A hot startup, starting in Mali

Joshua Goldstein wrote an article a couple of weeks back about Craigslist not being able to scale in Africa; meaning, why is it not growing? For those unfamiliar with Craigslist, it is has gotten to be the de facto matter in which people in major cities in the US list and find classifieds. It started in San Francisco, which is where it has one of its largest user base. It’s ugly as all hell, but functions incredibly well with its ugly simplicity.
The thing with Craigslist is that they open up a new section in a new city and just let it spread organically. No marketing, no big push. This has worked well given that in San Francisco is an extremely transient bunch of people who seem to only live there 2-3 years and are then off to another place to find themselves or whatever it is they need to do. With them goes the usage of Craigslist and thus it gains ground within that new city these former San Franciscans move to. It’s had a trickier time of getting a foothold in Europe given that there aren’t nearly as many people from the US moving there as there are San Franciscans moving to say New York or Los Angeles. And then of course, there is Africa, where it seems to have had next to no success to date.

African Fixer Connection dot Something

So, here’s the thing, I bumped around Mali for two weeks. One of the things that took up a pile of time in the trip was trying to get rides to various places whether outright paying or trying to share with someone. The story was usually the same in that either people had booked a car and guide with an agency for an exorbitant sum or we tried to talk up some local (i.e. fixer) to put us in contact with people for a nominal fee. We were then hoping that we would find someone with a vehicle who had two empty seats that would allow us to split the exorbitant car rental fees (about $50 USD per day with no AC and gas not included.)
None of this came about. For those who haven’t traveled to Mali and visited Mopti or Bandiagara (the gateway towns to Dogon Country) you haven’t had the pleasure of experiencing the very rotten outer layer of tourism in the region that gets in your way of seeing the quite spectacular sites. Guides want upwards of $50 USD a day, per person to do something that you don’t even need them for as you really don’t need a guide to visit Dogon Country. They also bug you incessantly as it appears every 2nd person is a guide trying to scam you. That being the case and this being the 21st, I propose a startup. It would start in Mali, but it could grow anywhere else it wanted, although only methodically. Basically, it’s a system for people to find exactly what my wife and I were trying to find: other like-minded people traveling in Mali.
It would be small at first, but being that the target users would initially be foreigners who have access to and use the internet a great deal more than anyone in Africa, you would have a fantastic user base. There would be a target audience who also like to travel and have the money to travel. This site could then grow and eventually expand in to other areas, such as if a car of folks from Mali are heading to Côte d’Ivoire and had space for two people, they could find each other beforehand as opposed to the flagging-someone-down-on-the-road method that I actually had to do as the buses are tragic.
I’m a bit all over the map with this idea as I’m very excited about it, but simply don’t have the time to make it any kind of a reality. But, for someone who wanted a hot idea with legs that could eventually give Craigslists a run for its money if it were to ever get a foothold in Africa, it’s definitely something to consider. I think folks could even get seed funding for it and I’d be willing to introduce anyone with a solid plan to what connections I have to make it work.
Anyways, think about it. They have already come, so build it already!

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