Eshi Express: Ethiopia’s DHL


We all know that there is a huge gap in the supply chain ecosystem of Ethiopia. To fill in this gap, Haben Gebre collaborated with TIgabu Haile and founded Eshi Express.

The turbulent times of COVID-19 have highlighted the importance of many service sectors. Delivery service providers are among those sectors whose importance was significant in going through those hard times. In Ethiopia, Eshi Express has been at the forefront of local delivery services. Operating in Addis Ababa and two regional cities - Hawassa and Adama - Eshi provides an end-to-end logistical solution. Loline had a conversation with Haben Gebre, co-founder and COO, to learn about their riveting story.

Haben Gebre, COO, and Tigabu Haile, CEO, founded Eshi Express. Haben says that it was a project they were both passionate about. There was no shortage of experience either. Haben was educated in the United States in Logistics and supply chain management and has worked for e-commerce companies like Amazon in the logistics sector. Haben recalls that she chose to study logistics because of the “huge gap in the supply chain ecosystem of Ethiopia.” This gap was responsible for the high cost of transportation and goods. Haben believed as long as this supply chain issue was not resolved, the economic challenges of Ethiopia would continue to exist.

Haben’s vision in collaboration with Tigabu culminated in the founding of Eshi Express. Haben says they wanted to use an Ethiopian name for their company. Tigabu then came up with the name “Eshi,” an Amharic word for “Okay,” which was given to the company to illustrate a willingness to possibilities. 

As of right now, Eshi has a team of 30 people. The team is composed of both permanent and contractual employees. As Eshi’s services require a large amount of fieldwork, the company needs field operators. Haben says they work with “partner messengers” who collaborate with them. They currently have about 40 partner messengers. 

Eshi’s mission is to make sure that they help “optimize and reduce the cost of transportation.” Eshi has plans to solve the logistical problems of Ethiopia and East Africa. Haben believes that they can help improve the quality of services provided by corporations such as banks and e-commerce companies. But corporations aren’t the only entities Eshi plans to reach. The company also plans to provide logistical solutions for small and medium-scale businesses.

The logistics and transport sector is an already complex sector around the world, Haben explains. When it comes to Ethiopia, this complexity further intensifies. Issues related to supply, road infrastructure, and addressing contribute to these challenges. Building a strong team that could handle these problems was also a hurdle to overcome. 

Eshi tries to overcome these challenges by encouraging their team to be creative so they can work around the obstacles or even curb them. Infrastructure-wise, they also try to fill in the gaps themselves, which will help not only Eshi but also other companies providing similar services. For example, Eshi organizes and chairs the Ethiopian Couriers Association, which helps create cooperation among Eshi and other companies. The use of technology, coupled with their team of international advisors, helps Eshi maneuver through any impediment they face.

Like many businesses, Eshi would also like to see policy changes in the business climate of Ethiopia. For example, recently, the government has banned the use of motorcycles in the streets of Addis Ababa, citing an increase in traffic accidents and criminal activities. Haben says that this banning has highly impacted their business. She adds that policy and lawmakers should come up with better solutions other than outright banning, as it affects a lot of businesses. One of the purposes of the Ethiopian Couriers Association is to advocate for changes in policies that could serve as obstacles. 

Funding and investments are crucial to the development of a startup. Because of low funding opportunities in Ethiopia, businesses face challenges when they plan to expand. However, Eshi has managed to secure funding by presenting itself to the international market. The company has recently participated in a pitching competition in Nairobi and managed to be among the top 10. Haben says that it was a great experience as it increased their exposure to investors from different parts of the world. Haben encourages local startups to participate in such opportunities as they will bring investments, networks, and exposure, which are necessary for a startup.

Despite its problems, the investment atmosphere in Ethiopia is improving slowly but surely. One of the examples of such change is the AAA (Addis Ababa Angles) Network, a group of private investors. Eshi has managed to get pre-seed funding from this network, which has helped them quite a lot. Apart from investments, they have also received technical support. Haben says it was a great opportunity and advises other startups to pitch their ideas to the network.

Haben says that competition is inevitable, and for Eshi, it provides them with the motivation to improve. In the context of local startups that provide delivery services, Eshi stands on top of the list. One thing that makes Eshi unique is the ability to be flexible and adapt to the needs of its customers. For example, before working with the National Blood Bank Service of Ethiopia, Eshi did not handle blood transportation, as it required many precautions. But Eshi adapted itself to manage these types of deliveries. And this, Haben believes, is what makes their company stand out.

Eshi plans to expand its operations to one hundred Ethiopian cities in the coming four years. Through the process, they also plan to create sixty thousand jobs. Eshi believes that it’ll be a large, tech-enabled company with a major share in the delivery service market. The company also believes that it’ll help many other companies and startups run their business efficiently by easing the burden of logistics. 

As their team continues to expand, maintaining a strong drive and motivation is significant for the company. Eshi does that by creating a “healthy and purpose-driven work culture.” Haben says that she and Tigabu always make sure that their team knows where their vision comes from. Their vision goes beyond succeeding in business. It is also transforming lives and revolutionizing the logistics sector of Ethiopia. Haben says they transfer this vision to their employees, enabling them to understand the value of their work.

Starting a business is not easy, Haben states. The idea of leaving a comfortable and stable income source to pursue one’s interests is scary to many. But Haben advises entrepreneurs not to be discouraged. As long as they have a vision and a purpose, they should always be able to overcome short-term challenges. Entrepreneurs should not be afraid of asking for help as they have to use every resource at their disposal. They should also grab every opportunity to expose themselves. And through the process, failure is inevitable. But Haben believes that we should not be afraid to fail and continue to improve ourselves.

Eshi express is on track to solving one of Ethiopia’s biggest problems. As it is the way of the world, the bigger problems require the most amount of effort to solve. Eshi’s story is a prime example of a problem-solving mindset. The road to success is filled with various impediments, and one always has to adapt, manage, and overcome these troubles to turn their vision into reality. 

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