Access to electricity in the DRC is extremely low, 19% in urban areas and 1% in rural areas, and Dungu is a prime example of this with an electricity access rate closer to zero. So when Manuela heard that Altech’s co-founder Washikala Malango would be headed to Dungu, a small town in Northeastern Congo located in Garamba National Park, for a product launch, she jumped at the opportunity to experience first hand Altech’s impact in the region. Shagun Jain, the Director of Spark, which is Altech’s supplier, also joined the adventure.
An Indian man, a German woman, and a Congolese man meet in Dungu. What sounds like a great intro for a Dad joke was actually the beginning of a journey to help thousands of people gain access to energy in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). But what is it that these three people do and where the hell is Dungu?
Earlier this year, Manuela Böck, Persistent Venture Builder and interim CFO at Altech, set out to visit Altech’s team on the ground as part of Persistent’s venture building services, initially for three weeks, which quickly became three months. During this time, Manu was able to see firsthand the impact of Altech’s work and how necessary their services were needed in the DRC.
Altech is a Congolese founded and managed pay-as-you-go (PAYGo) solar company, which grew into the leading off-grid energy provider in the DRC by developing a nationwide distribution network selling over 225,000 solar products, while positively impacting the lives of more than 1 million Congolese people.
The aim of the product launch was to introduce Altech, solar energy, and the PAYGo model to a wide audience, in order to attract customers in one of the DRC’s most remote areas. And the aim of this journey was to not only change the access to energy situation in Dungu, but for the entire Democratic Republic of Congo.
In 2013, Washikala, together with his long-term friend and business partner Iongwa Mashangao, started Altech with a bit of savings and 3,000 solar lanterns that sold so rapidly that Altech has experienced tremendous growth ever since. Together they built a sustainable business based on three principles: Deep insight into customers’ needs (having grown up in off-grid households themselves), solid unit economics (with a focus on profitability from day one), and a national solar ambassador model, distributing only products of the highest quality.
In 2019, Altech reached out to Persistent for investment and deep expertise in the sector. Through Persistent’s investment and venture building services provided by Manuela for the past two years as interim CFO, Altech has professionalized its accounting system, built a robust financial model and pitch deck, supported the development of the business model, raised USD 15 million, and enabled the company to grow revenue by 200% and net profit by 270%, and total assets by 360% from 2019 to 2020. The company is on track to reach another 200% growth in 2021 while maintaining profitability.
Having traveled for four days together with Washikala and Shagun on bumpy roads that make you shake to the car’s radio whether you like the music or not, Manuela gathered her thoughts and landed on several key points. Additional help is needed to achieve last-mile distribution, and solar products are the most viable and cost-efficient solutions to provide reliable energy in remote rural areas. Nothing provides greater motivation than meeting customers and marveling at how much three people from completely different cultures are able to bond. Luckily, the product launch skyrocketed Altech’s sales in the region, as well as Manuela’s happiness. Consequently, Altech is on track to reach 6,000 households in Garamba alone within 12 months, while developing further expansion plans in the area.