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Some investors are hesitant to fund startups in places experiencing currency volatility, but Triply overcame that challenge while consolidating payment tools for smaller travel businesses.

You finally found the perfect hotel for your upcoming trip. You check the total in U.S. dollars and input your credit card information. Booked. Easy, right?

For travel businesses and travelers in Africa, the experience isn’t always that simple. Triply Co-founder and CEO Peter Wachira said some booking companies do not account for the cultural and economic differences in many African countries. 

For example, M-PESA, a popular mobile money service for Kenya, isn’t compatible with some booking platforms. And the Kenyan shilling’s value can have big swings against the U.S. dollar.

Wachira and his co-founder Collins Muthinja needed to consider where travelers in Kenya and other African countries come from: mostly through offline channels and social commerce. With 56% of hospitality expenditure in Africa coming from the countries’ domestic visitors in 2019, travel platforms need to cater to these audiences.

This is where Wachira’s Triply, previously Tripitaca, comes in. Not only does Triply help African travel businesses manage operations, but it also can help domestic travelers. The company’s software combines several features, one being a wallet to collect payments from customers and to pay business expenses. While the wallet can currently only hold Kenyan shillings, Wachira said he hopes to expand the wallet’s currencies going forward. 

“Having your funds held in the same currency as you were paid allows you to protect its value in the long run,” Wachira said. This can ease future transactions in that same currency.

Wachira said Triply’s wallet feature can limit scammers and build trust with customers, as well.

Triply also provides a platform to manage tour and accommodation listings. The company generates revenue through commissions, a subscription to use the platform, and payment processing fees.

Getting into gear with Y Combinator

Startup incubator Y Combinator helped thrust companies like Airbnb, Stripe, and DoorDash into the limelight by providing funding and mentorship. The program is competitive, and Triply applied twice before getting accepted. Tom Blomfield, a group partner at Y Combinator, said Triply’s profitability and growth helped it stand out on the third try.

With the volatility of certain currencies in East Africa, some investors are wary of the region, said Blomfield.

“What we’re seeing in these African businesses is they’re having to grow revenue and get to profitability to be self-sufficient,” Blomfield said. “They can’t rely on external venture funding in the same way perhaps an American company could.”

During its Y Combinator Batch, or cycle, Triply secured the organization’s standard $500,000 investment

“I think what set them up best was their ability to keep growing revenue,” Blomfield said. The challenges ahead of Triply include understanding other African countries’ markets and working with bigger partners in Kenya. Blomfield sees potential for Triply to collaborate with larger hotel chains. 

While Y Combinator provides support, Wachira faced logistical challenges as an overseas business in the program.

“You’re spending most nights running things back at home and spending the rest of the day managing going through the (Y Combinator) process,” Wachira said. “I would say it’s really overwhelming, but it’s definitely worth it.”

Triply presented during Y Combinator’s Demo Day on April 3 and April 4. Demo Day allows companies to share their businesses with previous Y Combinator investors. 

“You come from a region, and you’re supposed to be the best of the best of companies in that particular region,” Wachira said the next day. “And then you come, and you’re listening to really incredible pitches.”

Despite the competition, Wachira said emails flooded his inbox following Demo Day.

“People are lining up to support you and learn more about what you’re doing,” Wachira said.

Empowering Africa’s travel industry

While the company has roots in Kenya, Wachira aims to establish Triply as “the backbone of travel on the continent.”

“We want it so that (when) you were thinking about travel in Africa, there’s only one platform that you can think of, and that’s Triply,” Wachira said. “Even though you’re not (always) necessarily booking through our marketplace, the payments that you’re making — to an accommodation, to our hotels, to our travel agents — it’s more or less being supported by Triply.” 

Covid challenged Africa’s travel industry, but Triply hopes to continue identifying and filling gaps in the market.

“Nothing was getting deployed on the travel side, and so that’s the main reason as to why we’re doing this… to change the narrative to support businesses,” Wachira said. He aspires to “bring to life the true capability of travel on the continent.”

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Tags: africa, africa tourism, booking technology, conversions, fintech, hotel tech, kenya, short-term rentals, startup, travel startups

Photo credit: Triply Co-founders Peter Wachira and Collins Muthinja. Photo: Peter Wachira Peter Wachira

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