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How To Build A Multi Million Dollar Online Business In Nigeria

How To Build A Multi Million Dollar Online Business In Nigeria
As seen from a plane, the aerial view of Lagos, Nigeria looks like a patchwork quilt of colored roofs, sand, grass and streets.

How To Build A Multi Million Dollar Online Business In Nigeria – How did a 30-year old Nigerian and a Ghanaian – Tunde Kehinde and Raphael Afaedor – grow their local e-commerce startup into a multimillion dollar company in less than year?

I was chatting with a colleague, as we drove to Jumia’s Lagos corporate office, when he asked rhetorically: “Why would JP Morgan be so interested in a 5 month old Nigerian startup as to invest millions in it?” Well, I was eager to know too.

Africa, home to six of the world’s fastest growing economies, has caught the entrepreneurial bug but an ubiquitous lack of funds has kept its entrepreneurs from marching. Minutes into meeting Jumia co-founder Tunde Kehinde, he would have me know having an amazing powerpoint business plan isn’t the key to investor funds.

“With the little crowd funding you can get, test your business concept and prove it makes money,” he tells me. “That way you become irresistible for investors.”

His partner, Raphael Afaedor chips in: “We had to quit our jobs and put all our effort in what we believed. Often, working 16 hours a day, sometimes more.”

Raphael was laid back, but spoke with rare speed. Spitting an average of 3 words per second, he would give Eminem a run for his money. His business-like countenance, tucked-in white office shirt and black trousers, made him look like the boss at the Jumia office.

Tunde on the other hand, with the rest of the Jumia team appeared youthful and casual.

At the online retailer’s office, dozens of under-30 year olds carrying Jumia tags could be seen in jeans and sneakers or fashionable clothing. Self expression is uninhibited, ideas are encouraged. It’s the kind of place a millennial would love to work. It isn’t the conventional Nigerian work setting – for a second, I thought I was in some sort of Google workspace.

Hanging on the walls at the lobby are two aluminium frames. One reads: “Best People for the Best Team.” The other, a sort of guideline for interaction between the staff, reads: “Challenge ideas but Respect everyone.”

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When Raphael and Tunde first conceived the idea of building an enduring online ‘shopping mall’ for the Nigerian market, they had never met. Raphael was Head of Marketing and Sales (West, Central & North Africa) with Notore Chemical Industries while Tunde Kehinde was in the UK assisting alcoholic beverage multinational Diageo, to acquire valuable African brands. Both had also studied at Harvard Business School (and Tunde had tried his hands on, a dating site for young African professionals) so they had received some training for their impending entrepreneurial pursuit.

Word got around about two guys talking about e-commerce opportunities in Nigeria and by a stroke of fate they met through a mutual contact. 10 days later, the pair started building their first general merchandise store; only this time, the store was to be online. The name was Kasuwa. The strategy was simple – boycott difficulties associated with shopping at the mall – traffic, long queues, stress, time constraint – by providing a user friendly online store with competitive prices, thereby making shopping convenient.

“Why wait till weekend before going to the mall when you can shop at the press of a button and have your purchase delivered to your doorstep?” Tunde wore a wide grin as he made the statement.

The business of delivering electronics, computers, fashionable items, et al across Nigeria’s 36 states is not an easy task. The boys had to quit their jobs and take a risk. Little did they know Rocket Internet, a german internet Venture Capital was seeking opportunities in Nigeria. Like the American billionaire Paul Getty who struck oil at an early age, the young men had struck gold. Rocket Internet, also owners of South Africa’s leading fashion online retailer Zando, met the duo and decided to invest in Kasuwa. June 2012, was officially launched.

“It’s not just getting money that matters,” Tunde explains. “Get smart money.”

“Investors that can add value to you, open doors and help you network, will help you run faster against competition.”

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Not only does Rocket Internet funds Kasuwa, the group also shares with Raphael and Tunde its network, expertise and vast experience operating e-commerce, including a billion dollar business, in several continents.

An introduction of the German group on its website reads: “Rocket is much more than a venture capital firm or an incubator. We bring together all key elements required to create great companies: team, concept, technology, and capital.”

It’s one thing to have all that support though, it’s another to understand the market and rightly execute market entry strategy in a peculiar one like Nigeria. The first four months were really rough for Kasuwa. Just two months after launch, reports of a brand name change from Kasuwa to Jumia “due to legal issues” filled the online media. Subsequently in September, Jumia and Sabunta – a Nigerian online fashion store, also supported by Rocket Internet – downsized and merged, shedding off around 50 employees, some earning as much as 6.5 million naira ($41,000) per annum.

Raphael says, “the name Kasuwa wasn’t catchy. We wanted a name that could sell, even in other African countries.”

And Jumia sold. With a workforce of less than a hundred, a 12,000 sqft warehouse, omnipresent Google ads, effective marketing campaigns, and countless overtimes, the new brand quickly gained wide acceptance, recording about 40,000 site visits daily – more than Amazon’s site visits from Nigeria – and receiving orders from every state in the country. “The early acceptance surpassed our expectations. We emerged 7th most trafficked site in Nigeria, the number one player in the country’s ecommerce space, and the business was profitable,” Raphael says with a hint of excitement.

It was only natural for J.P. Morgan Asset Management to grab some equity in the company. As hard as I pressed, Tunde wouldn’t disclose the amount of the JP Morgan investment but he was kind enough to tell the cash was “significant enough” for him to feel “very confident about growing the business to a really really large scalable platform for a long time.”

Analytics of top internet searches and inquiries (for products) from Nigeria informs the decision of which category and product is sold on Jumia. Now, the online store gets 70,000 visitors daily. A March statistics report by global web information company Alexa, says roughly 34 percent of visitors to the site are one page views. The remaining 66 percent of visitors spend an average of over 9 minutes per visit. If a-tenth of this group purchases an item (comprising mostly of electronics, mobile phones, fashion items) and Jumia makes a meagre $7 on each sale (the retailer receives products on wholesale), it is safe to assume the company generates $32,340 daily, approximately a million dollars per month.

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“Our staff has grown to over 300 and we are expanding into a 66,000 sqft warehouse, only 4 months after we moved into our current 12,000 sqft warehouse,” Raphael discloses.

With Nigeria’s middle class growing tremendously, and consumer buying on the rise, Jumia’s investors seems to have struck another goldmine of the Nigerian economy.

Tunde says: “We don’t want to just make profit. We don’t want to be here just a few years. We want to establish something enduring, help develop e-commerce in Nigeria and provide that talented fashion designer with no shop, a platform to sell across Nigeria.”

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Written by Aba Forson

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