Connect with us

Featured

Craydel upscaling higher education across Africa

The Nairobi-based co-founder of Craydel, an online career guidance platform, speaks to FORBES AFRICA about its ambitions to democratize higher education and scale across Africa. But first, more on what sparked his entrepreneurial journey.

 

Manish Sardana is in the midst of a busy day, opening yet another office, a bigger one, in Nairobi’s upscale Westlands area when we catch up for a conversation on Craydel, the edtech startup he successfully co-founded in Kenya in 2021, at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Right now, we have five offices – three in Nigeria and two in Kenya – and about 70-odd employees and we are growing rapidly,” the platform’s 43-year-old CEO says about the growth of what was once “just an idea in his head”.

At a time when most startups are battling to survive and retrenching staff, Craydel is hiring rapidly and on its way to profitability in 2024, he adds. On the cards: expansion to more markets such as Ghana, Uganda and South Africa. The investors are keen and Sardana is optimistic.

[DOWNLOAD OUR MAGAZINE]

“When you are building something that has a real vision trying to solve a real problem, you get people gravitating towards you,” says Sardana of his platform that dispels misinformation and biases for students and guides decisions on college and course selection. Craydel is building the tech infrastructure to empower African learners to search, match and apply to their best-fit higher education institutions.

In 2021, Sardana, along with his co-founders John Nguru and Shayne Aman Premji, secured $1 million for Craydel in a pre-seed round led by Enza Capital, a private venture fund that invests in early-stage tech startups across Africa. Subsequently, they secured another $1.5 million to grow the platform.

READ ALSO 10 AFRICAN TECH STARTUPS MAKING WAVES IN 2023

Craydel – a play on the word ‘cradle’ –  hand-holds students wanting to pursue higher education – from graduation to post-graduation to PhD – at any point in their student or professional career. In fact, 50% of their postgraduate enrolments are working professionals looking for a career change, says Sardana.

The tech startup has 380 direct partnerships with universities so far and seeks to democratize access to tertiary education, in turn, addressing the low gross enrolment rate, of about 9%, in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). This includes working professionals who have not been to college before, for want of access to capital and resources.

Two years in, Sardana says they have figured out the formula for success.

“We know that if you do X, Y and Z, you are going to be successful. That equation is very clear to us now. We want to show that we can build a real unicorn out of Africa, creating real impact.”

But there’s a reason why Craydel may as well be on its way to savoring billion-dollar success in the future. Sardana has a track-record of building and scaling successful businesses from the ground-up. His penchant for entrepreneurship had its humble beginnings in India, and followed him to Africa, a continent that he now calls home and one that has “given so much” to him.  

“I owe it to Africa,” he explains of his mission to expand opportunities in education.

“One of the things I realized early on in life is to observe things around me… What I love is looking at ecosystems and how things work, and understand how it is broken, and use technology to disrupt that ecosystem. There’s also a theory I use, which is called ‘perpetuators versus agitators’; wherein perpetuators perpetuate an ecosystem because it benefits them, while an agitator can really shake this up from the outside and create a better, more efficient ecosystem,” says Sardana.

Serial entrepreneur

His first tryst with entrepreneurship was at the age of 10. From a middle class home in Delhi – with three rooms and 16 family members – Sardana was born to parents who worked in the government and instilled in him a love for reading.

He engaged this by creating “a sharing concept or library with a common pool of books and comics from everyone in one place”, renting books out to friends and relatives. The venture failed, but not without him realizing how much he enjoyed the process of creating it. All through school and college, he found enterprising ways to make pocket money, becoming “a serial entrepreneur more out of necessity than anything else”.

[READ ALSO]

His parents allowed him these entrepreneurial bouts, so long as he was going to top his class, study economics and go on to become a civil services officer. Whilst studying for an economics degree in Delhi University’s Hansraj College, Sardana was also teaching students. But disillusionment set in.

“I mean 90% of what I studied two years ago, I had no recollection of, and I could not see how that education was going to ever help me in life. And especially because I had kind of exposed myself to building businesses, I did not see any practical application of what I was studying.”

Along with a couple of friends, he soon set up his own publishing business – a college magazine in Delhi University that proved to be very popular on campus. He hustled, spending nights at the printing press and knocking on advertisers’ doors during the day, thumbing through the Yellow Pages directories and traveling across Delhi on his dad’s scooter. This was in the year 2000.

“My parents said I have got to stop this and do my master’s degree,” says Sardana. His mom filled out a form to the prestigious Delhi School of Economics. Some of India’s greatest economists such as Nobel laureate Amartya Sen and former Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh have taught at the institution.  

Sardana cleared the entrance exam, quite by default. “I really did not study for it. The only way I cleared the exam was because I was teaching my classmates and charging them money for it. So I would [conduct] private tuitions for my own classmates, and in the process of teaching them, I would kind of learn myself.”

Very soon, he realized it was all theoretical economics and he had no passion for it. It didn’t challenge him enough, so three months into the course, he quit.

After that, he tried to rekindle the magazine business but had to close it down. He also authored an economics textbook for class 12 students. A year on, he went on to do his MBA at the FORE School of Management and was subsequently hired by advertising agency FCB Ulka. Before long, he felt “jaded” in the industry doing marketing campaigns. But Sardana was also closely watching from the sidelines the big renaissance unraveling in India’s technology sector.

READ ALSO ALL OUR EDITORIAL POSTS.

“That was in 2004-2005, the internet was coming up, Amazon was becoming a big thing and Google had come up. I saw the power of technology really changing and transforming ecosystems and got really excited about it,” he recalls. After that, he worked four years in a successful edtech startup called Vriti, and the company managed to raise a total funding of $35 million.

“It was a lot of money at the time… Eventually, I sliced the part of the company I was running and set up as a separate company. I sold my company to a financial investor. So that was my first successful exit, which I was really happy about.

“And then, after seven years, I needed a break, I was very much done. Startups can also be an emotionally-draining experience, you know, especially when you are just married and have kids.”

A six-month break ensued, during which time he also helped his wife set up her bakery business, delivering her cakes door-to-door in their black Maruti Esteem car. That was in 2014 when Sardana’s Africa rendezvous was just about to begin.

Owe it to Africa

One of his former bosses who had been following his journey in the technology space told him about an opportunity in Africa with multinational communications company, WPP to focus on the digital marketing side of the business. Within 10 days of receiving the offer, Sardana was on a plane to Kenya, his first trip outside of India. It took him three years to settle down, to understand the market and the consumers, and he was promoted to Managing Director for WPP-Scangroup in SSA.   

He won a lot of business for the company but the entrepreneur in him was beginning to surface, again. He built a marketing automation platform called Optimus for the company, which is when he met and worked with his current co-founder and CTO, Nguru.

He presented the product to the board but it didn’t work. He presented it to one of their clients, Barclays in Kenya, and thereby to the bank’s leadership in South Africa, who were very impressed and gave him a chance to deploy it across their markets, which he calls his “first lucky break”.

“Once Barclays happened, you know, success creates more success. Suddenly, at WPP, the guys woke up!”

Sardana says Optimus was also deployed by leading African entities such as Kenya Commercial Bank, Equity Bank, the Old Mutual Group and Airtel. The epiphany after that was inspired by his wife, whose bakery business was also doing well.

“She said to me ‘you know, you guys keep building all this sophisticated technology for large blue chip companies, but what about building something to help small businesses like us scale’?

“That was my first moment in Africa when I said, ‘okay, I’m making a lot of money for myself, am building a lot of wealth for my organization and for my clients, who are very rich people to start with, but we are really not doing anything of any significance, of impact, using our skill sets, and our insights for the large masses, the small business sector. If you understand Africa, it’s really run on the back of very micro SMEs.”

This led to the creation of Optimus Mini for small businesses. Eventually, that platform was called Goby – “the smallest fish in the world”. He explains the philosophy behind it.

“The big fish eat the small fish. So we wanted to empower the small fish to fight and compete with the big fish, by giving them access to all the technology and resources they needed. It was essentially e-commerce-as-a-service platform, allowing small entrepreneurs to upload their product pictures and prices, and it will set up an entire e-commerce shop for them online, integrated with payment gateways and logistics partners to deliver the products.”

It really was just Nguru and Sardana developing it at that point.

“John is an exceptional technology guy, he’s amazing. I would come up with a product design, the user experience, the strategy, the business side of things and he would build the technology. Technology was always my handicap – I always regret not learning to code. I have all the stuff in my head but can’t build. I tell John he completes my handicap,” says Sardana.

In three months, they had 3,000 merchants signing up, deeming the platform a success. This was while they were still with WPP-Scangroup, when they had the reach, the capital and client access afforded by the company.

When Covid-19 struck in 2020, e-commerce took off and so did Goby. Leading brewer AB InBev approached them to sign on for “a B2B version of the product” to take orders online and deliver alcohol. Diageo, too, came along.

But the time had come for Sardana to go on his own, even if it meant giving up a lucrative salary and the comfort of a full-time job at WPP.

“Working with Manish was always magical, a journey into the future,” remembers Serah Katusya of that time, when she was the Managing Director at Mediacom, a sister agency at WPP-Scangroup; she is now the CEO of Belva and founder of WildMango. “He challenged and inspired with the same energy. He paved the way for many of us into tech, into thinking and building business solutions. He was definitely an agency leader decades ahead of his time.”

By the time he left WPP, Sardana had enough confidence in his abilities to build and scale real businesses. He wanted to build something in a very different space, specifically, in education.

“I think that was a very big inflection point in my life… that I was wasting all my knowledge, talent and experience building things for big companies, and I wanted to solve real problems on the ground. So that kind of gave me an exceptional amount of clarity… seeing the lives of ordinary Kenyans, doing fascinating things with very little resources and transforming their lives became a real thing.”

A cradle for young students

Sardana’s research showed that there were government subsidies and funding for primary education but there was not a lot of momentum in higher education.

“The higher education infrastructure in sub-Saharan Africa is extremely weak. The problem is that in most schools, the career counselor is essentially a teacher with the least amount of workload…. This entire industry is run by agents who don’t understand career counseling; they essentially push students to universities, and make money.”

According to Craydel, more than 16 million African students spend $30 billion on higher education each year. As a continent with the youngest population in the world, Africa presents tremendous opportunities in this regard, and Sardana was quick.

“We wanted to build a cradle for young students in Africa, for them to get all the nourishment in terms of the right advice, the career counseling, the psychometric assessment, and the right technology to get them off on their own feet.”

Whilst they were setting up the company, and during the pandemic, Sardana met Premji, the third co-founder, who is now Craydel’s CFO.

“Shayne is Canadian, but like me, stayed in Africa for 10 years. We stayed on the same street in Kenya but never knew each other. During the pandemic, he was changing houses, and walked into our apartment building. That’s how we met. He had a lot of experience in investment banking, and was doing extremely well in his career…

He is also impact-driven, so said he wanted to quit his job and join us full-time… he was extremely instrumental in raising our first round of a million dollars,” says Sardana.For now, the trio is looking forward to what lies ahead. Their “vision and impact story” is shaping up.

“We’re in a good space now, and really excited about building this journey,” concludes Sardana, as he sets off to launch the company’s brand-new office, surely, one of many more to come.

Originally Posted on ForbesAfrica

Facebook Comments

TAGiAfrica™ is a Web3 Magazine that is documenting the African journey in the crypto and blockchain industry for over a decade. We are the Pan-African magazine that covers business, technology, Blockchain, Crypto and Innovation.We are the essential resource for anyone who wants to stay up-to-date on the latest trends in Africa. The magazine is also a valuable resource for businesses that are looking to expand into Africa and committed to promoting African entrepreneurship and innovation.

Advertisement Build your website!

DOWNLOAD YOUR E-MAG HERE

Watch Our Channel

Advertisement

Trending

Crypto3 days ago

OKX Coin Leaves Nigeria: Analyzing the Implications

In recent developments, OKX, a major cryptocurrency exchange, has decided to cease its operations in Nigeria. This move has significant...

East Africa3 days ago

Press Release: TAGiAfrica Presents “50/50 Africa Influencers [Class of 2024]

Celebrating the Top Influential Africans Across Tech, E-commerce, Crypto, and More TAGiAfrica, the premier platform spotlighting African innovation and leadership,...

How to Startup4 days ago

Innovate Africa: Fueling Africa’s Tech Future with Early-Stage Investment with $2.5m

Africa’s tech scene is buzzing with innovation. From life-changing fintech solutions to groundbreaking applications tackling societal challenges, African entrepreneurs are...

APPLY NOW4 days ago

Apply Now for Aspiring African Engineers UNESCO-IEEE Entrepreneurship Bootcamp

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and IEEE Entrepreneurship are offering a new opportunity for early-career engineers...

IN THE NEWS4 days ago

Mara lost $16 million in 2022 Amid Leadership Turmoil

The African cryptocurrency scene, once brimming with promise, has witnessed its share of casualties. The latest addition to the list...

Editorial5 days ago

Press Release: TAGiAfrica Unveils ‘READ AND GET PAID’ for Nigeria, Ghana, and Kenya in August 1st.

TAGiAfrica, a fast-rising tech and crypto digital news platform, proudly announces the upcoming launch of its innovative project, READ AND...

Featured5 days ago

Meet the Tôshikas: Meet the 6 African startups finalists.

Africa’s tech scene is brimming with potential. From solutions tackling social challenges to groundbreaking applications disrupting industries, African entrepreneurs are...

Blockchain2 weeks ago

FG Re-Arraigns Binance on Tax Evasion Charges

The Federal Government of Nigeria has re-arraigned the cryptocurrency exchange platform Binance on charges of tax evasion. This move is...

Featured2 weeks ago

“Chatter App Is Live,” Davido Jubilates as He Launches His Own Social Media Platform

Nigerian superstar Davido has officially launched his own social media platform, Chatter, marking a significant milestone in his career and...

How to Startup2 weeks ago

i’SUPPLY Raises Pre-Series A Funding Round, Securing $2.5 Million to Expand Tech-Enabled Pharmaceutical Distribution Platform

i’SUPPLY, a leading Egyptian startup specializing in tech-enabled pharmaceutical distribution, has successfully closed a pre-Series A funding round, bringing its...

APPLY NOW2 weeks ago

Open Startup Launches OST Programme to Accelerate African Startup Ecosystem

Open Startup (OST) is proud to announce the launch of the OST Programme, a groundbreaking initiative developed in collaboration with...

APPLY NOW2 weeks ago

10k2Startup Invites African Startups to Apply for Funding and Strategic Support

10k2Startup, an innovative initiative founded by Julius Nkansah Owusu-Kyerematen, head of multi-channel mid-market skills at Google, announces the launch of...

IN THE NEWS2 weeks ago

Telecom Egypt and 4iG Group Join Forces to Build Egypt’s Future-Proof Fibre Network

Telecom Egypt and Hungarian IT solutions provider 4iG Group are embarking on a transformative joint venture to construct a state-of-the-art...

How to Startup2 weeks ago

Nala Raises $40 Million to Expand Beyond Remittances, Become Africa’s Cross-Border Payments Leader

Nala, a remittance startup rapidly evolving into a comprehensive payments platform, has secured a massive $40 million equity investment in...

IN THE NEWS2 weeks ago

Botswana Launches First Satellite BOTSAT-1 Set for Launch in 2025

Botswana is taking a giant leap into the cosmos with the development of its first-ever satellite, BOTSAT-1. This ambitious project,...

Crypto2 weeks ago

Nigeria plans Indigenous Blockchain “Nigerium” for Data Sovereignty and Security

Nigeria is taking a significant step towards data security and national sovereignty with the proposed development of its own blockchain,...

IN THE NEWS4 weeks ago

Flutterwave Streamlines Workforce: 30 Employees Let Go Amidst Strategic Shift

In a move that has sent ripples through the African fintech industry, Flutterwave, the continent’s leading payments technology company, has...

IN THE NEWS4 weeks ago

Andela Unveils Code Playback Feature, Revolutionizing Tech Recruitment in Africa

Andela, a renowned platform connecting businesses with top-tier remote software developers across Africa, has taken a significant step forward in...

IN THE NEWS1 month ago

Nigeria Content Creators Set to Gather at the Content Con Lagos

Nigeria Content Creators Set to Gather at the Content Con Lagos. Get ready for the most anticipated event in the...

READ OUR EDITORIAL PICK

APPLY NOW2 hours ago

[Apply Now]U.S. Embassy Abidjan Announces Funding Opportunities to Build Bridges with Côte d’Ivoire

The U.S. Embassy Abidjan Public Diplomacy Section (PDS) is excited to announce the launch of its Public Diplomacy Small Grants...

Editorial12 hours ago

10 AFRICA EMERGING TECHNOLOGIES YOU MUST KNOW [ 2024 List]

Africa is experiencing a remarkable transformation, fueled by a surge in innovation and a youthful, tech-savvy population. This article delves...

East Africa2 days ago

Top 10 Rwandan Startups: Shaping a Nation’s Future

Rwanda, a nation rising from the ashes of a turbulent past, has emerged as a surprising hub for innovation and...

Crypto3 days ago

Is Donald Trump Assassination Attempts Affecting The Crypto World?

The intersection of political events and financial markets is a complex, often unpredictable domain. When high-profile figures such as former...

Editorial2 months ago

IS AFRICA READY TO LEAD THE TECH REVOLUTION IN THE CONTINENT?

In the span of just two decades, tech drivers in Africa has experienced a tech revolution that is positioning it...

Africa Africa
East Africa2 months ago

Breaking Free from Waste: Africa’s Fight for a Sustainable Future Through Minimalism

In today’s fast-paced world, the concepts of minimalism and sustainable living have emerged as powerful antidotes to consumerism and environmental...

Blockchain2 months ago

AFRICAN SUPPLY CHAIN: EXPLORING BLOCKCHAIN APPLICATIONS BEYOND BANKING

The key to overcoming the challenges in logistics and supply chain management (SCM) operations in Africa lies in standardizing indigenous...

AFRICA AFRICA
Editorial3 months ago

Top 10 Lucrative African Tech Sectors to Invest in 2024

Africa has been experiencing a rapid growth in technology in recent years, with many opportunities for investors in the tech...

Artificial Intelligence3 months ago

Llama 3: Meta’s AI Assistant Gallops into Africa, Bringing Connection and Controversy

Meta, formerly known as Facebook, is a tech giant synonymous with social connection. Boasting over 3 billion monthly active users...

Editorial3 months ago

SUSTAINABLE INVESTING: ALIGNING YOUR PORTFOLIO WITH ENVIRONMENTAL AND SOCIAL CONCERN

Investors have multiple strategies at their disposal to construct and broaden their portfolios, aiming for financial success. One emerging trend...