Tale of a tight bootstrapped mena sTaRtUp

Next stop Accra

As the saying goes

you’ll never know until you try.

that was my thought when I was contacted by my then co-founder Sule to join him as CTO for a new e-commerce start up he was trying to put together.

The idea was simple, an Alibaba wholesale space for Africa WE(West & East) connecting buyers to suppliers situated in Dubai, UAE. At the time, having already lived in Dubai for 4 years I understood the market fit as I had a first hand experience of exploring the streets of Deira (old Dubai) trying to secure the procurement of goods for friends and family back in Nigeria.

Development

I was working corporate full time which came with a lot of sacrifices on time spent on development considering the amount of functionality we initially wanted to implement on the platform so we decided to develop something that works as a MVP and so useOrder.com was developed using bubble.io interface. The functionalities worked. Bidding, placing orders, listing inventory all that good stuff. As for payments, our system was to utilize the business account I created in Nigeria to process payments, that and through the big WU. It should be known that the payments market in Africa WU is only now just getting better.

Building relationships

The problem of getting suppliers to use our product.

The task wasn't an easy one, from looking for the best supplier to finding the best outsource for the packaging and eventual shipping/freight process.

Based on our market analysis we came up with a dataset containing 50 of the most exported goods out of the UAE to Africa WE alongside 10 main suppliers for each of them. Meeting up with the suppliers brought me mixed emotions as they were all situated within the same area in Deira so we could literally see our potential customers walking in and out of these shops and placing their orders but at the same time the responses gotten from most suppliers where pretty underwhelming.

We always came in with a laptop and iPad to run them through our platform during these meetings. Showing them how to add inventory and accept bids. We even gave out printout on the steps of using the site which looking back now is pretty hilarious. For the most part the Chinese suppliers there understood where we were coming from and were pretty keen on listing their goods with us. At the end of the day we were promising them more business, win win for all right?

For cargo transport and freight, we were able to negotiate a decent rate with one of the freight companies I was in contact with. It was 3% below market rate which is quite the margin considering the volume of some trades.

Marketing

Getting users was the hard part. Our humble social media campaigns were already underway with the most engagement coming from facebook. We were getting an average of 200 unique site visits daily which was great but our closing rate was less than 5%. We decided to double down our efforts and scower the streets of Deira with useOrder.com flyers. (in the hopes of making connections with buyers already here sourcing for goods.) Smh

As someone with no sales or retail background I must say it was quite the humbling experience. Lurking around the busy streets of Deira trying to make eye contact with passersby, handing them our flyers just to try and start a conversation only to get ignored and rejected (LOL). The fact that we also had to profile people who we believed were either looking for goods to buy or heading to buy something was also tricky. It made us develop a gauging technique ie (Anyone holding a paper list). Looking back now, it was quite the exercise even though it resulted in little to no results on orders.

Snails pace

By Q2 2019 we were averaging 4 sales of about $800 in monthly profit. These were mainly from goods such as; children's clothing, indoor furniture, decorative items and empty perfume bottles. For the effort involved the progress was pretty slow. We decided to apply for YC Summer 2019 program to try and get an avenue that could help us push momentum but unfortunately we didn't make it. We eventually enrolled in the YC SS2019 which was an interesting experience. Connecting with different stages of start up founders was very settling.

We left still facing challenges of payment simplification and warehouse storage.

Settlement

As the year came to an end and the corona virus pandemic hit in early 2020, we, as well as the rest of the world were pushed to utter confusion and uncertainty. It was clear that securing funding within the year would be an unlikely feat considering at the time ports were closing and planes grounded, so we mutually decided to part ways and so the fire of useOrder was quenched.

I later started aforders.com, an e-commerce platform built with Shopify. Dealing with small orders from recurring customers I had made from useOrder that could still afford the cargo fees and exuberant exchange rates together with new customers I acquired with the help of campaigns from instagram.

Path forward

I strongly believe the issue of cross border payments within emerging markets in trade can be greatly resolved with the ever growing emergence of DeFI blockchain technology. Creating foundations for this service in this ecosystem will be the way forward.

NAMA

Figuring it out