Our investment in FoondaMate
“Talent is equally distributed yet opportunities are not.”
This was the opening line to the first conversation we had with Dacod and Tao back in late 2021. It’s fair to say that it struck a chord.
According to research by the UN, only 4 out of every 100 children in Africa are expected to enter a graduate / postgraduate institution. If you look at South and West Asia, the figure stands slightly higher at 14, while in LATAM it is 36. Meanwhile, in North America, we’re talking 87. If ever there was a bleak picture, this one’s it. Simply put, where you are born makes a difference.
While it is unlikely to come as surprise to anyone, it is important to emphasise: there are profound economic returns to education. A study by the World Bank suggests that, on average, each subsequent year of schooling raises future earning potential by 10%. In Sub-Saharan Africa it is 13.5%. To put it bluntly, getting students through the system is critical to tackling global inequality.
Unfortunately though, that’s easier said than done. In many developing countries, schooling systems are under immense stress. Pupil-to-teacher ratios are often in the 40s or higher, educators often lack the needed qualifications to do their job well, and ‘no shows’ are a common occurrence. The harsh reality is that millions of students around the world are left fending for themselves daily. In the age of information, this should not be the case. The internet should be accessible to all, leveraged effectively for learning. Opportunities should be equally distributed, in much the same way that talent is.
Sadly though, high data costs, coupled with low ownership of computer hardware, leave the majority of households across the developing world with no easy way of accessing educational material online. The ‘e’ in e-learning is still a farfetched reality for so many…
This is the reality that both Dacod and Tao saw up close growing up in South Africa. Dacod, who was raised in a rural township in Mpumalanga, had 70+ children in his class and far too few teachers to teach him and his classmates. After saving up for a basic computer and dial-up internet, he realised he could fill the gaps in his knowledge by tapping into online study resources. Relying heavily on the web to complement his education, Dacod graduated top of his class and was the first in his school’s history to get accepted to the University of Cape Town, where he studied Computer Science. It was there that he met Tao, an Economics grad with a passion for education and a deep desire to improve literacy rates across the country, through her work at Funda Wande. With a shared view on the world and empathy for the problems underpinning educational inequality, they joined forces to launch FoondaMate, a company with a bold mission. Democratise access to education for all.
In practical terms, FoondaMate brings the internet to users via chat apps, empowering them to search the web without A) the requirement of a computer and B) the need to splurge heavily on data. The product — best described as a chatbot — is platform agnostic and can work with most open chat platforms e.g. WhatsApp, Messenger, etc. All a user needs to do is to text the service… the rest is magic (you can try it here). The chatbot gives users the ability search through Wikipedia, define words, solve maths equations, download past exam papers and more, all without ever having to leave their messaging app. It is as simple as it sounds and incredibly impactful.
Since launching a year ago, FoondaMate has grown its user base to over 400,000 learners across 30 countries in Africa, South East Asia and LATAM, without spending a single dime on marketing. The beauty of building right on top of messaging platforms is that virality is embedded into the core of the product. Users refer friends in one click with time-to-value being near-immediate. At LocalGlobe, we’ve long believed that impactful businesses can and will be built on top of chat interfaces. FoondaMate is a testament to this view.
With 300m+ students across the developing world, there clearly is some way to go. There are 20m students in LATAM, 50m in Africa and about 250m in Southern Asia… many need a companion like FoondaMate. It is fair to say that Dacod and Tao are hyper aware of the fact that even a single digit shift in conversion from secondary to tertiary education will lead to profound economic developments in the regions that they serve. Of course though, Dacod and Tao’s ambitions are far greater than single digit shifts.
Today, we’re incredibly thrilled to announce that we’re leading FoondaMate’s Seed round in a push to help Dacod and Tao get their friendly chatbot into the hands of the 300m+ learners across the developing world. Investing alongside us are an incredible group of co-investors: Emerge Education (Jan Lynn-Matern), Future Africa (Iyinoluwa Aboyeji & Julia Moffett), LoftyInc, FirstCheck Africa, Base Capital (Paul Rutherford), as well as phenomenal operators, such as Isaac Oates (Founder, Justworks) and Marcus Swanepoel (Founder, Luno).
Little time to waste.
- Ziv and Team LG