Business opportunities in Nigeria bigger than challenges —Jumia boss

Sefik Bagdadioglu, the Managing Director of JumiaMarket Nigeria, is an economist and entrepreneur. He holds an MA in Economics from the University of Toronto. In this interview with TAYO GESINDE, he speaks on the rebranding of Jumia Group and the future of e-commerce in Nigeria.


AS someone who has moved round countries like Turkey, Canada, Tanzania and Kenya, what has been your business experience since you came to Nigeria?

I have been in Nigeria for 15 months, I arrived the country in summer 2015. I have experienced a lot of changes in that time frame. Prior to that, I did some consulting and also ran start-ups in East Africa, Tanzania and Kenya to be precise. In Nigeria, there is so much happening on a daily basis. There is never a dull day. Every day when you get home, no matter what time it is, when you think back there will always be a few good stories to tell. And I think that is a very important quality. It means when you are in Nigeria, you are alive.


But in comparison with other African countries you’ve been to, how would you rate Nigeria?

Nigeria is definitely more dynamic. There is what I call a bit of hustle mentality. A lot of people are looking for the next big thing and they are not scared to go after that. Other African countries are a little more laid back; things work at a slower pace. In Nigeria, once you align with the different stakeholders it happens relatively fast. Sometimes, that is a good thing and sometimes it is a bad thing because sometimes, you jump into an opportunity a little too prematurely, maybe you do not do things with diligence. Other times it is good because you don’t waste time.


Jumai recently rebranded from Africa Internet Group to Jumia Group, thereby incorporating all your separate businesses under one brand, what informed this decision?

We’ve been sister companies. We had Kaymu, Jobago, Hellofood, Jumia and so on. We were under the same group and we realised that it is much better for the customers that we have; from a service perspective, if instead of showing them that we are a lot of these small brands, we actually show them that we are one strong brand. It was basically an idea to increase our feasibility so that people will be able to advertise. Someone who is using Hello Food may not know Jumia and so on. And as we know trust is a big issue in e-commerce in Africa, in the world actually, but Africa is a bit behind when it comes to e-commerce. It’s catching up rapidly but a little bit behind. So, one of the issues is that if you use Hello Food and you are happy with it, you are more likely to use JumiaMarket or Kaymu because it is the same group of companies. So, that was one of the reasons we wanted to push this merger and I am happy with the result.


Now, apart from Jumia, what are the potential advantages of this merger to your clients and merchants?

First of all feasibility. Of course, you know that we have thousands and thousands of small and medium enterprises on our sites. And of course after the merger, the number of visits to our sites has increased. That means people on our sites have larger group of buyers who can buy goods from them which is a good thing. Also, on the sellers’ perspective because it is one brand that is known now we can link them with different manufacturers, distributors and importers all over the world because if we say we are contacting them from Jumia, which is number one in Africa and that automatically makes things easier than saying, I am calling from Kaymu, we are part of African Internet Group. Another benefit is that we have started to collaborate more with our sister’s companies for instance; most recently we ran a voucher campaign with JumiaFood. Now, we will be selling concert tickets for big concerts in Lagos and we are thinking of doing a concert dinner combination so maybe we will work together with JumiaFood on that. So the possibilities are endless.


You said, Jumai is number in e-commerce in Nigeria and Africa as a whole, what is the secret of your success?

I always tell my team that it has to be customer service. I said that if customers are not happy with what we are providing, it could happen because we are learning certain things as well, but if we keep repeating the same mistakes then we should not be in business because we are here to improve people’s lives, we should not be introducing additional complications in their lives. To me, no matter what we do, the end game is that are we adding value to our buyers and sellers communities. Are we helping them out in one way or the other? If you are a technological company your goal should be to improve people’s lives. And you should not force the solution you think you have to people. You should observe what they are doing and ask how we can make this more efficient using technology. I think that is the key.


There are peculiar problems associated with e-commerce in Nigeria, especially in meeting customers’ needs and quality control. How are you handling and overcoming these challenges?

We are relying on the forces of free market. I am going to explain how it works. We do not own inventories; we do not buy or sell products directly. We have a seller community who posts on the products on our site and we have certain rules. And we have the buyer community who follow these sellers and they get notifications when they bring in new products and so on. So to me, it is very simple. When you sell something, if the buyer is not happy about this, they should be able to go and write a note under your seller page. If a seller is doing well and gets a lot of positive reviews on his page, he will sell more. We always tell our sellers to be honest about what they are selling.  The issue is not about selling good or bad quality product, the issue is if you are selling a bad quality then you should not say on the site that you are selling good quality. Yes, there would be times when you would order for products and it won’t be very good. For that, we have return policy that we actually encourage and require all our services to have a minimum return policy.  So, if you buy something and you don’t like it, you can send it back within three days. As you have more and more people using these services, the community decides which buyers are good which sellers are not. To me that is the beauty of this whole thing. I can try to command and control but that is not sustainable. What is sustainable is people getting together and collectively identifying the sellers with the good product.


Some people are of the opinion that it is difficult doing business in Nigeria. What is you view on this?

Of course, it is not easy to do business anywhere in the world. That is why you have a lot of entrepreneurs because a lot of people like me thrive on challenges. When you know that there is a challenge, the challenge is not only for you, it is for everyone. So, the value added that you can bring to the country is a lot bigger than those challenges and that can bring a bigger change. To me, that is a positive and not a negative thing. For example, for us, we are trying to take off the sharp edges from our buyer and seller community so that they can have a seamless transaction. Of course, infrastructure, cost of transportation and production, forex restriction are some of the challenges we face but we try to find ways to go around the challenges. Challenges exist but they are to be overcome. The bigger the challenge, the bigger the reward.


Then, what role do you think government can play in developing entrepreneurs in the country?

I have one line answer to that; before everything else, they should reduce the cost of internet data. Data is really costly in Nigeria compared to the rest of sub-Sahara Africa, there are exceptions but on average, Nigeria is quite expensive. If they can provide easy access, people are willing to try different things on their cell phones, mobiles and computer because that is the future. Internet is here to stay, the faster you can encourage people to be on it, the faster they will feel comfortable with it and the faster they are going to start to creating value. To me, that is extremely important. The second one is easy access to foreign exchange. The third one is to provide basic infrastructure.