Off-grid electricity sector in Africa with Christopher Baker Brian, BBOXX

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A recording of the webinar with Christoper Baker-Brian, the CTO of BBOXX.

BBOXX is an off-grid electricity solution provider. The company has raised $17mn in VC funding and currently employs 200 people worldwide. The BBOXX electricity as a service solution is used by 300,000 people worldwide.

The HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Started a charity in 2008/2009 electrifying a rural area in Rwanda. Saw an opportunity in the markets while on the ground in Africa.
  • Launched in 2010/2011 as a franchise model – selling to national level distributors.
  • Initial startup cost of $50k was raised from friends and family.
  • Realized that the entry point for customers is too big at $300 dollars per unit without any sort of consumer financing, decided to create their own retail network in 2013.
  • Created an end customer financing support as well as service support network. Client pays a monthly fee for 3 years and receives the electricity, support and any repairs or spare parts.
  • Each end customer spends an average of $5-$25 per month on energy expenses.
  • Product has the capacity to track, remotely monitor and control support payment plans from the BBOXX headquarters. This helped enormously to de-risk the business for investors.
  • Christopher emphasizes that the first 20 people for your company are enormously important, as they will create your corporate culture and likely be your middle managers in the future. Develop strong corporate value points and make sure that your employees understand and follow them.
  • There is no magic formula for the initial 20 employees. It’s important to make sure that you trust them – develop a sense of them, how they think and if they share the vision and path of the business.
  • Engineers are always important as they bring many valuable skills with them.
  • The business is now day-to-day management of risk. Christopher stresses that there is no way around risks, especially in market such as Africa. The key is to manage it well.
  • Getting on the ground and spending time with potential customers has been a key activity in the BBOXX journey. There’s no substitute’s to this – you get to experience and understand the pain points of your customers. It also helps with marketing the product or service, as you know the potential customer bases and how to reach out to them.
  • Christopher advises to get an MVP out as soon as possible, it won’t be perfect but will give you direct input on the market and generally the opportunity.
  • Availability of good trained local staff is at a shortage. BBOXX has invested in training programs to train their staff.
  • BBOXX model of distributing hardware requires a working capital, which has been challenging at times.
  • The people you know on the ground function as an entry barrier to the region and market. This is for everything – your customers, business contacts and employees. Getting on the ground is the most efficient way to address this entry barrier.
  • The off-grid sector has grown and expanded rapidly since BBOXX pioneered the market in 2010. It used to be aid funded but the sector has now grown and commercialized rapidly becoming a serious sector and industry. Last year alone saw $200mn of investment going into the off-grid sector.
  • Christopher thinks the next big sectors and opportunities in Africa will be in internet connected devices – internet of things or remote management of systems and networks addressing water, electricity and generally internet connected devices.

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