The same rules apply to e-commerce businesses as to the likes of banking, telecommunications and street trading, and startups are making a mistake if they think online businesses are any different, according to Supermart co-founder and chief executive officer (CEO) Raphael Afaedor.
Afaedor and co-founder Gbolahan Fagbure – both previously co-founders of Jumia Nigeria – launched online grocery delivery startup Supermart, allowing customers to order over 60,000 grocery items online and get them delivered to their homes or offices within as little time as three hours.
It initially launched in the islands of Lagos and has quickly expanded to cover the whole city, funded by Nigerian and international investors and charging a flat fee of NGN800 (US$4) for deliveries. Though the co-founders have a strong background in e-commerce – and their investors are strong believers in its potential – Afaedor told Disrupt Africa internet entrepreneurs were making a mistake if they thought their businesses were different to any other type of company.
“Some of us talk about this in the industry and we agree that first of all you need to understand that the same rules that apply to regular business apply to an e-commerce company, whether you are a startup or not. I think sometimes some people get carried away by what they think is the sexiness of the business,” he said.
“You know it’s cool to say “I have a website and I am a tech startup”, even if you are the only employee. However, the truth remains you can still call it a business if you have a website and you have something to offer. But then the same rules apply. They are the same rules that apply to banking, telecommunications, internet cafés, street traders, and supermarkets, that also apply to tech firms.”
He urged entrepreneurs to focus on getting the business right.
“Monitor your cost, expenses. Make sure you are developing the business and offering services that people want and at the level that satisfies customers. You must make sure you have the level of calibre of people doing the right things. The bottom line is to treat it the way you would any other business. Once you feel that different rules apply, you have missed it,” he said.
The services offered by Supermart, Afaedor said, enable people to shop more conveniently for groceries and everyday essentials, with the startup fixing a real problem.
“A Lagosian has to battle with massive traffic jams in order to get from one place to the other. To do their grocery shopping they have to spend three to four hours hopping from one shop to the other. They could get stuck in traffic, and on getting to the shop, they spend at least 20 to 30 minutes looking for parking space and spend about another 30 minutes at the shop waiting to pay,” he said.
“All these are inconveniences. We knew we can actually solve this problem using the internet. Since we launched, we have literally seen the business double in size consistently every three months.”
Though Supermart receives plenty of requests to launch in other cities, Afaedor said the startup is in no hurry to expand as it is focused on customer service.
“We are constantly expanding the breadth and depth of items we sell on the site as well as the customer’s experience to ensure that Nigerians get the best grocery shopping experience anywhere on Supermart,” he said.
Launching the business has not been without its challenges, he said, adding groceries are the most challenging form of e-commerce because of the perishable nature of the goods. But he believes Fagbure and himself have the experience from their time at Jumia necessary to make it a success.
“Gbolahan and I have been doing e-commerce in Nigeria for the last four years so we believe we have the right experience to take it on,” he said.
“When an order is placed on Supermart, a well-trained personal shopper picks the products off the shop floor. These shoppers know the difference between a Shiraz and Cabernet as well as that between local Nigerian ingredients like efo tete and bitter leaf. A well-presented delivery man then brings the groceries to our customer’s home. The groceries are kept in temperature controlled vehicles to ensure your groceries reach our customers in great condition. That’s the length we go to everyday to ensure the customers needs are fulfilled.”