Kenya’s Copia Faces Layoff Of 1000+ Staff & Shutdown As Financial Struggles Bite

By  |  May 17, 2024

Copia Global, the Kenyan e-commerce startup and fintech platform catering to mass market consumers, finds itself at a critical juncture amid financial constraints. The company’s recent notice to employees, dated May 16, 2024, following a company meeting the previous day, signals the magnitude of the challenges it faces, with CEO Tim Steel communicating potential organisational restructuring or a complete shutdown of operations.

Despite concerted efforts to secure additional funding and navigate the prevailing financial constraints, Copia Global’s leadership acknowledges the daunting task ahead. The company is transparent about the uncertainties it faces, emphasising the possibility of workforce reduction and the potential inability to make payroll.

Steel’s communication underscores the gravity of the situation, with the company legally obligated to provide one month’s notice of potential redundancy to all staff and to engage in a one-month consultation process with affected employees. Should Copia Global proceed with restructuring, approximately 1,060 roles could be affected, leading to potential terminations on grounds of redundancy, Steel wrote in a notice leaked on social media.

The notice also alerts employees to the possibility of a complete shutdown of operations, which would place all staff at risk of termination. This development follows information gathered by WT from a well-placed source in March suggesting Copia was running out of cash. “Copia has a few months of runway left,” an insider had said. However, efforts to corroborate proved abortive.

The backdrop of Copia Global’s current predicament is framed by its notable performance and funding history. Established as a solution to serve mid- and low-income African consumers in rural areas, Copia Global has garnered attention for its innovative approach. With a focus on leveraging a network of over 50,000 local agents to facilitate transactions, the startup has served over 2 million consumers and fulfilled over 13 million orders, reflecting its penetration into underserved markets.

A testament to its potential, Copia Global secured USD 20 M in new funding last December, following a USD 50 M Series in January which puts its total funding since inception at over USD 120 M. Its most recent investment round, led by Pan-African VC firm Enza Capital and supported by a consortium of investors including Goodwell Investments and the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation, signalled confidence in Copia Global’s mission and market strategy.

However, Copia Global’s journey has not been without challenges. Previous setbacks, including the decision to pull out of the Ugandan market and mass layoffs that cut 700 staff including 25% of its Kenyan headcount last July, reflect the tough nature of a landscape that also saw local e-commerce player Sky.Garden teetering on the brink of closure before being rescued via an acquisition by buy now pay later startup LipaLater.

Despite experiencing annual growth of 100% in recent years, as its founder and chair Tracey Turner told TechCrunch last year, Copia Global faced the harsh reality of the global capital market downturn, prompting a fundamental shift in strategy.

In response to evolving market dynamics, Copia Global recalibrated its focus from aggressive expansion to a more measured approach aimed at achieving profitability. This strategic pivot mirrors similar moves within the e-commerce sector, with a renewed emphasis on demonstrating healthy unit economics.

The developments at Copia Global reflect the challenges faced by businesses operating in the tricky e-commerce scene. With the company’s future hanging in the balance, stakeholders closely monitor the situation, awaiting further updates from Copia Global’s leadership.

As the company navigates this critical juncture, questions loom regarding the fate of its workforce and the broader implications for the e-commerce sector in Kenya and beyond.

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