Episode 22: Joanna Bichsel - Pioneering Women's E-Commerce in East Africa

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About Joanna Bichsel

Joanna Bichsel is the CEO and co-founder of Kasha, East Africa’s leading e-commerce platform for women’s health and personal care products.

You can connect with her @JoannaBichsel on Twitter.

Born and raised in Canada, Joanna worked as a software developer at Microsoft in Seattle in the US. Disinterested in climbing the corporate ladder, she changed careers and moved into development.

At the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, she learned that women in Africa faced real challenges in buying sanitary pads and other basic health products. She thought, “Why not develop a e-commerce platform for women to buy affordable, high quality health products confidentially?” The idea for Kasha was born.  

In 2015, Joanna set up the company with her co-founder Amanda Arch in Rwanda and has recently launched in Kenya. While East Africa was the logical starting point, Joanna aims for Kasha to disrupt how women buy health products in emerging markets around the world.    

We chatted about Joanna’s move to Rwanda, how she finally got women to trust e-commerce, and why investors “don’t care about your idea.”  

Without further ado, here’s my conversation with Joanna Bichsel.

What We Learn from Joanna – No One Cares About Your Idea; Execution is Key

When Joanna started fundraising, she discovered that investors don’t care about your idea. To get investors’ attention, businesses in Africa need to show a lot more proof points, backed by hard data. Once Kasha had data and metrics, it was much easier to get funding.

Joanna’s Actionable Tips

  1. Find the right investors who understand Africa and share your mission and values.

  2. Assemble a board of advisors in the early stages of your company. It brings you invaluable expertise and credibility.

  3. Build a professional looking pitch deck that shows the market opportunity and describes the purpose of the company and team. Make sure you have financials and projections.

Joanna’s Top Quotes

  • “If you’re doing it right, you know your business better than anyone else. You know the dynamics of your business. You know your customers. Always be open to feedback, but if you make changes, it can kill your business.”

  • “Whenever you run a social business, like a purpose - driven for-profit company, you do have to be creative with your business model. Honestly, there isn’t a one-size fits all, cookie cutter approach. Everyone has to think about the dynamics of their business."

  • “We have to meet our customers where they’re at — digitally.”

Joanna’s Links/Resources  

Joanna’s Mentions

  • Last Mile Health
  • Logistimo
  • Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

Key Timestamps

  • Joanna’s background [2:43]

  • Her interest in tech & development [3:50]

  • The move to Rwanda [6:48]

  • The idea for Kasha [8:07]

  • Kasha’s business model [15:34]

  • Adopting other revenue streams [17:05] 

  • Optimizing a product for low-income consumers [19:22]

  • Products that are core to Kasha’s mission [19:54]

  • Her last-mile logistics model [21:07]

  • Leverage strategic partnerships to scale [23:15]

  • Developing the tech [25:03]

  • Agent model [27:08]

  • What surprised Joanna in the data [34:28]

  • Fundraising [37:40]

  • Finding the right investors [39:43]

  • What Joanna wish she had known in the beginning [43:47]

  • Board of advisors [47:12]

  • How she’d invest a $1 billion in Africa [50:12]

  • Influential books [51:00]

  • Her actionable advice for aspiring African entrepreneurs [53:50]

Victoria CrandallComment