FEATURED: We are putting power in the women’s hands—Kasha’s Joanna Bichsel

Joanna Bichsel, Kasha’s founder.

Up until three years ago, it was not easy for a young lady buying contraceptives or condoms in an ordinary retail shop as it would attract curious uncomfortable and unapprovingly stares.

The public’s perception towards ladies purchasing reproductive health facilities was not only intimidating was also attributed to consequences such as the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancies among others.

In 2016, Kasha an e-commerce local platform set out to curb the narrative. With over 55,000 thousand regular clients the platform has enabled primarily women but also men access a variety of health products with a guarantee of confidentiality, quality and convenience.

The New Times Edwin Ashimwe caught up with Joanna Bichsel Kasha’s Founder, who gave a clear insight about the trendy e-commerce platform, diversity of the products and expansion of the platform.

Excerpts:

Kasha has been operating in Rwanda for over three years now, congratulations! Briefly tell us about the local tech start-up...

Kasha is an e-commerce company for women’s health and self-care, enabling confidential order and convenient delivery of products via www.kasha.rw but we also went beyond the website to have a dedicated hotline (9111), USSD application (*911#).

We deliver to urban and rural areas in Kigali and around Rwanda. We are also now operating in Kenya.

It is exciting to see the number of clients increasing, you find that first one person orders, then 10, then a 100, then 1000, then many tens of thousands of customers. Pretty soon, we have sold hundreds of thousands of products over an e-commerce platform.

Something that has kept us a company in operation is in believing the purpose of the initiative. Kasha is focused on ensuring women get the products they need for their health and self-care, confidentially, conveniently and with the best experience.

What was the motivation behind the start-up in a country like Rwanda?

My experience with Rwanda prior to starting the company was that the nation is driven to invest in technology solutions that support her citizens. I also observed that Rwanda has a strong focus on growing technology solutions like e-commerce platforms and also has a strong focus on supporting the empowerment of women and ensuring they have access to all kind of health products, including family planning.
 
Even though it wasn’t the largest country in the region but to me that was a benefit, I felt it minimized some of the big-country complexities and opened up opportunities to be able to iterate on an early solution faster, to be able to quickly test and get feedback as to whether the solution meets the needs of customers.

Kasha has always had global ambitions, after 2 years in Rwanda we started operating in Kenya. Our vision is that Kasha will be the largest platform in the world for women’s health and personal care, operating around the world but specifically in emerging markets, but created in Rwanda.
 
In regards to the clients, which platform do you think they prefer cash on delivery to the website platform?

Kasha has experienced strong growth year over year since the company started.

While in Rwanda the USSD *911# has been used most widely by our customer base, we are seeing strong growth in our website orders via www.kasha.rw. Also while most people paid with cash on delivery when we first started, we’ve been seeing an upward trend in mobile money usage.

I have no doubt that the number of customers ordering via website and using mobile money will continue to increase in Rwanda. Most of our orders at this time come from up-country across many rural communities but revenue is strongest in Kigali, where there is a high concentration of professional women who need their products but don’t have time to go to the shop to get what they need. To date, we’ve sold 350,000 units of products to women and men around Rwanda.

Speaking of diversity, what’s your product range? What are your fastest moving products?

Kasha sells a variety of products from health and pharmaceuticals, hair, face and body care and beauty products. For health and pharmaceuticals we offer pregnancy self-tests, vitamins, HIV self-tests (available free on Kasha!), malaria medication and contraceptives, as well as many other prescription and non-prescription health products.

For personal care we have in stock a wide variety of menstrual care products as well as products for face, hair and body. Kasha also sells beauty products of natural beauty products and make-up.

Our fastest moving products are: Pads (Supa and best ladies); Emergency contraceptive pills (Norlevo); Soaps (Tembo, Sante, Lifebuoy & Geisha); Lotions (Vaseline & Amara)

As a country whose vision seeks to embrace technology, what do you think of the state of readiness by the general public to adopt the trend?

I see Rwanda leading the way with bold changes to create an innovative tech ecosystem. Becoming a tech-savvy market does not happen overnight and it takes time, training and persistence.

The more focus among both students and adults have on learning to use the internet and non-internet mobile-based solutions like USSD and mobile money, the faster the tech ecosystem will grow.  
 
What gives you the confidence to bet on e-commerce platforms as the future of retail?

I strongly believe that e-commerce provides a better purchasing experience for people. With Kasha, you have a great variety of products, better prices, the convenience of having those products delivered to you and the peace of mind that your order is confidential and discrete. 
 
I think there is a place for traditional commerce, but e-commerce brings tremendous value to the people who use it.
 
What’s the reasoning behind the fact that your business optimizes women, do you find this a costly limitation?

We welcome all people to shop on Kasha, both men and women, but we optimize our service for women.

When you think about it, women are highly influential consumers, they are the decision-makers of 80 per cent of purchases that are made in the home and they need a variety of health, personal care and beauty products through their entire lives.

They are also usually the key decision-makers on family health. We believe it just makes business sense to optimize for women. At the same time, 20 per cent of our customers are men and they also need a place to buy quality products confidentially.

While women are highly influential consumers, they are often underserved, and often have to go through embarrassing and frustrating experiences to get the products they need and want. There is a lot of social judgment on what women choose for their bodies, and we want to put the power in the women’s hands.

What do you think can lead to a successful e-commerce platform in Rwanda?

I think it’s important to meet customers where they are in terms of their comfort in technology solutions and help them along the path. Lead with the customer and not with the technology. Be open to customer feedback and take it seriously. Change the way you work so that you can serve customers better. No business exists without customers, they are the most important.