Fred Kirui
Jack Ma
Standard SMS

Seven ways to turn your eCommerce idea into a reality

AfricaSokoni is an eCommerce platform for anyone who’s looking to buy or sell products. It was launched four months ago by three investors looking to cash in on the country’s Internet penetration and interest in online purchases.

Management consultants McKinsey predict that by 2025, Africans will be buying goods and services worth $75 billion (Sh7.5 trillion) online annually.

Hustle met with AfricaSokoni co-founder Fred Kirui to understand how they got their idea off the ground.

We started out defining what problem we wanted to solve. Our primary business objective was to offer convenience for consumers to purchase authentic Kenyan/African products. We also realised it would be important to offer affordability to match convenience. We started off clear that we wanted a platform that provides best-in-class service to vendors and customers.

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In any business, it’s important to know where you want to be in the next three, five or 10 years. To best articulate this vision, come up with a strategic plan that lists planned milestones and their timelines.

We want to have a presence across Africa, and plan to be in 16 African countries within the next two years. We also intend to have 1,000 vendors, up from the current 250, within three months. Vision will motivate you; it’ll will wake you up early in the morning and get you to leave the office late at night.

Our model outlined our business objectives, which defined what market segment we were going after, our revenue model and our profit margins. The business model becomes your blueprint for growth. It can, however, be tweaked as needed as the company grows.

A business model is also useful as it outlines to any potential investor your company’s operational plan. We used our model to pitch for investment as we needed capital to fund our initial operations.

We also outlined our distribution and fulfilment model. We pride ourselves on being able to deliver products bought from within 24 hours in Nairobi, and within 48 hours countrywide.

Ask yourself what resources you need to start and run your business, and if you can’t raise the money yourself, look into sources of funding like loans, private equity or relatives.

We started sourcing for capital that would enable us to launch the business, fund initial operations and sustain our momentum. We pitched for funding, and thanks to the clarity of our business model, were able to secure investment after agreeing on the terms of the return on investment.

You’ll never be 100 per cent ready to launch something. Once our website was up and we’d signed up a critical mass of vendors, we launched.

The next step is using all media channels available to you to make noise. We’ve found that social media is king in creating and sustaining brand awareness, but we’ve also leveraged on mainstream media by advertising through KTN.

When it comes to the online business, you need as many customers as possible to boost conversion rates.

The eCommerce space is customer oriented, and women tend to have the edge in customer service. They’re more likely to have the right tone and manner to handle customer questions, so most of AfricaSokoni’s staff are women.

I attended a lecture by Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba, when he was in Kenya last year, and he said 90 per cent of his staff are women because they tend to have higher IQ (intelligence quotient) and EQ (emotional intelligence) than men, so they’re better able to empathise with and serve customers.

The reason eCommerce has struggled in Kenya is that there’s been a lack of trust between buyers and online retailers. To remedy this, at AfricaSokoni, we don’t store your credit or mobile money transaction history. We’ve also partnered with PayPal to enhance payment security. Further, we’ve put in place structures to ensure what’s listed on our website for sale is what you get. If it isn’t, we allow returns free of charge within seven days.

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