Ayo Alonge, Lagos
Gilead Okolonkwo is the Chief Executive Officer of Beep Magnet Group, a technology-driven startup which boasts of several products/services, including the manufacturing of premium sanitary pads.
Okolonkwo, in this interview, bares his mind on the growth of Small and Medium-scale Enterprises (SMEs) predicated on the blockchain technology.
The company started as offshoot of an idea from the name itself. We were looking at beaming technology in Africa. I am a lover of technology and I have always had that passion of adding value. It all started with my interest in consumer loyalty. I believe that the customer is king and in order for us to achieve that customer audience, we came together as a team of entrepreneurs and asked how we can give more to the customers. We started as a single company and after launching Beep Magnet International Company, we saw that a lot of other challenges arose. That gave rise to subsidiaries. Each of the subsidiaries is solving a problem. So, Sisi Box is solving a problem of ladies sanitary for the girl child. We said how can we make premium sanitary pads available to an average girl child who doesn’t have the financial strength to purchase it. That gave birth to Sisi Box. It is a premium sanitary pad focused on the female gender. The normal pad doesn’t solve the challenges. The fundamental thing in what we do is to expose the company to e-commerce and blockchain technology. Sisi Box is the product but supporting the blockchain technology too. It drives the tokenisation of our company.
In terms of usage, adoption and patronage, just like it is with every other product, acceptance in the beginning is challenging. Let me make it very clear, we are not competing with other brands. The market is so big and the demand for the products is fast growing. From our point of view, what we are doing is to ask people to support the product for the girl child. That is what we call social enterprise. It is not about profit for us. Instead of having the girl child using non-medicated materials for their monthly discharge, we want to make Sisi Box a household name for them, talking about their health and hygiene. We also want them to experience a premium product different from what they know. It contains vitamins of the air which is needed during mensuration and ovulation. Sisi Box contains what is called panty liners. It also has ovulation strip. That makes it premium. What makes the product special is that it seeks to incentivise the system by rewarding you with our tokens. Our token is the BMT. Whenever you see Sisi Box, you think about the special loyalty that runs on the blockchain known as the BMT. For patronising Sisi Box, you can save digital assets known as the BMT. As more tokens are given out, the value of the token appreciates. A time is coming when merchants will be willing to put a price on the tokens so you can release it to them. That becomes a plus for the user of Sisi Box. We are in Lagos and we have presence in Edo and Anambra. We are opening up our stockist opportunity to people. A stockist is a distributor. That gives an opportunity for a lifetime incentive. You choose the category you want and incentives for a particular amount. We supply you and you become a pickup location. People identify stockists all across the country and they go there to pick up products. The stockist earns incentives for life. We create a lot of jobs without you having a physical store. That is why it is an e-commerce business. Anyone who buys with the affiliate link gets incentivised.
One major challenge is poverty. People ask why do they need to go for a premium pad instead of an ordinary one. Some women don’t even know the difference between the two. Some don’t have the financial power. Another challenge is education. Our focus is to get to the grassroots and one needs to spend time educating the people as to why they shouldn’t use water and tissue paper. Then the digital token reward doesn’t seem to be sinking into people. These are some of the challenges. Another challenge is Naira devaluation because we are not producing in Nigeria yet. Importation is a major challenge too.
That is part of our roadmap. Part of our vision is to set up a local plant. As we speak, the first machine is already in Nigeria. We are trying to do some things to get the plant up and running. The effect of COVID-19 pandemic is one of the reasons we need to get that done fast. We are of the view that we can produce what we can consume in Nigeria. Should there be a total lockdown, we are not going to be out of business. Once we are producing locally, the price will be friendly and competitive.
Setting up a local plant for production is actually capital intensive. My team is not just taking up the responsibility of footing the bill alone. We are making that aspect of the business public. From our calculation, almost half a million dollars will go in, to start a full operation.