Raphael Afaedor is a Ghanaian and entrepreneur at his core. He is the Co-Founder and Co-CEO Prior to this position, he was the co-founder of Jumia and has featured in several publications such as Forbes and CNN. Raphael sat with MYOB to discuss his journey from being an employee to a successful entrepreneur. Enjoy!

How did it all start? Take us back to your story and how Supermart NG came to be
I have always taken school and academics seriously from high school, university and my masters in computer science. I joined for three years where I rose to become a senior manager in charge of 18 European countries. I moved to the States to further my education and did an MBA in Harvard Business School (HBS). Harvard expanded my world view, changed my sense of self and enabled me apply my God given talent. My desire to make a difference made me come back to the sub-continent to apply myself. I felt nothing else would make me happier.

Tell us about your transition to Nigeria after HBS
I met a Nigerian entrepreneur who was doing his executive MBA in HBS. We spoke for a bit and he said is should come check out what he was doing in Nigeria. That was my first time in Lagos in 2008. When I landed, I immediately knew it, I asked to finish my internship and if offered a full time job I would take it. I finished in a year and worked with Notore for 16 months where I headed the marketing and business development for West and Central Africa. I applied myself and after 16 months, I decided to go out and start something.

Before starting, you worked with Jumia, tell us about that
After Notore, I asked myself the question: “what will be the next best tech venture to start” and everything around me pointed to the fact that the country was ready for e-commerce. There was a difficulty getting access to goods coupled with the traffic situation of moving from one point to another and I could see from the cars people were driving on the streets that people were willing to pay. The internet was also in the hands of people with mobile devices and the cost was dropping. Almost all the factors that needed to come together for this to work were coming together and so was Interswitch. It was also difficult to start something like that because you are literarily replicating the entire supply chain from sourcing, warehousing, distribution etc. and so I decided to start a coupon business because all you had to do was send people electronic coupons and have them pick up the items themselves. That was a very good way to test the market. After one year, I was convinced and contacted the guys in Rocket computer and we started Jumia from there.

Image Source: Techpoint

Take us to Why did you make that switch to Supermart?
There is a Yoruba proverb that says 20 children cannot stay together for 20 years. So we built Jumia for 2 years and thought of the next best things to do. The company was on its feet and someone could take that and run with it. I saw grocery delivery as a better way of doing that so I thought why not aggregate grocery inventory online so within 10 minutes’ customers pick everything they want and people deliver it to their homes. If you think about it doesn’t make sense to go to the local market to pick up groceries and be stuck in traffic for 3-6 hours which can be used for to spend quality time with friends and family. Also today there is a fuel scarcity and also the deregulation with the 70% price hike. I believe a service like ours is even more necessary because of these conditions.
Image Source:
 Founders Raphael Afaedor and Gbolahan Fagbure
Let’s talk about the value of research, what it took to understand the market and how it translated to your success today
You have to research what you are walking into and to get started. I think one of the mistakes people make is that they have a product and believe everyone is a customer for that product. What you want to do is force yourself to tailor your product to a specific individual. Once you are done with that you have to hit the road, change things and keep improving gradually

How do you understand customers and what they want?
For a business like mine, you have to start with the customer in mind by over pleasing the customer. Customers also have a demand that you yourself need to manage. For example, does not have a call centre we just have a contact centre. You send an email and get a response between 5-10 minutes.
Some customers want to be able to pick the phone and call and they think that is customer service. Customer service is however more about solving the problems of customers. We therefore have to create a world where it is easy for the customer to communicate with us and we solve the problem the first time a query is sent. You should understand the problem, tailor your solution to suit the problem and educate the customers. So you have to ensure that what you are doing ultimately changes the customers’ world view.
Where are you taking this business?
Groceries wholesale and retail are everyday essentials and cover about 70% of the Nigerian retail space and we believe that for some people that is further broken down. Some people love to go to the local market, some have the time to go to different supermarkets while there are some people that really need services like ours who are urban professionals, experts, reparts, mums, office admins etc.  Those are people we target.

If you were to go back 17 years, what are the key lessons you have learnt which you would have done differently?
I think the choice of being an entrepreneur is nature and nurture and you need to find something you are passionate about. For some of us, it’s being out there building something. You conceptualise the view of what you will want to create. Part of who I am is creating something that doesn’t exist. For others being an investment banker or consultant is what they are passionate about. All in all, you need to find something you are passionate about and invest in it early. However, as soon you can find that passion I think you should go very hard to achieve your dreams.
Founders Raphael Afaedor and Gbolahan Fagbure

What is the value of education?
I absolutely value education. I don’t know if it makes sense to do a masters degree but take your primary, secondary and university education seriously. What it does is that it provides you a safety net. You can have all the experience in the world but there are a lot of entrepreneurs and businesses who value education. As an entrepreneur, when you go to the world you will find that there’s a lot to learn than when you go into formal employment. Your value to any employer is enormous because you come in from a CEO’s world/perspective.  The worst you can do to yourself is not have formal education but experience.

What are some of the toughest challenges you have faced running a business and how do you approach them?
Entrepreneurship is about facing challenges, dealing with them and waiting for the next one to come. There is never a point where you say it’s all done so it is important to embrace the challenge. Also, never get too excited or deflated. I don’t let money affect my demeanor because I remind myself that tomorrow is another day.

To growing entrepreneurs, what will your big advice be?
Formal experience is very important. If you don’t have the money to start its either you worked but didn’t save enough or you haven’t gained any experience at all. I wouldn’t give money to anyone who hasn’t gained any experience. You should be able to learn and understand the challenges, structure a presentation etc. A background is important to know you have actually learnt something.

Three lessons for entrepreneurs
1.  Passion: Find something you are passionate about. A lot of people think of entrepreneurship as something you start for 2 years and leave aside. This is not it. Entrepreneurship is almost like finding a wife. You start with it and stick to it through thick and thin. It is almost a journey of 5-10 years plus. You should be able to wake up and be motivated to get back to what you do
2.    Patience: You will get your first share of lucky breaks. I have had experiences of almost closing a deal and the person is moved from a role. You have to be patient and keep pushing.
3.    Perseverance: You have to persevere and push forward. You have to think about it as banging your head against a wall it is either your head breaks or the wall breaks. You have to keep thinking about with a smile on your face. I wake up and say a loud good morning to everyone I see which lifts my mood up. One of the things that can’t happen is for people who work with you to see you deflated.

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