Femi Akinde is the founded and chief executive officer of SlimTrader. He holds an MBA from the University of Chicago and a BS in Electrical Engineering.
Akinde has worked in a variety of high-level capacities at some of the most respected telecommunications and software firms in the world, including Gateway Communications, AT&T (Consultant), T-Mobile, and Microsoft.
Over his telecommunications career, he has been a Subject Matter Expert (SME) for T-Mobile's mobile data platforms and wireless portals.
He switched careers post MBA by joining Microsoft as a Senior Finance Manager on the TV, Video & Music Finance team. He resigned from Microsoft to start SlimTrader.
In this interview with peter ugwu, he spoke on the gains of online marketplaces adopting offline inventories that correspond with the online listings.
The Concept: SlimTrader
We are turnkey e-commerce providers. What that means is that SlimTrader is a one-stop shop for businesses that are thinking of navigating the whole e-commerce ecosystem such as managing their inventories offline so they can sell online; across multiple channels. So, we are business enabling platform with a knack for perfecting
The ability to help businesses to manage their inventories offline and make it available online is done through the platform called MoBiashara.
In other words, it provides you with a complete e-Commerce solution from start to finish. The virtual storefronts come fully equipped with an inventory management system; shopping cart; payment solutions for all payment types and order fulfilment.
We felt it was more core representative of what the platform does for businesses. Our first-mover advantage and ability to rapidly onboard partners results in a quick solution for our partners.
SlimTrader’s MoBiashara platform serves organizations with annual sales of a hundred to hundreds of millions. We have offices in the US and West Africa. Our success is predicated on the success of our partners
Assessment of Online Marketplace Performances in Africa
Marketplace sounds like the traditional means of bringing together for buying and selling. I think the main issue marketplaces in Sub-Saharan Africans ponder about is: do we have the buyers?
Yes. But the buyer’s fulfilment is not as expected. Buyers’ fulfillment is important, because we are asking buyers to come and buy online, but the connection to the real stores is lacking. Most times, you find that things that existed online are not actually available offline, because there is no connectivity between what is listed online and that listed offline. Till now, marketplaces have been focused on just list your goods.
However, listing is the simplest of all things in the process. Listing does not help you manage the Ins and Outs of the goods. That is the problem we solve. We realized that a lot of these marketplaces are concerned about how many listings they have.
It looks like the items are available, but the listings are not connected to the back-end system of the company. So, when you click, you just clicked on the product and not the back-end system of the platform providing the service.
Even as it is listed, you are not sure of the availability, because there is no real time connectivity. Therefore, MoBiaShara makes sure that what you see online is connected to the inventory management system of what the platform is doing in the store.
Ensuring Trust to Boost Marketplace Patronage
Yes, are sure that MoBiaShara is a critical in boosting marketplace users’ confidence and trust in the system.
If I click on something and it shows it is available, then, it has to be available. We tell businesses, listing online is the least you can do.
How do you integrate what is happening in your store to what is obtainable offline. Our solution bridges that gap. We are making only the available inventory to show up online.
Adopting Full e-Payment System in e-Commerce Space
Selling online ought to be the most cost-effective approach to transactions. When you go online you should be able to cash-compare; find out the best available price for you. We also believe that the internet as the major distribution backbone is the most cost-effective medium.
If you tire the internet to the store, making sure the goods are available real-time, then you are giving users the ultimate value.
We think for that ultimate to be, a business must be willing to tire whatever they are doing in the store to the online space. When someone comes online he/she should be able to get the complete package including payments.
We believe in the instant payment than cash on arrival/payment on delivery. By paying online you are forcing a seller to take something out of circulation.
Nigerians Preference to Payment on (Items) Delivery
We have read reports where people click online to buy something, but they got something else on delivery. That brings fulfillment issue.
There are two parts to this. First, do you trust the brand you are working with? Secondly, is the brand selling in real-time.
If you trust the brand and it is using a platform like ours to sell in real-time, then, there is no reason people will not appreciate paying online.
The mistrust is built around, ‘I don’t know if you have this thing, even though I click to buy’. But once you are 100% sure the listings are available, you will be moved to consummate the transaction with the seller.
For example, when people shop with foreign marketplaces, they do not have problem paying immediately. No foreign marketplace will say ‘pay on delivery’.
Furthermore, people trust that the marketplace has its acts together based on the availability of the product. Until another stock is available, the foreign marketplace will not list such product.
So, I’m buying from a rea-time inventory management system. People do not trust you because seller just listed things on your site.
Harnessing Talents to Deepen e-Commerce Market Growth
Well, from what I have seen, this is a new sector. E-commerce is not fully developed like the oil and gas, telecommunications, banking, among others.
The whole gamut of consumer internet business- ecommerce sector is new to our environment. Therefore, it is either we train those within to fill the roles or we are going to import talents.
I am of the firm opinion that, if this is something we want to pursue, and grow exponentially, and with such level of unemployment or underemployment rate in the country, we can groom them to fill the spaces.
So, talent to me is basically the will and passion to learn. We have a lot of people in this country who are willing to learn. All we need is give them the opportunity. They are raw talents that require grooming or constant training to bring out the best in them.
How SMEs Can Capture Venture Capitalists’ Interests
We are in early stages of what will become a very vibrant industry. Nevertheless, what investors look out for before investing in any business is: ‘where is my exist point?’ In other words, if I put my money in this business, how do I get the money?
A lot of people are taking their time before investing in any small and medium enterprises. But, there is no clear part to exit in the SMEs.
It is not like where a lot of companies are listed on the Stock Exchange. I look at Interswitch, which has a successful exit; there are no lots of tech companies that have that kind of exit. What most venture capitalists are doing is putting their toes up.
Ok, we will invest and see what happens. The moment you have more successful exit in the marketplace and other SMEs, there will be boom in terms of investors expressing interests in the market. For instance, I invested N100million and I got N1billion when the company exits, which is my investment multiplied by 10.
I will be cool with that than putting my money in the bank; which is really what venture capitalist is all about. VC is about better returns, especially, when I invest early enough. Presently in the country, there is high interest rate on lending.
That is why you find people with ‘disposable income’ say to themselves, ‘this is not a proven field. I rather put my money in a fixed deposit or move into oil and gas deal or something with proven means of better returns.
But as soon as we have more businesses been bought and others going IPO (Initial Public Offering), then people would want to invest.
Assessing Marketplace Maturity
In trying to assess the market, you look for the acceptability level. Presently, there is a lot of education in the market which is step in the right direction.
When you talk to a lot of people their opinion about shopping online or being a customer to any of the technology companies, is still not as should be.
However, when we get the point where respondents are open to new technologies, then we are getting to the position of market acceptance via technology saturation. Definitely, we will get there, because this a country with a huge population.
If just 10% of this country become consumers of technology products then the companies will become truly successful. Market acceptance will lead to maturity.
On the other hand, the tech companies have to scale-up to become successful; they have to become self-sustainable too.
They have to formalize processes and have to endear themselves to the hearts of the consumers. For that to happen, they need a wider clientele base who understands what they offer.
Need for More Online Marketplaces
This country has over 150million population. How many people are using the popular online marketplaces daily? Probably, they are not over 3million.
At that percentage, we should refer to the aspect of market maturity. Less than 3% as customers, can we predict what the country/market will look like then we have about 10% of the population as online shoppers.
When people are argue that the market is somehow saturated, I then ask: how many smartphones are there in the market? Assuming 2 out of 5 people you meet have smartphones that are connected to the internet. So, it is not really that far-fetch to say we have enough.
For a company like ours, every solution is available via mobile phone, because the target audience, all, basically have smartphones they use as hotspots. Therefore, connectivity is not that much a problem now.
The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) statistics have shown a steady increase in teledensity. The only thing the market needs now is more education to drive acceptance.