Ayo Alonge, [email protected]
Chris Udeji is the CEO of Adiba Group, an e-commerce venture which also runs a fast growing shopping mall in Lagos.
For the serial entrepreneur, running an e-commerce venture comes with its attendant challenges, although Udeji confesses that the business is lucrative if effectively managed especially if the government can mitigate some of the challenges posed to the business which include insecurity, bad roads, poor infrastructure and currency fluctuation.
First of all, we discovered a vacuum in the industry. And once there is a dream, you now begin to think about how to actualise it. This dream doesn’t materialise until you have a vision to drive it and then wait for the right time to actualise it. We looked at the industry and our target customers, the value we planned to bring to the table and the nation’s economic polices. We wanted to deliver better service by doing things differently.
E-commerce is about rendering services to the populace and I am passionate about it and I can do it free. Most times, things like these are not done for money. It is basically about the beauty of service. Every business has a driving force. We discovered gaps and saw that we could fill them and that is it. I have always been passionate about the business and it wasn’t by accident. I am experienced and I perused a lot of data on the consumer-merchant relationship. That is something different that could bridge the gaps. My father trained us well and made us to know that we shouldn’t depend on anyone, including himself. He made us realise that what makes a man is that it pays to be independent. He taught us honesty. You cannot do anything without goodwill. He would always tell us never to tell lies, no matter the situation we find ourselves. In life, you need honesty and goodwill. I grew up knowing great men and kept close to elders from whom I learnt values. I relate to people like Muktar Bakare and Professor Pat Utomi like a son.
If you don’t understand your past, you won’t know where you are going. We are competitive and working out different plans from what others are doing. First, we have a very customer-friendly site and our application would be ready before the end of the year. We have also developed tailor-made offline shops, which we sat down and analysed and discovered that the average Nigerian wants to hear about the product, wants to see it and probably touch it before he pays and that is the essence of the pay-on-delivery strategy. What we decided to do was to have strategic retail malls in cosmopolitan areas. At present, we have a mall at Lekki and another at Victoria Island. Another two are coming up in the mainland in a couple of months. What we are trying to do is to assure people that we are close to them. You can begin to see us as a traditional shopping mall and that elicits confidence. See what is happening in the banking sector where you can do almost everything online but you still see physical structures where you can complain. As time goes on, we may not need it. But because of the peculiarity of our people, it makes a lot of sense to have a platform that can make customers comfortable. Shoppers’ comfort is very important to us because there is a place to go whenever you are dissatisfied. Our vision is to have at least one traditional mall in each state of the federation.
We started with one order. Once you can convince your customers to comeback, that is it. We never had a warehouse when we started and we were just in a 30 square-meter office . We started by going to Balogun to buy things locally and send to our customers. At every point, we just keep going. We were like “wow” the first day we did 20 orders in a day. If a customer requests a product and gets it promptly, he/she feels satisfied. We have just been consistent.
Competition would be there always. Even in class, is there no competition? I am not even looking at what others are doing. Like I told you, I am standing alone. At the end of the day, what matters is the value and service I deliver.
We see challenges more as part of the business. We need customers to pay by their cards but the challenge is that people would always nurse fear. This is understandable. Another challenge is the fluctuation of the naira. Fluctuation of the exchange rate is a huge problem and even some of our foreign suppliers are affected. This only motivates us to develop the local market as 70 per cent of what we sell are consumables. The next is about delivery. Lagos is almost like a car park but it is a brilliant state that I cannot even imagine life without it. But, sometimes, the roads are blocked and it causes logistic problems and we have to adjust our timing. If I have my way, I would like to do contract delivery to another company. But then, quitting is not an option. The economy won’t break. It will continue to run. So, in every situation, there is a way out. It is a fantastic business.
It’s a long term business. E-commerce in Nigeria is worth over $500million in terms of revenue. You can’t call such business a small business. It is far better that a lot of businesses that have run for more than 20 years in the country. It has good potential. We are also looking at the long term. In another five years, we would not need to incur the kind of expenses we incur now because it would have become a bigger household name.
We want stability in the country. Let us see the need to come together as a country and work out things. That is when we would be proud of the country and call it our home. America, today, was not built by the government but by individuals like Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Henry Ford, Steve Jobs, you name them. All we want is an enabling environment for SMEs of this nature and that would be close to the ideal. These are people who wanted to deliver the system. We need security, efficient transportation facilitated by much better road networks and a defined strategy. With these, we can encourage entrepreneurs. We are employers of labour and government must continue to encourage us through tax incentives too. We are not asking them for funds; all we ask for is the enabling environment that would make us competitive with our foreign counterparts.
One is passion. You have to be passionate about the business and that’s possible by staying positive. Next is that you must be honest. Everything is now about automation and that is what everybody is talking about. You don’t talk about any sector unless you see a gap. You have to do your research very well before launching the business.