aim to increase our product portfolio by building mini-grids
11. What are your plans for ‘giving back to the community’?
SomLite is a social enterprise and we constantly measure our impact on the society. In 2015, for example, Abaarso Tech university and students from HEC Paris (French Business School) evaluated the social impact of our program and found it had measurable and positive impact on the communities served.
They found out that our solar lamps have allowed small businesses to open two extra hours after sundown, young children to study an extra two hours during the night time, and household income to increase by an average of 120,000SLSH ($12.50) per month. Our aim is to maximize this impact by providing affordable energy that meets to rural communities’ energy needs to catalyse economic development and social well-being.