Nigeria, 2012. Software developer Emotu Balogun has shut up shop with startup number one, a software as a service (SaaS) solution which didn’t work out. Looking around the tech space for a new avenue, he noticed one or two e-commerce companies emerging. His interest was piqued.
“At the time, e-commerce wasn’t such a big thing in Nigeria. There were a few businesses, but not like it is now. This posed a really interesting opportunity,” Balogun remembers.
The entrepreneur, now co-founder of Nigerian fashion marketplace Traclist, says the potential of e-commerce was posed by the vast number of small traders in Nigeria, and the lack of listings or clarity for consumers looking for products.
“There were lots of retail outlets selling different things and it was really difficult finding what you wanted or even discovering new and interesting things without walking through these different markets,” Balogun says.
Balogun first decided his project would be to build an inventory management solution to help small traders keep track of their stock, and allow them to expose their inventory to the world over the internet.
“The idea was to build a discovery platform, not an e-commerce marketplace, just something to help people find things and go to the seller to purchase the item,” he says.
However, it soon became clear this discovery-focused platform wasn’t enough, especially at the time. Balogun’s project was forced to expand to provide an online platform as well as offline operations and payment solutions – a comprehensive platform helping small and medium sized merchants sell their products via the internet. He also picked a niche – the fashion industry.
Traclist has since grown into a thriving fashion marketplace, helping 1,000 small merchants sell their products online, to over 25,000 active customers.
“There’s a really strong culture of trading in Nigeria. There are so many people who are interested in selling products online. Especially clothing and other fashion related products. However, these people do not have the means or resources to effectively run an e-commerce platform of their own,” Balogun says.
“We provide value to them by allowing them to participate in the Traclist marketplace. Now, their input is limited to providing the inventory and responding to sales requests,” he says.
“We’ve seen people who initially didn’t have jobs go from that to becoming steady sellers with weekly income by virtue of their sales on Traclist.”
Balogun thinks the platform is set for strong growth, with the Nigerian e-commerce space in its early days, and fashion products always in demand.
“Fashion is one category that keeps getting new inventory, new sellers and new customers. As a result, there’s more than enough space in this market by virtue of the fact that anyone who wants to start something in e-commerce can sell fashion. For us, this is a huge advantage because we aggregate these sellers. Our marketplace model allows for continued expansion and growth in terms of sellers and inventory,” Balogun says.
“In my opinion, e-commerce is at it’s early stage in Nigeria. It will very likely go through changes. Some more drastic than others. However, the e-commerce space will definitely be much larger in a few more years. It will mature in Nigeria and become a strong driving force for the country’s economic growth.”
Traclist is currently seeking investment, and was one of four startups invited to pitch for funding at investment fund 440.ng’s Deal Weekend held in September.
The company is seeking funding for its plans to expand the business outside of Lagos to other cities, and in course to other countries in Africa; as well as to improve the technology behind the platform.
“We’re a working really hard at becoming an effective and prominent player in this space,” Balogun says.
“Our long term focus is to become a technology platform for e-commerce in Africa and not just a marketplace. We believe we can reach thousands more and help significantly improve their livelihood through what we do.”