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Software firm Odoo opens first African office in Nairobi

Odoo, a software editor based in Belgium with more than 7.5m users worldwide, is opening its first office in Africa and has picked Nairobi to establish its local headquarters.

African Business met with Patrick Lukusa, freshly appointed director of Odoo Kenya, to discuss Nairobi’s thriving tech scene and Odoo’s ambition to expand its African customer base for its suite of services including CRM, eCommerce, accounting, inventory, point of sale and project management.

Why did Odoo decide to open a subsidiary in Nairobi?

Patrick Lukusa: We’ve been helping companies in Africa for years. And in Kenya, long before we even opened an office here, we had directly more than 160 customers without us being present and doing active marketing, meaning that there are people who require tools that we are offering.

We decided to open an office here in Nairobi because, not being based in the country, we didn’t understand properly what the realities of an SME were here. Typically, when it comes to local needs in terms of legislation, in terms of equality, in terms of popular payment methods, we were simply disconnected.

We were demonstrating to people, for example, how to pay on your websites using PayPal. But who uses PayPal in Nairobi? We are coming to Africa to be more in line with our end users, to understand them, and to also improve the system by adding features which make sense to this audience.

Aerial view of central Nairobi with modern buildings and skyscrapers.
A view of Nairobi’s business district. (Photo: Sopotnicki / Shutterstock)

How’s the tech environment in Kenya at the moment?

Kenya is now a tech hub. You have a lot of tech talents. You have people who are well trained in all of the IT areas like programs, data, hosting, business analysis, and even now in artificial intelligence.

And the proof is simple. If you go just on the street behind us – Odoo’s office is located on Muthangari Drive – you will find almost all of the big players. You have Oracle, you have Google, you have Microsoft.

Why are they coming to Nairobi other than any other places? Because the “Silicon Savannah”, as they call it, is attracting and creating the environment for these companies to thrive.

Here you can source talent and hire people who have the right backgrounds. You also have a mix of infrastructure in terms of a decent internet connection and a decent power supply, as well as a legal framework that allows you to set up to establish properly.

Although we are in Nairobi, our audience is not only in Kenya. We can reach out to all our customers, including those in French or Portuguese-speaking countries, from here in Nairobi.

You have more than 160 customers in Africa. In which sectors do they operate? Do you see any regional discrepancies?

We have customers in all industries. However, it is true that we see some differences depending on the country.

For example, here in Kenya, you will find a lot of customers in the service sector. You can have accountants, consultants, lawyers… etc. You also have a lot in the retail business, and a few in production, for example, people who produce tea or coffee.

In Uganda, a lot of our clients work in the automotive industry. It depends on how a country’s economy is structured. In West Africa, we have a lot of clients in the manufacturing business, but also in the retail industry.

If you take a typical country, for example, Côte d’Ivoire, it is very likely to find French brands such as Carrefour, which operates alongside CFAO in all of West Africa.

Who are your main competitors in the African market?

Frankly speaking, I don’t see any competitors.

Our tools help companies to better manage their business. Think of any departments or any needs you have in a company: we have an application for that. We have an application to manage sales, one to manage inventory, one to manage e-commerce sales, etc. Our product has many dimensions, and you don’t see many competitors like that in Africa.

But then you have, I would say, some players who may be close to us. For example, Zoho. They tend to do things easily and try to cover more needs. But even then, they are not on the scale where we are today.

Just before this interview, I had a meeting with a pan-African customer who operates in seven countries in Africa and now wants to use Odoo. They are using Zoho only for procurements, and they want to replace it because they want to do more, which Zoho doesn’t allow.

They want to procure goods, but also link it to accounting and link it to website sales. It’s not possible with Zoho, and that is what we are offering.

You are planning on recruiting 50 new colleagues by the end of the year. How is the recruitment process going?

The recruitment is going well. First, we have a lot of applications. We received more than a thousand applications between March and August. So far, we have successfully hired 18 people. We are happy with the number of people that we have hired between the 1st of July, when we started our operations, and today.

Sometimes, you have many companies which never cross the bar of five employees. We are still looking for an extra 32 employees within 6 to 12 months. At the end of this year, we plan on being 50 as initially planned. It gives you an idea of how fast we are hiring. We will be receiving almost one employee every week because we plan on hiring four employees per month.

What kind of people with which competencies are looking at?

We give chances to everyone, women, men, young graduates, and people with experience. We are not going to discard you simply because you have experience or simply because you are too young. Because when we onboard someone, we provide full training.

The training takes one month and then we have continued training. So right now, as I speak, I think more than half of the team are freshers. But we are also hiring people who have eight years’ experience, which is almost more than me.

I would say we are very diverse. We are hiring people based on their intelligence rather than the experience they have.

Is Odoo planning on expanding to other countries in Africa?

Well, for the moment, we have no such plans. And again, nothing is cast in stone. We like saying internally that planning is guessing. But we’ll see if the market demands it.

We will always follow common sense. If we feel that we need to come closer to a region to better serve our clients, we will do it.

Right now, we are very much expanding worldwide. We are opening offices. We just opened an office here in Kenya, but you need to know that at the same time we are opening offices in Australia, Spain, and Germany, and there are many more to come.

The idea is that we want to be closer to people to understand them. If the needs arise in the future, we will consider them.

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This article originally appeared in Tech54, the African Business newsletter that takes an incisive look at the continent’s tech scene. Subscribe to the newsletter here.