Marketing made-in-Nigeria goods is, seemingly the most difficult part of being a creative entrepreneur. With Bulky Asehinde’s intervention five years ago, all that is becoming history.
Bulky Asehinde of Bellafricana, an e-commerce platform is helping to create visibility for businesses and connecting them to consumers
Recently, Asehinde spoke to Daily Sun on how she is changing the narratives for creative entrepreneurs in Nigeria and Africa.
Why the interest in creative entrepreneurs?
There is so much creativity in Africa. My focus is to promote indigenous brands that have African edge. I decided to do this when I felt someone needed to resolve the problem of accessing international market for local entrepreneurs.
I observed this when I returned to Nigeria in 2012. Prior to that, I had been out of the country for about a decade and while in the UK, I had worked in many indigenous companies has shaped my perception of indigenous businesses.
However, I needed to undergo the compulsory National Youth Service Corps, NYSC, having studied abroad. It was in the course of NYSC service that I noticed a pattern among creative people who owned businesses. They just want to create. They don’t understand much about marketing. I felt it would be amazing to create a platform where people producing amazing things could be connected to consumers looking out to buy from them. I felt there was no better way to do that than to create an online platform where people from all over the world could access these locally made products. This will give consumers the confidence to patronize the brands since they have been verified to be of good quality. The idea dropped in 2014 and began as an e-commerce platform until about 2015 when we adjusted our focus and started verifying quality businesses in Nigeria.
How easy or difficult is it to market Nigerian brands to the world since ‘made-in-Nigeria’ has almost become synonymous with ‘poor quality’?
We are changing the narratives because we still believe that quality is made here. The consumers confidence is also huge. With our verification seal on any brand, they instantly assume it to be of good quality. We are very particular about quality and ensure the brands we project are of world-class standard. So many great things are being made here locally despite the fact that we do not operating in the most enabling environment.
Are there measures by which you ensure these products are of good quality?
We handpick businesses because we want to make sure the kinds of businesses seen on our platform are those that started from small beginnings and have the desire to grow. We take businesses that understand they need to take their time to nurture.
And before we verify a product, we must examine it, no matter what part of the country the producer is based. For certain products that require testing, we use them on ourselves before verifying.
Most importantly, we believe in capacity building through regular training. Some business owners have skills gap, so we partner with experts who can train them not just in the creation of their products, but also in the running of their business on skills such as packaging, financing, marketing and branding.
And how would you rate your success so far?
It has been great. In Nigeria, we have over a 100 businesses that have been verified across different parts of the country. We have over 500 businesses that are in our network and we are still verifying that their qualities meet world standard.
Millions of consumers globally are already relying on our verification for assurance about various made- in-Nigeria brands.
To some extent, I think that is a good level of success for us. We also enjoy some support from the government agency directly involved in our line of business
What is your biggest challenge?
There are lots of them but the biggest challenge is getting the right people to employ. This is quite a huge challenge. I want people who will be able to tap into my vision.
What personality traits could have triggered the switch from Biochemistry to promoting local entrepreneurs?
My mummy always reminds me that as a child, I always loved to bring people together. I was also drawn to creative, beautiful things and loved to put things in place for better aesthetics.
Everyone, therefore, thought I was going to be an interior decorator but I guess all of these traits have contributed to what I am doing now. Bellafricana is a community of creative businesses and I feel good to be championing quality in creative indigenous businesses in Nigeria.
Who has influenced your life the most?
My mum is my greatest influence due to her entrepreneurial mindset. My dad was a white-collar person. My mum is a businesswoman and has been travelling, doing buying and selling. She was one of the first women who used to sell fabrics in Balogun and Oshodi markets in Lagos.
My mum has acquired for herself loads of cars and houses and supported the overseas education of my siblings and I, just by selling fabrics. She is a woman I am so proud of.