Have you ever wondered how to sell African products online? How would you get this started and to whom would you market your products to?
First some good news: There is a visibly growing effort by African stakeholders to advance and brand home-made products. Kenya for example has started an extensive Brand Kenya initiative spreading across various sectors, Ghana's government has recently introduced Brand Ghana with a designated office, and Rwanda opened its first Made-In-Rwanda Expo at the end of 2016 with 350 exhibitors showcasing their products.
And more and more entrepreneurs are taking pride in maufacturing goods in Africa and bringing them to market. A shift in awareness and mindset towards African products is most certainly happening – and it needs to start with us!
Yes indeed, it is wonderful to see a growing focus and interest in the branding and marketing of African products. It will create jobs, self-reliance, and more of the money will stay in African countries when products are manufactured locally.
But the obstacles are still manifold – lack of quality assurance including poor finishing, packaging, and branding for example, lack of access to markets and lacking capacities to produce in larger quantities are just a few of the hurdles I want to mention.
Well, this is where the entreprenerial spirit of many Africans including those in the Diaspora comes in handy: finding solutions for our challenges out there!
The Internet for example is one of the most popular avenues motivating an increasing number of entrepreneurs to seek out new markets and buyers for their carefully selected African products.
One of those entrepreneurs is Maedot Assefa. She is the founder of Addis Ababa-based, Store251.com, which she started in 2014, selling made-in-Ethiopia leather bags, cotton products, and accessoiries.
Maedot did her Masters in Netherlands where she lived for 3 years. She then traveled for a year across the US and Europe before deciding to return to Ethiopia, settle, and earn her living as an entrepreneur while making an impact in her counrty.
Now this is not an orinary start-up story, and here is why:
Ethiopia has one of the lowest Internet penetration rate on the globe, only 8% of its population is connected, and hence online dynamics such as e-commerce are extremely limited. But Maedot knew there is a wider world out there, and much future potential in Ethiopia. With her concept ‘Designed in Ethiopia, Made in Ethiopia and delivered to the world’ she dove right into it and opened store251.com.
She says: "We are happy with the progress made so far, especially with getting suppliers on board and adding more brands to our store. Regarding customers, we still have a lot of competition from global online shops that sell products in different countries but we believe the market is ready for Ethiopian made products too. Our customers range from the Ethiopians at home and abroad to international online shoppers."
Wait – Maedot has decided to let you into her world. She is sharing her ups and downs of opening an Ethiopian online shop. Take it away, Maedot….and you, dear reader, read with focus, learn, and be inspired to follow into the foot steps of those leading by example – because really, we all need many more African success stories!
"No experience is little, I know that now after running a new company, Store251.com from scratch for the past year. Well, at least whenever I could. That is because I also had to take some time off to raise our family. Okay, maybe I will write another post about being a female entrepreneur, its advantages and challenges some other time. For now, I'll stick to the title above and mention three challenges and three advantages.
How to sell African products online – Challenge Number 1
Information – As someone who wanted to do something different in the way I offered my products and my services (online shopping and delivery), I had such a hard time to find out all the information I needed in the beginning. That includes industry information, statistics, other similar businesses and so on in Ethiopia. Even the office that gives the trade licence didn't understand what I wanted exactly. Mind you, according to Internetretailer.com Global e-commerce will increase 16.4% in 2017, to $2.197 trillion, with web sales accounting for 8.2% of total retail and we as a country are not interested to explore this opportunity yet.
How to sell African products online- Challenge Number 2
Not every business is the same. Therefore the official requirements to set it up should not be the same. I had to rent a big space, which has nothing to do with my actual business and take up a licence which also has nothing to do with my business. All this would have been easier if there is a trade council of some sort to sit down and listen to business owners and help to set up the kind of business that is relevant to everyone. That would have saved me a lot of expenses that I can invest to grow my business fast. For example, Connectivity is the backbone of my business which was not a requirement at all even though it should be. To connect with my suppliers, customers and so on requires Iinternet. I can't get support for getting reliable connection simply because it's not considered as a primary necessity for the business.
How to sell African products online – Challenge Number 3
Finding the right expertise for hire with a high quality of work. Yes, we have exceptional talent in the creative arena. But not diversified enough to choose from or compare prices at. And this is a big challenge at all levels of work. Let me keep this short and tell you what happened to me. To get a decent logo designed I decide to avoid the free online sources and actually pay a local graphic designer to design my logo. Her price was 4000 Birr [~ US$175 ] without the VAT. Yes, that is only for one logo. But if I hire a graphic designer online for one hour to do as much as they can then the charge is $10. At the moment I don't have a logo since this is a dilemma for me. I want to keep any job in Ethiopia but the professionalism and price with the rest of the world is beyond comparison.
Now to the advantages , there are some good points that is why I started the business. I think new young entrepreneurs should also know there are some really good points to consider to become an entrepreneur in Ethiopia.
Leather bags by store251.com
Ethiopia is a country with a fast-growing young and energetic population. Planned well, any business will have the advantage to attract a large population as a consumer or as human capital. Great ha?!
First movers – we have more rural areas than urban and our cities are only growing . There are so many areas and industries that have not been explored and it's very easy to be the first in opening a certain business. I see a lot of foreigners taking that advantage.
New Generation- the Young population around 60% is very open and energetic to accept new ideas. This makes inventing new products and services favourable as long as they are relevant to Ethiopian socio-economic and cultural environment .
So there you have it. I hope my experience is somehow informative to your next entrepreneurial adventure in Ethiopia or elsewhere in Africa!"
Now dear Africa Business Jumpstarters, we would love to hear your feedback or experiences!
And: If you are based in the Diaspora and you are wondering how you can start your African business even while based abroad, I would like to invite you to our Africa Business BootCamps 2017 in London (UK), Washington Dc, and San Francisco! Check it our here!