When Raphael Afaedor and Tunde Kehinde met a few years ago, they exchanged business cards for more than one reason.
Ghanaian-born Afaedor quit his job as a business development manager at Notore Chemical Industries to start an e-commerce company. Shortly after that , he was contacted by the Samwer brothers’ German-based incubator, Rocket Internet, to bring their African ambitions to life.
“I thought e-commerce was an area that required people with a specific type of experience and know-how. I believed I was one of those people. My heart was also bent on building something from scratch. So, I took the opportunity,” says Afaedor.
Nigerian-born-and-bred Kehinde—who worked as a business development manager for multinational beverage company Diageo and later launched a dating site for African professionals in the diaspora—had a constant itch to do something bigger on the continent.
“The opportunity came up when I found Raphael: a strong co-founder, a good financial backing and a chance to do the project in my own country. We immediately went for it and decided to launch Kasuwa, now Jumia,” he says.
Their ideas aligned and the timing couldn’t have been better for these two Havard Business School MBA graduates.
Together, they set off to pioneer the internet revolution and to organize retailing and the e-commerce market place in Nigeria differently. They rolled out two services: Sabunta and Kasuwa. The former is an online fashion store and the latter sells general merchandise. These services were merged to house a wider range of merchandise. This saw the birth of, the now-well-known, Jumia.
At the Jumia head office in Lagos, there is a beehive of activity: a young, energetic workforce taps furiously at their keyboards and engages customers telephonically, in a bid to build a one-stop shop for Nigeria’s ever-demanding consumer market.
At one end, doors are being opened to receive ordered goods. Products range from clothing and cosmetics to electronics and household merchandise. Merchandise is hand delivered from a warehouse in a matter of days, regardless of their location within the country.
Nigeria has more than 45 million internet users, around 28% of its population, which makes it the African nation with the highest number of internet users—followed by Egypt and Morocco, according to the latest internet world statistic figures. The introduction of mobile phone data and fixed wireless access services coupled with higher computer and internet literacy rates in the past few years have contributed to this boost in online shopping trends in Nigeria. According to Funke Opeke, CEO of Main One Cable Company—which has laid a 7,000km fiber optic cable linking West Africa to Europe—this number is about to increase.
“At least one in three people in Nigeria could have direct internet access during the course of 2013.”
Nigerian consumers, however, have shown little confidence in online purchases in the past for fear of fraudulent activity. A few players are taking advantage of the burgeoning e-commerce space, which helps local brands get their merchandise online. As a result, similar services in Nigeria, such as Konga and DealDey, have emerged in the past few years. These websites provide an alternative shopping experience for Nigerians.
“Lagos is the prime location to be in. The numbers are here, the banking systems are better developed here and there is a lot of activity,” says Afaedor.
Despite a growing popularity in Nigeria, the journey was hardly a walk in the park for the two business partners. As many Nigerian start-ups will agree, challenges are inevitable.
The operational costs of doing business in Nigeria, with infrastructural deficits, was more than a concern. So was finding and building a competent team.
“In our case, it was necessary to have a mind shift and focus on the bigger picture. The opportunities are here in Nigeria. This was a gap we identified and had to fill, regardless of the existing bottlenecks of doing business in Nigeria,” says Afaedor.
Barely a year old, Jumia now boasts around 50,000 online visits a day, with a daily subscriber base of more than 150,000 and is already ranked as the seventh most viewed local content site in Nigeria. It has grown significantly with new product lines and brands on its site with a good consideration for Nigeria’s online payment skeptism, which has been cleverly allayed by introducing a cash-on-delivery feature.
While their ultimate goal is market domination, the immediate concerns for Afaedor and Kehinde are new services, brands and products and to sell everything any Nigerian could possibly need. As it turns out, the fastest moving goods are fashion products, particularly clothing items.
Besides bringing a wide range of products to Nigerian households, Afaedor and Kehinde are also focused on building a dynamic in-house team.
“We pride ourselves in making this a great place to work as service is key,” says Kehinde, who co-manages a team of 200.
E-commerce is here to stay as Afaedor and Kehinde are on a mission to mitigate the tedium of shopping. So, click away as shopping is about to become faster and more convenient.