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Uzoma Dozie Launches Sparkle, A Startup Set To Disrupt Nigeria’s Retail Services Industry

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Ten years ago, the act of shopping – retail as a necessity and as a pastime – existed entirely offline in Nigeria. You go to a store, you buy what you want, you shop around – but it was a physical transaction. Often laborious too; moving from one store to another, across town, back again, only to find that what you wanted wasn’t in stock. And when it came to payments? Consumers were prepared to part with their cash with bundles of Naira to preempt the store’s POS machine not working or, in all likelihood, there not being one.

Fast forward to mass-market internet; commerce is changing – it is literally in the palm of our hands. Retail has no fixed abode. It’s on instagram. It’s on Facebook. Soon, it will be on online marketplaces that haven’t even been invented yet – and at scale.

Retail powers our country, stealthily. Ask anyone about Nigeria’s economy and the words “oil” and “gas” roll off their tongues, because we can see the results and can account for much of the revenue. However, the millions of retailers across the country – those making sure every day people get what they need and want, are virtually invisible. It is almost a clandestine economy.

At Diamond Bank, we cultivated the retail sector and built digital mobile products for retailers, because we wanted to include them in the banking community and provide a service for the underbanked. For most, cash was [and still is] king, and there was no real engagement with the banks. Not at scale. Retail was a cash economy outside of the usual economic paradigms of taxation and government involvement. For traditional banks, this was a vacuum. For Diamond Bank, we saw it as an opportunity to engage an entire community; and that is exactly what we did. In less than 10 years, we built out a retail arm of the bank that included over 15 million people. This was their first foray into retail banking. As my father and I look back on Diamond Bank’s legacy, cultivating digital banking, at scale, is one of our lasting impacts.

But that was yesterday.

Let’s look at today. And tomorrow. We are introducing Sparkle. A new iteration of what it means to support retailers, businesses and individuals in Nigeria. Beyond traditional banking. A platform that has gone from concept [securing better access to banking and finance business facilities for businesses and individuals] to an MVP; Sparkle is now being developed to allow people to do more whilst allowing businesses to be more.

At Sparkle, we want to complement the resilience with a wrap around digital service that supports retailers, individuals and SMEs, seamlessly. A silent business partner, so to speak. The businesses of today that we will be collaborating with at Sparkle are on the go. They are extremely fluid. They move with the trends and, where possible, they dictate the trends. As I mentioned – they have no fixed abode. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t building or growing. And importantly, they are digital natives – their first point of interaction with customers is online. Picture, swipe, click, purchase. It’s that easy. So how can we deliver a service that supports a tribe of digital natives who want to focus on making money and building their business, rather than be burdened with financial admin?

Also Read Cycles, Nigeria’s No.1 Bike-Sharing Platform Achieving The United Nations SDG Goal 11 – Damilola Soladoye

We are blessed with a young population [in its tens of millions] of early adopters, who are revelling in [and capitalising on] lower costs of smart phone handsets and lower data costs. Whist this means that the barrier to entry for businesses is now significantly lower, there is more competition. But that’s OK – competition is fine, but let’s all make sure we can compete, build and grow; this can only be done if you have access and support services that enable you to compete on a level playing field. This is a generation of mobile-first retailers who are powering ecommerce via social. Facebook boasts over 21m users. Instagram – 5.6m. And unlike the “developed” world, these figures are growing upwards, and fast. Sharing, telling, selling – this is where commerce lies, this is where Sparkle starts.

So what we did with Sparkle, we decided to support and build a tribe of digital natives. Those who instinctively reach for their mobile phone when they’re engaging in any transaction, be it personal or business. As we build this tribe, we are sticking to and embedding core values and principles in to how we operate; everything, absolutely everything we do is grounded in trust and transparency. We are creating a market within an established market and unpicking the barriers to entry for so many people by ensuring they are part of the growth – part of society. They are financially included. Retailers have, for so long, been excluded from society at so many levels, because they are not paying tax and engaging with state and government; Sparkle is tackling this and bringing more people into an inclusive system.

Interestingly, these are the human principles upon which we built when we started building Diamond Bank in the 1990s. Our principles are 25+ years old [and more] but our approach and execution is totally new. With Sparkle, we will provide a dedicated, personalised experience to each and every one of our users – who we hope will number in their millions in years to come. But they will not be “seen to” by traditional customer relationship managers; that’s for the 1%. Sparkle is here for all. We are building for those who don’t need to look into the whites of a bank personnel’s eyes – we are building and growing for a community of people who want fast, accurate decisions made based on unambiguous and unbiased data habits. Powered by AI and Machine Learning, Sparkle will remove emotion from decision making and put your data in your hands. Whereas other companies accrue data to sell and to profit from, we want our Sparklers to profit from their own data, but allowing them to make well informed decisions regarding their next steps. At Sparkle, currency is data.

Our Sparklers have their heads down as they create and build and test – building an MVP that delivers human principles of commerce and business. We are curating a business and lifestyle-friendly platform that will enhance the human side of doing business, at scale. We have no alternative. This is how retail will scale and businesses will thrive in Nigeria; leveraging technology and mobile to create and support a generation of digitally native businesses that provide an alternative economy for Nigeria.

Why Sparkle? Because we can

Credit: Uzoma Dozie/www.sparkle.ng

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Kwik Delivery reaches 2000 verified customers 2 months after its launch in Lagos

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kwik verifies its customers through mobile phone OTP as well as email verification

LAGOS, Nigeria, August 22, 2019 – Just two months after its launch in Lagos, the kwik Delivery platform reached 2000 verified customers and is already well on its way toward 3000 verified customers.

“We are thrilled by the response from Lagosians to our on-demand B2B delivery service. Among the 2000 verified customers are several large corporate accounts as well as numerous merchants relying on our service to deliver good and documents to their suppliers, customers, business partners and so on”, explains Romain POIROT-LELLIG, Founder & CEO of Africa Delivery Technologies (ADT), developer of the kwik app.

kwik is seeing a very wide typology of customers signing up and using its platform, from pharmaceutical companies such as Medsaf to construction companies like SPIE to automotive companies such as Mitsubishi. Kwik is also used by hundreds of merchants who use it to make deliveries to their suppliers and to their customers in Lagos.

Also Read Cycles, Nigeria’s No.1 Bike-Sharing Platform Achieving The United Nations SDG Goal 11 – Damilola Soladoye

kwik verifies its customers through mobile phone OTP as well as email verification. In addition, Corporate customers need to provide their corporate registration number and are brought on board by a dedicated team that checks their background.

“We are also thrilled to observe that not only our customers return, but that they are using the service for farther and more complex delivery use cases as they gain confidence in our ability to deliver to them a great service. Average order value is going up! ” continues Romain POIROT-LELLIG.

“We will continue to work hard to expand and improve our service for them”, concluded Romain POIROT-LELLIG.

Kwik

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5 Ideas to shape your focus on Business Partnerships or Collaborations

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Picture: Rawpixel

Business collaborations or partnerships are a great way to create more value for our business, clients, and consumers. However, here are five (5) things to keep at the back of your mind when pursuing business partnerships:

1. Partnerships should be meaningful.There should be a reason why you would want to partner or be partnered. From my experience having started a new business, the essence of collaborating with another company is to create more value for your clients and your business towards a certain goal or vision. It is also important to note that, there should be a clear revenue model created for business partnerships so that you would know exactly how financial value can be measured. On the other hand, know what you would also be bringing to the table. You should be bringing some great value to your partner’s business too. Understand their current goal for the partnership and be sure it is in alignment with yours. It’s a win-win.

2. Choose a partner who respects you.

I have collaborated with partners who didn’t respect me as a person and all of such partnerships even when they made us some good money, didn’t bring us fulfillment because we had to bend the rules quite too often. There are a lot of entrepreneurs and business leaders out there who are selfish, disrespectful and mean. Be on the lookout because when someone disrespects you and your processes, it affects how you run your business in general.

3. Choose a partner that is aligned with you.

Once you partner with another company whose work culture is not aligned with yours, you would always have problems executing projects because you two may not believe in the same processes and principles. Even though every organization has a distinct work culture, it becomes more difficult working with another company whose work culture doesn’t marry yours.

4. Choose a structured organization.

Before marrying with another business, be sure and certain on their organizational structure and processes. It is not an easy experience working with an organization that isn’t well structured. An unstructured organization says a lot more about the business. It translates into an unserious organization with no clear vision, people and principles. This simply means the partner is not really ready for long-term business collaboration.

Also Read GO Ads: A hybrid Ad Network pushing adverts on every screen in Africa – Boluwa Olojo

5. Collaborations should bring results.

If it is all about the money, then probably it is just a short-term contract on a project. If it is about the value you intend to create towards a certain goal or vision, which is often ideal for a business partnership, then it should bring great results. For a startup, I would recommend having someone on your team to take care of business partnerships and collaborations. The entire marriage between your company and another should be results-oriented, sustainable and successful.

Overall, business partnerships or collaborations should make you stronger, better and greater with better value and offerings, as an organization. 

 

Author

Derrick S. Vormawor

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Economy

Nigeria’s informal economy: A catalyst for economic growth

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Balogun market, Lagos, Nigeria. Pic: Megainsights

In a country like Nigeria that lacks social safety nets and has a minimum wage of less than US$98, a significant section of the population have no choice other than to turn to the informal sector as a survival strategy. However, there is every potential for the informal sector to be more than just a means of survival.  If carried out effectively, government engagement with the informal sector can lead to an invaluable economy boost.

The informal sector: What are its contributions?

In a nutshell, an informal sector business is an unregistered business owned by one or more members of one or more households selling goods and services. Informal workers are workers engaging in work without formal employment contracts or workers producing goods for final use by their households. Jobs under this category include paid domestic workers, drivers, subsistence farmers and artisans. Over 61% of the world’s working population work in the informal sector. 85.8% of employment in Africa is in the informal sector. Over 65% of the working population in Nigeria is in the informal sector. In the 2016 fiscal year, 41% percent of GDP came from the informal sector and the informal economy also accounted for 73.7% of created jobs.

Whether the numbers tell the full story or not, the contribution of the informal sector to economic growth is more than negligible. Notwithstanding, the informal sector does not figure as prominently as it should in economic growth plans, even in previous administrations. The seven point agenda of the Umaru Musa Yar’adua administration did not consider the informal sector; neither did the transformation agenda of the Goodluck Jonathan administration.

Why must we pay more attention to the informal sector? Simple. The present and projected demographic of the Nigerian population demands it. Nearly 65 percent of Nigeria’s population is between the age of 15 and 64. Only about 8% of the adult population is formally employed.25% of Nigerian children aged between 5 and 17 are engaged in labour, all of whom are most likely in the informal economy. About 43 percent of women in Nigeria, particularly Northern Nigeria are married before the ages of 18 and in all likelihood have little to no chance of obtaining higher education. The chances of such individuals ending up in the informal economy are very high.

There are about 44.3 million small business owners in the sector employing about 22.9 million people. It is important to harness the potential contributions of the informal economy, which is responsible for the employment of such a significant section of the working population, to the fullest.

How can we remodel the informal economy? Two points will be made here. First of all, greater attention should be paid to proper regulation and structuring of activities in the informal economy. In doing so, the government could create an organization responsible for the registration of businesses in the informal sector all over the country. Such organization would be established by law and its activities monitored by established bodies. Subdivisions of such organization(s) at state and local government level could be established for effective monitoring at all levels. The Economic Growth and Recovery Plan (ERGP) developed by the Muhammadu Buhari Administration in 2017 places the responsibility of monitoring the informal economy on the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment. It remains to be seen whether this function will be carried out effectively by this organization.

Also Read Interview: African Energy Chamber Executive Chairman, NJ Ayuk on Transforming Africa’s Energy Sector

Any formalization processes that will be carried out under the ERGP or any other economic plan should comply with International Labour Organization (ILO) standards in that it provides opportunities for income security, livelihoods and entrepreneurship. If the informal economy can be formalized through registration of informal businesses and workers, an obvious dilemma would be how to develop a proper taxation regime. If formalization does not result in taxation, government revenue from a significant aspect of the economy is reduced. Taxation on the other hand may discourage business owners and workers from being registered. A possible solution may be granting tax reliefs to registered businesses and workers below a certain income or profit level with income derived from taxation of formalized units being redirected towards investment in such sectors.

Furthermore, effort should be directed towards removing any ‘stigma’ associated with the informal economy. 61% of all workers worldwide are informally employed and as discussed earlier, the informal sector makes significant contributions to the Nigerian economy. Concerted effort must be made towards promoting the informal sector as a viable economic growth/poverty reduction mechanism. Informal workers are also skilled workers and the informal economy is also a skilled economy.

Accordingly,the government can create and sponsor low-cost well-equipped skill platforms that connects individuals willing to work in the informal sector and experts together. The current government appear to be taking steps in this regard. In 2015, the government approved the establishment of Vocational Enterprise Institutions(VEIS) and Innovative Enterprise Institutions(IEIS), secondary schools which work with businesses to provide vocational and technical training. There are now about 82 VEIs and 152 IEIs in Nigeria.

However, these institutions, as with other educational institutions in Nigeria, suffer from funding problems and are also expensive for many of the prospective beneficiaries. The government could provide assistance in this regard by subsidizing costs for prospective attendees. Alternatively, the government could collaborate with private organizations to organize periodic technical training programmes for members of the public. The allocations to the Ministry of Education in the 2019 budget proposal and projects listed under it do not indicate that the government is willing to make significant investment in this regard anytime soon.

It may be unheralded but the strong contributions of the informal economy to employment and economic growth cannot be easily discountenanced. With proper structuring, it could be an economic goldmine.

 

Author

Oluwafifehan Ogunde is a research specialist and legal consultant. He has a PhD in Law from the University of Nottingham and is a qualified barrister and solicitor of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

 

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