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Mara Group Looks to Raise $100M to Launch African E-Commerce Platform

People are abuzz about Africa these days as more manufacturers begin to make there and more retailers set up stores there. Now, Dubai-based Mara Group wants to provide a Pan-African e-commerce platform to really get the region in the global marketplace.

Mara Group founder Ashish Thakkar, who is heading up the new e-venture, dubbed Mara Sokoni, described the platform to The Wall Street Journal as a marketplace where global brands can sell locally in Africa and local African brands can sell globally.

The company is looking to raise $100 million in capital for the so far self-funded venture to support the initial roll out.

Africa’s potential market for e-commerce could reach $75 million by 2025, according to a 2013 McKinsey study, and Mara Group wants its share of the market.

Mara Sokoni is slated to launch in 10 countries, starting first with Nigeria and Kenya early next year. By the end of next year the platform could be in an additional 16-18 markets, and Thakkar told WSJ it will be in every country on the continent within three-and-a-half years.

The problem will be—as it has been with Africa—logistics.

To skirt potential problems with goods transportation, Mara Group is setting up a shipping company called Mara Xpress.

“One of the big challenges in e-commerce on the continent is that last-mile logistics is a big bottleneck,” Thakkar told WSJ. “Mara Xpress will provide that last-mile delivery service.”

The shipping company will train entrepreneurs and use people-owned fleets to build a network of well-versed employees that know the continent and understand logistics.

Cutting costs is also on Mara Xpress’ to-do list.

Delivery costs for moving packages across Africa average $18, but Thakkar said the company could cut that average down to $8.

Mara Sokoni won’t be the first forum for African e-commerce, the new player will be up against better established competitors like Mall for Africa, Jumia and Konga, to name a few.

But the difference with Mara Sokini, according to Thakkar, is that it goes a step further as the first two-way marketplace, getting goods from global to local, local to global and global to regional, WSJ reported.