IN­TER­VIEW

The co-founder of Africa’s first tech uni­corn, e-com­merce group Ju­mia, talks about the need for pa­tience, di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion and a strong con­sumer fo­cus to win in the on­line world

The Africa Report - - CONTENTS -

Sacha Poignon­nec, CO-CEO, Ju­mia

In vest or sin African e-com­merce have to be pre­pared for short-term pain in or­der to make long-term gains. And 2017 was a rough year, with Nige­rian on­line re­tailer Konga sack­ing two-thirds of its work­force and its Africa-fo­cused ri­val Ju­mia re­port­ing net work­ing cap­i­tal of neg­a­tive €10.2m ($11.8m) and a big drop in earn­ings. “For sure, the macroe­co­nomic con­di­tions were dif­fi­cult for us in Nige­ria, and the ones who have suf­fered the most are the sell­ers,” Franco-cana­dian Sacha Poign on nec tells The Africa Re­port. “We built Ju­mia with the goal to give a plat­form for sell­ers to dis­trib­ute their phys­i­cal goods and ser­vices as well to the con­sumers, and we have 40,000 ac­tive ven­dors on the plat­form across Africa. And all of them are African busi­nesses.”

GEO­GRAPH­I­CAL SPREAD

Poignon­nec be­lieves that, for all the volatil­ity, Ju­mia’s plans re­main sound: “It’s a proven busi­ness. It ’s an ir­re­versible trend that con­sumers buy on­line.” Buoyed by the suc­cess of Ama­zon in the US and Alibaba in China, in­vestors are keen to be a part of a fu­ture African e-com­merce story. Be­yond that, Poignon­nec ar­gues that Ju­mia’s geo­graph­i­cal di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion en­sures that in­vestors have kept faith and pre­vented the com­pany stor y from play­ing out in the same way as Konga. “A lot of time you meet in­vestors who want to in­vest in Africa, but it’s dif­fi­cult be­cause a lot of com­pa­nies are mono-coun­try. And they are ex­posed to only one or two ge­ogra­phies,” he says, point­ing to the 23 coun­tries Ju­mia is now ac­tive in. “On Ju­mia you have a lot of dif­fer­ent phys­i­cal goods which touch a lot of dif­fer­ent needs from the con­sumers, and we have, of course, all those

“It’s a proven busi­ness. It’s an ir­re­versible trend that con­sumers buy on­line”

on­line ser­vices around travel, restau­rants, car clas­si­fieds, realestate clas­si­fieds.” An­other dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing fac­tor is Ju­mia’s strate­gic in­vestors : Or­ange, MTN and Mil li com – tele­com com­pa­nies from France, South Africa and Lux­em­bourg, re­spec­tively – and Axa, the French in­sur­ance gi­ant. This al­lows for joint com­mer­cial op­er­a­tions bring­ing to­gether dif­fer­ent con­sumer bases. Axa in­sur­ance prod­ucts, for ex­am­ple, are al­ready avail­able on Ju­mia’s sites. “It makes us stronger and makes them stronger,” says Poignon­nec, who wants to lean on their ex­pe­ri­ence. “The telco in­dus­try in Africa did not ex­ist 20 or 25 years ago, just like the e-com­merce in­dus­try did not ex­ist six years ago,” he adds. “In a way, what is hap­pen­ing to­day with e-com­merce is a re­peat of the his­tory – an adop­tion of a new ser­vice.”

ALL-IN-ONE APP

All that glit­ters is not gold, how­ever. The fi­nan­cial tech­nol­ogy rev­o­lu­tion in Africa is “prob­a­bly more blog ar­ti­cles” than an ac­tual rev­o­lu­tion, says Poignon­nec. “It’s one thing to say I’m cre­at­ing a wal­let, but what’s the value for the con­sumer?” None­the­less, Ju­mia has cre­ated the Ju­mia One app to al­low cus­tomers to recharge air­time, pay util­ity bills and even make do­na­tions to re­li­gious bod­ies and char­i­ties. Poignon­nec is a for­mer em­ployee of dis­graced au­dit com­pany Arthur An­der­sen – which went out of busi­ness af­ter play­ing a role in the En­ron scan­dal in 2002. So he has some per­spec­tive. “It was the most re­spected au­dit firm in the world, and in six months it was gone,” he says. “It really is a big les­son for me be­cause I re­alised that noth­ing is for­ever.” So if Jack Ma or Jeff Be­zos knocked on Ju­mia’s door with an of­fer they could not refuse? “I’d be very proud that they take the time to travel to us and see it. Cer­tainly we would have to think about it,” says Poignon­nec. In­ter­view by Ni­cholas Nor­brook

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