Beginning with five staff members about a year ago, Jumia now has 500 people on its payroll and has swiftly risen to become the number one online retail shopping business in Nigeria.
Launched in 2013 as Jumia.com, the site kicked off with only five workers as an e-commerce startup, dreaming of organizing and cashing in on the huge potentials in Nigeria's retail market.
The rapid growth of Jumia.com has seen it emerge as arguably the country's number one online shopping portal, with over 500 members of staff after just one year in operation.
With over $70 million investment funding available to its founders, Tunde Kehinde and Raphael Afaedor, Jumia is poised to maintain leadership in Nigeria's online retail market.
The site controls 70 percent of the online retail market in the country and has serviced about half a million customers in its over one year of existence, in addition to being independently ranked as second only to Google for preferred online shopping in Nigeria.
Co-founder of Jumia, Kehinde, who spoke to Sunday Trust at their offices and warehouse facility in Ikeja Lagos, seemed confident that the business will maintain its leadership of the online retail market.
According to him, they strategize to maintain the lead by exploring better innovative technologies and market trends, to deliver the best online shopping experience and options for customers across the country.
In Tunde's words: "All our instinct tells us we have at least five times the volume of the next closest competitor. We expect that to increase as the years keep going, because all the time we are adding more categories."
He adds: "We are expanding our footprint across the country, we have also raised a significant amount of funding to support that growth, and we disclosed about $75 million worth of funding, from people like JP Morgan, etcetera."
The story of Jumia is as novel as it is inspiring, given that Nigeria is known to have a relatively difficult business environment, especially as business startups considered small or medium scale in nature are often dead on arrival or suffer from lack of electric energy, a good business plan or technological pull backs.
Tunde explained how the business was conceived, saying: "The Jumia story started with Raphael pretty much. He was already in Nigeria running an e-commerce venture, so he already sampled the market and knew that there was a big market here and he was thinking about doing something bigger. So he actually got in contact with some investors who were interested in investing in Nigeria. At the same time I had heard he was working on something with these guys. I reached out to him and about ten days later I was in Lagos, working with Raphael on Jumia.
"Now, the idea behind Jumia is very simple. We are in the largest country in Africa population wise; and we have the largest growing middle class. The amazing thing is that there is no real organized retail. If I wanted to buy a shirt or a phone or some shoes about a year ago, where do I go? There is no store that gives you a fantastic price whenever you want it.
"You either go to a local market or your friend travels, or there are one or two malls here and there. But there is nothing that can provide the services you want wherever you were across the entire country. So we said to ourselves, 'the market is huge, people will always need items, they are always going to need a phone or a shoe or a shirt no matter how rich or poor you are around the world. So why don't we try and attract this market and provide a solution for Nigerians'", he said.
While the idea of online retail shops can be considered relatively new in Africa, Western Europe and the United States of America have since the early 1990s enjoyed better internet facilities, with flourishing companies like Amazon.com and Ebay.com owning a huge online marketing industry.
However, Kehinde explained that the deficit in internet penetration and online savvy folks in Nigeria has not deterred the efforts of their company. "Our targets are people who are looking for what to buy. Whether you are on the internet or not, the idea here is that it doesn't matter if you are young or old, but you are always going to need something at some point. Whether it is a gift for a loved one or a home appliance for your house, the question is how do you buy it now and the challenge for us is how do we make sure you are aware of Jumia and we educate you so that you can buy on Jumia today."
Kehinde added: "Of course, for the internet savvy folks we have online marketing, but for folks who are into traditional offline retailing, we have a sales force of about a hundred staff that physically go to local malls, banks, schools, and say: 'How are you? You shopped somewhere obviously? What do you buy typically? And on their tablet they will walk you through the entire Jumia portfolio. They will show you the shirt you want to buy, the shoe you want to buy, and they can place your order for you on the spot and they have activated you as an online customer.
"So now you know if I want to buy something I can go on Jumia, press a button and typically in Lagos, you get your item the next day. But across the country, it's within five working days. So for us, the idea is not just to focus on the online customer, but to also focus on all customers that are looking for what to buy," he said.
Responding to issues of online security and the fear of fraud as it pertains to money payments on the internet in Nigeria, he said, "We work with a variety of payment options. One of which is we do pay on delivery, (where) you can literally press a button, wait for the item to get to you, touch it feel it, and then pay for it. We also do credit cards or debit cards. So if you have your ATM card, you can pay online on Jumia.com and we are introducing some innovative payment options to come down the line.
"We have pay on delivery in about six states across the country now and soon this will be in about fifteen states across the country. We just opened up Ibadan. We are going to open up some other states across the country. So pay on delivery is live, if there is ever any issue with pay on delivery I encourage the customer to call the hotline, ask the question and we will take care of your order.
"We do a lot of customer friendly surveys all the time and we rank highly in terms of our user friendliness. Now of course, we can always improve the site. One thing we have done is that we expanded very quickly, so we went from four categories, we did mobile phones, books, we did computing and electronics in the beginning."
On maintaining competitive prices within a reasonable profit margin, Tunde said: "So we just try and source very smartly, we source directly from all the brands. We work directly with Nokia, with Blackberry with LG, with Samsung, and just make sure that we are negotiating aggressively, so that we can provide enough value back to our customers. What we want to be sure is that when you look to buy in Jumia, you don't say 'look it is so much more expensive than it is in a mall.' The idea is that the same price you find offline, you can find online, in some cases even better on Jumia.
"In terms of online, I estimate that we are probably around 60 to 70 percent of the organized online retail market. It is my estimate in Nigeria, we have done a couple of surveys and we know that we may be five times bigger than our next competitor. In terms of offline, that is really where the big pie is, the estimates I have seen is that retails represents around 50 billion in US dollars, in terms of GDP for Nigeria as a whole," he added.
Utilizing a gamut of social media options has also increased Jumia's visibility on the web, Tunde said: "We have close to a million fans now on social media. I think they are around 750,000 on social media and we engage them on the hour every single hour on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Jumia blog."
Remarkably, Jumia staff work in an open space environment, without any demarcations or barriers separating the staff, but with only work tables arranged in rows and grouped around. Tunde said this is deliberate and for a special purpose. "The idea is to promote collaboration, so in the office you have just seen now, we have our buying teams, our marketing teams, our production teams and it is an open space, because we don't want people to be typing emails asking questions. (We want them to) get up go talk to your teammate and solve the issue. But also we try to make it a fun environment," he said.
He argues that the online shop makes available easy information on the viability of their business. "We look at our customer data in terms of what they are ordering, what amount they spend, how often they are coming back and any issues they have. It's critical because we are only going to go as far as our customers take us. So we have to make sure that we are getting them what they want. We are getting to them at the prices they want and our customers are responding greatly to us.
"We just celebrated our first anniversary and we announced that we provided services to about half a million customers and that we are ranked as the second after Google in terms of preferred shopping sites by Nigerians. We have seen more businesses than Amazon.com in Nigeria. PC Africa which is a popular tech blog does these rankings.
"On Google you can see that we are getting more searches than Amazon.com today and what that says is that the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Nigerians want to shop and they are coming to shop on Jumia.
"Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is very important to us, it is something that is very important to me and Raphael and the whole Jumia team. We are building something to make profit, but we want to also have an impact on the society and I think of CSR in several ways.
"One is internally, by employing, training and developing young Nigerians, as you have seen here. We are bringing skills to this market that did not necessarily exist before. So now, there are young people who know how to do online marketing in a world class way. They can run a warehouse in a world class way, they can do buying and talk to Samsung, talk to Nokia representatives in a world class way. These are kids that are younger than 27; our age here is 27.
"Externally, we are working with some very important organizations that are impacting society all the time. We are working with One Child One Book. What happens is that for every book that we sell, we donate a book to One Child One Book. We are working with AIDS foundation and their main focus is on economic empowerment and health initiatives and education. So the idea is, of course to sell, train to make money, but at the same time to also have a positive impact on society.
On the technical aspects of the website development and engineering, Kehinde said: "Everything is in-house, we have a team of developers that we work with across the world, everything is propertied to Jumia. We build from the scratch, because we are thinking long term with this business, we want something that can scale. We started with five employees a year ago, now up to 500 employees are in the company. We started our services in Lagos, now we are servicing the entire country; delivering to every single state. In order to accomplish that you need the kind of software, in addition to a team that will be able to forge ahead with you. That is why from the very beginning we went with a permanent solution.
He spoke about other competing operators in the Nigerian online Market. "I think the competition is good for sure, because what it means is that it brings more innovation. Of course, it creates jobs for Nigerians and for the customers too to get the best price and most quality items.
"So competition is there and it is good, but one thing we know is that we are the clear leaders. The upper most thing is for us not to focus on online competitors, our main focus is on retail in this country in general.
He spoke about going to Harvard University in the United States of America, meeting his partner and what that brings to the enterprise. "I think one thing it does is that it gives you a very strong network. So obviously, through Harvard is how I met my cofounder, we have also recruited some people from Ivy league schools, like Harvard. But at the same time, one thing I will tell your readers and our team all the time is that you can achieve anything you want, it doesn't matter what school you go to. If you are hard working, if you learn quickly and have no ego, you can get anything you want. Some schools and some jobs give you an upper hand, but I think anyone can catch up.