Cameroonian startup Vu Sur is striving to encourage more trade between Africa and the rest of the world, by allowing Africans to overcome issues with payments and delivery to purchase and sell goods on international e-commerce sites.
Formed in July 2015, Vu Sur allows users to shop on any foreign e-commerce platform, including Amazon and Alibaba, pay by local means, and have their purchases delivered to their homes.
On the other hand, it also allows African merchants and artisans to promote their goods, and offer users across the rest of the world the opportunity to buy their products and have them delivered.
Founder and chief executive officer (CEO) Alvine Choupo was born and raised in Cameroon, but left the country after high school to study in France and the United Kingdom (UK). She worked at a French investment bank for four years, and returned home to become an entrepreneur after finishing her MBA.
Vu Sur was conceived from issues Choupo herself faced when she was living abroad.
“Whenever I was home sick, it was very difficult for me to buy products made in Cameroon online and have them delivered to my place,” she said.
“Similarly, when I was home for the holidays, it would be very difficult for me to buy a book, dress or tech device on foreign shopping platforms and have it delivered at home. In both cases, I had to rely on a relative or a friend who was travelling, and beg them to bring the items I wanted. That’s how realised there was a missing connection between Cameroon – and more generally Africa – and the rest of the world.”
When she returned to Cameroon in 2015, then, she set about fixing this problem, by building a platform that would fully integrate Africa into the global digital market, and facilitate buying or selling between the continent and the rest of the world.
“When it comes to global digital commerce, Africa is generally left behind because of its weaknesses in terms of payment and logistics,” said Choupo.
This hurts the continent in two ways.
“On the one hand, people living in Africa who wish to shop on foreign e-commerce platforms such as Alibaba, AliExpress or Amazon are not able to do so because they don’t have the means of payment required on these platforms, or because those websites don’t generally handle shipments to Africa,” Choupo said.
“On the other hand, African artisans who wish to promote and expose their know-how to the rest of the world through e-commerce will face problems in terms of collecting payment from the rest of the world and delivering goods to these countries.”
Vu Sur was a first mover in this space, but is increasingly facing competition from new entrants. Choupo said to differentiate it has adopted a platform strategy that aggregates different players for payments and logistics. It has around 10,000 customers now, a number it hopes to grow by securing investment.
The startup was self-funded for its first year, before it raised a funding round from a successful Cameroonian businessman to help it take off. Choupo is pleased with the level of uptake achieved with limited marketing spend, as well as Vu Sur’s 95 per cent customer retention rate, but said the startup is hoping to finalise another round of funding by the end of this year.
“We have grown organically and a large part of the population don’t know us yet. That’s why after closing our funding round, the next step would be to launch a massive communication campaign that will grow awareness around our company and help us to serve more and more clients,” she said.
Vu Sur also has international expansion plans.
“We hope that in the near future we will be able to consolidate our activities in Cameroon and consider expansion in other countries in Central and West Africa,” Choupo said.
The startup’s revenue model is based on commissions on each transaction placed through its platform. Choupo foresees it reaching a break-even point by the end of 2020.