African Start up

Dakar Lives: Using Instagram to show off the ‘real’ Senegal

Story highlights

Dakar Lives is an Instagram feed, blog and business directory

Aims to show the world the 'real' Senegal

CNN  — 

It’s often said that for the best entrepreneurial ideas, start with what you know.

So when a group of friends from Dakar, Senegal, realized they were good at Instagram, it wasn’t long before a business plan naturally emerged.

Dakar Lives began as an Instagram feed in 2015 with the aim of “curating the best photos from Senegal”.

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A year and a half later, the account has nearly 50,000 followers – an avid community sharing vibrant snaps of the West African nation’s idyllic beaches, buzzing street scenes and rich cuisine.

Now the team behind the page, a group of four young creatives passionate about pooling their skills and harnessing the power of digital technology, have launched the next phase of their online lifestyle platform – a website that showcases what’s hot in Senegal, offers leisure experiences and points to the capital’s bars, restaurants and shops.

‘A reference for Senegal’

Acting like a highly-curated country guide, the goal is to promote Senegal to tourists while helping locals discover what’s already under their noses. It was simply a question of seeing what was missing, said co-founder Mamadou Wane, aka “Papi”.

“You want to find out about Finland? You can. You go on the Internet, see cool stuff and pretty much know what you’re going to do. You look up Dakar, Senegal, and there’s nothing – it’s a bunch of photos of salt dudes at the pink lake,” he said, referring to one of the country’s most visited attractions.

“We knew how beautiful this place was, but also knew that people who grew up here their whole lives haven’t seen most of it. We want to be a reference for Senegal, the go-to place to know what to do and who to meet.”

What started with an Instameet organized by Papi, who’s also a fashion designer and artist, and architecture student and writer Mamy Tall, soon became a thriving community of budding smart phone photographers. Digital marketing consultant Olivia Codou Ndiaye and business and finance student Marouane Gasnier joined the team and before long, the economic potential became clear.

“It’s a crazy boost when you meet someone outside a bar or gallery and they’re like, ‘This is why I’m here, I saw the pictures on Dakar Lives!’” said Codou. “Why not charge for bars and venues who benefit from this?”

Businesses can now pay to be featured more prominently in the Dakar city guide or use the Instagram community to promote their product.

Since launching in October the group have already been contacted by a major hotel and a supermarket chain wanting bespoke content marketing solutions – there’s an appetite “to collaborate on a new approach,” said Codou.

Curated by insiders

While their Instameets, events and product giveaways all cater to Dakar’s digitally-connected youth, the start up is also putting Senegal on the map for tourists.

They were approached by Tastemakers Africa, a travel company that offers “epic” trips to Africa “crafted by insiders” to become the curators for Senegal, devising activities from guided photo walks around the Medina to surfing on Ngor Island. Of course, it’s all digitally-managed.

“No one really goes to a travel agency anymore - everything needs to be done on a smart phone,” said Papi. “If we’re going to remain relevant in this new era, we’re going to have to not only adapt but be ahead of the curve.”

Thanks to the envy-inducing imagery featured on their page, they’ve had plenty of interest from young creatives in other African countries, keen to work on similar platforms.

The group has already launched a Morrocco Lives Instragram feed with more than 10,000 followers – now they’re considering expansion to Abidjan, Ivory Coast and Bamako, Mali, either through partners or a franchise.

“We want to work with locals,” said Codou Ndiaye. “We’re building the community first, we see what [people] need so we can launch a product accordingly.”

Creative collective

But the start-up is also about much more than just online marketing and pretty pictures.

Uniting a 17-strong group of freelance photographers, bloggers, web designers and filmmakers under its “Dakar Lives Hub”, the community is also about supporting collaborative entrepreneurship, sharing contacts and in doing so, promoting Senegal’s rising creative talent.

It’s all thanks to the opportunities afforded by digital and social media, says Papi.

“The world is at your fingertips. Not only do you find the knowledge you need, but also the people you need to be connected with. We talk about how small the world is, but Instagram makes it even smaller.”

There are still obstacles to overcome. While the internet is widely-accessed in Senegal and cheaper than in neighboring countries, older generations are still wary of investing in online ventures, according to the entrepreneurs.

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That looks set to change, with Senegalese President Macky Sall’s plans to build a Silicon Valley-style tech hub 45 minutes south of Dakar. Investors need to get serious about digital, says the group.

“I definitely see Dakar changing,” said Papi. “There’s this tangible energy, this very dynamic youth of entrepreneurs, creative heads. We’re seeing things get done.”