SleepOut: The Rise of "Africa's Airbnb"

Accommodation is always needed on a vibrant tourism circuit. Now Sleepout is solving the headache of looking for an appropriate stay in the Middle East and Africa.

Today with increasing globalization, many people are getting to travel, even if it is only in the confines of their own country. This makes finding accommodation extremely important, yet getting that information offline, especially for certain parts of Africa and the Middle East can be a complete nightmare.

Enter This is based on a very simple idea and enables travelers to research places they can stay at their chosen destination. It is pretty much a listing, but with a huge success rate in the Africa and Middle East, it has become well known as Africa’s Airbnb. was initially launched two years ago and globally unveiled its new platform at the DEMO Africa conference last October. After the success of sister company, Eatout Kenya founded by Mikul Shah and Johann Jensen, the success of SleepOut was not a surprise.

According to the CEO and co founder Johann Jensen, the site is doubling its catalog every single month with new listings.

“Since the re-launch of the global marketplace in late 2013 we have been able to double our user base and accommodation inventory every single month,” Jensen told IDG Connect.

“We have a team of 14 in Nairobi and we're currently expanding our customer support and software team in Mauritius.”

This is just a few of the achievements the company has seen in the last few months. Before the global launch, the company had successfully raised US$200 thousand in order to launch services in the Middle East.

But what has made SleepOut grow so fast in the region?

“Tech and travel really were made for each other. Aside from a couple of other notable and notorious industries, travel and the internet live in this perfectly symbiotic relationship,” Jensen explained.

He added that, “Africa as one of the fastest growing tourism industries in the world, has benefited immensely from improved web and mobile connectivity. Travelers and business people from around the world are now finally able to consume African travel content created by Africans.

And why not Africa? The continent has been known for its exclusive tourist attraction, except it’s the same places that get marketed over and over.

Businesses like SleepOut help small businesses get noticed on a global scale. Hotel owners, guest houses and small lease apartments can be listed on the platform.

“Tourist numbers and occupancy rates in some of Africa's major leisure destinations remain tremendously low. We believe that one piece of this puzzle is to change the mindset of accommodation hosts who are attempting to appeal to a small segment of wealthy bucketlist travelers,” Jensen told us.

“Africa will actually stand to benefit far more when we are able to build healthier budget-friendly accommodation segments to include the continent's growing middle-class. By facilitating affordable and accessible travel options for both domestic and international travelers, SleepOut seeks to improve overall mobility in the region and in turn fuel a more sustainable tourism industry.”

The company’s goal was to ease the process of booking accommodation for both hosts and guests. “We believe that in the past two years we have been able to make significant headway on all of these goals but there's still a long way to go,” Jensen confesses.

Due to the low entry barrier, the company has seen a lot of competition across the region. Established companies such as Jovago and still command a lot of traffic and that’s not to forget Airbnb itself.

“Travel tech is not an easy business to get started in because of the levels of competition and the relatively low barrier to entry. To remain globally or regionally competitive travel companies must constantly evolve and adapt to new trends in tech,” Jensen explained.

One barrier that the company seems to be jumping over is the idea of distrust around eCommerce. Deemed in speculative light, eCommerce has only begun taking off on the continent as big players such as mobile money transfer company, MPesa, assert themselves in the market.

“Additionally, hosts that are new to eCommerce can be very apprehensive of using new technology and are very careful and selective in who they partner with,” Jensen said.

The company has gradually grown and includes a new online magazine, Nomad that highlights great sites to visit in Africa and the Middle East.

Jensen explains the company’s work ethic: “Every new staff member at SleepOut actually receives a 15-page manifesto on their first day. The SleepOut Manifesto, as it's called, outlines principles such as openness, creativity and innovation as our core values. As a travel and lifestyle company we put a lot of emphasis on company culture and principle-driven business decisions.”

The future may look bright for SleepOut now that it is at the center of some of the fastest growing economies in the world. Yet this technology development has already seen other services sprout up in other areas in Africa. Nigeria for example, has witnessed the success of and to help users to get the best accommodation in Africa.

For the users of course, it’s safe to say, the more the merrier.


Vincent Matinde is an international IT Journalist highlighting African innovations in the technology scene.