How WhatsApp And Facebook Turned 21-Year-Old Sierra Leonean To The Youngest E-Commerce Company CEO In Sierra Leone

7 mins read
MEET The 21 Year Old CEO, Emmanuel Lahai, That Created An E-Commerce Platform For Africans From Sierra Leone

Emmanuel Lahai is a 21 year old entrepreneur from Sierra Leone. After a year of studying civil engineering in Sierra Leone, Lahai won a scholarship to continue his degree in China where he founded Send Me, a business to help Sierra Leoneans buy Chinese-made products online. Now, Send Me is shifting its focus towards facilitating e-commerce within Africa, with the long term goal of connecting small businesses throughout the continent with consumers from all over the world.

While studying in China, knowing that things were tough with his family back home. He knew that he wanted to start his own company to raise income and to help reduce unemployment in Sierra Leone. He saw all these cheap products available online in China that people in Sierra Leone would want to buy, but the logistics were very difficult. He thought that in his own small way, He could solve the problem.

He never studied business while in School, but has some innate capacity for business. He also read a lot of business books and blogs. He was very inspired by Robert Kiyosaki’s book Rich Dad Poor Dad, and Benjamin Graham’s The Intelligent Investor, and I also follow blogs and business news.

Happy Customer

“We use social media to communicate with our customers. Very few people here use Instagram or Snapchat, some people use Facebook, and most people use WhatsApp, so we primarily advertise the products in WhatsApp groups. Customers can also send us a picture of a product that they’re looking for, or they can describe it to us and we will send them a sample picture of a product we can deliver.

At first it was difficult to find customers, so I learned how to advertise through WhatsApp. I realized, for example, that pictures are more effective than either videos or long text messages, because it only takes customers 1-2 seconds to look at a picture. Most of our employees go through a one week training course to learn to market on WhatsApp according to the best practices that we have identified. Since most groups are personal groups and not principally for advertisement, we need to be very strategic in terms of the timing, quantity, and content of our advertisements so that we don’t get removed from the groups.

Some products are locally sourced, but we mostly work with third-party shipping companies in China to ship products to Africa. Once the product arrives, we deliver it to the end customer. In the long term, we would like to move away from China and rely primarily on African suppliers. “ He Told Empower Africa during an interview

At first the, 21-year-old, Lahai goal was just to create a source of income and reduce unemployment in his community. Once he started, he quickly realized that in order to become truly sustainable he would need a bigger goal. he looked at big corporations like Apple, Google, and Amazon, and he noticed that they all have a big goal, so he decided to increase their scope, enlarge their vision, and focus on helping small businesses by establishing a proper logistics system for Africa.

Right now, very few African consumers are buying products that were made in other African countries because it’s very difficult to move products from one country in Africa to another, and very few international consumers purchase African made products. their goal is to create a sustainable logistics infrastructure that will allow small businesses to enter international markets in the US, China, and Europe.

Speaking to Empower Africa on how Convid 19 has affected his company, he said “Most of our suppliers were in China, so we were mainly affected in February when China was completely closed. Factories were not operating and airplanes were not flying, so we had to completely change our supply chain. Even now that China has opened again, we are still struggling to receive our international shipments on time. Flights can be delayed or cancelled at any time and countries can suddenly go into lockdown, so we still cannot rely on our international suppliers.

As a result, we shifted our strategy from sourcing from China alone to sourcing from local African suppliers. We looked at countries near-by, like Guinea and Togo, and tried to get products from there. We also began marketing and selling products that were locally made in Sierra Leone.

We have also stopped taking pre-orders. Before Covid, customers could place an order with us and we would accept the order before looking for that product in China. Now, we are trying to source most of our products locally, and we only accept orders for international products once the product has already arrived in the country. Once we have the funding, we would like to build and stock a local storehouse with a large supply of products to sell to customers in Sierra Leone and other nearby countries. We would also like to continue to build our African supply chain and work with local businesses to reach more customers. “

This article originally appeared on Empower Africa and is published here for educational purpose


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Sallu Kamuskay

Sallu Kamuskay is a Sierra Leonean activist, storyteller, and blogger. He was born in Sierra Leone but later relocated to Guinea as a refugee because of the war in his country. Sallu Kamuskay uses his phone to engage on social media, under the name ‘’Salone Messenger’. He Co-Founded the Salone Messenger platform after his experience of the war, Ebola, and injustices. According to him, silence was the root cause of war, and of many social injustices, we continue to face as a nation. In 2013, during the Ebola crisis, Sallu Kamuskay took the risk and volunteered to fight Ebola. He spent some months in both safe and unsafe places; helping the victims and telling their sad stories. The election in 2018, left a divided country with communities fighting on tribal lines. This inspired Sallu Kamuskay to serve as the coordinator of the United Sierra Leone peace concert, which was organized in 4 major parts of the country, targeting violent communities and troubled youth. Sallu Kamuskay led a group of entertainers, activists, and organizations across the country on a peace tour, a program supported by the European Union, United Sierra Leone, Africa Union, ECOWAS, and the Messeh Leone Trust. Sallu Kamuakay has also served as a staff writer for the Hidden Voices Magazine.
Over the years, Sallu Kamuskay has been using his Techno phone to be able to tell stories, the phone he used to tell the story of Gbessay during Ebola who was admitted at one of the Ebola treatment centers after rumors that she had Ebola when the actual sickness was ulcer, she was almost abandoned at the treatment canter with no medication provided to her. She could have died. Sallu told the story via social media and was able to secure funding from the United Sierra Leone to buy her medication and advocated for her. She was later discharged and taken home, He did the same to a patient that died and was abandoned in the street, Sallu Kamuskay used his phone and shared the message across, the corps was later taken and buried. It could have been more disaster without his voice. The story of late America Stress 3-year-old daughter. The hero’s daughter was abandon after his father's death. He shared her sad story and was able to get a sister who has taken the child as her own and is currently providing her with educational support. The article of America Stress can be read on the link below http://ayvnewspaper.com/index.php/k2-categories/item/7350-america-stress-a-hero-to-recognize.
Sallu Kamuskay feels the stories of Gbessay, America stress and that of many others need to be told. The media house we have cannot better tell these stories, they are better reporters than telling human interest stories. He created the Salone Messenger platform and brought together passionate storytellers to be able to tell these compelling stories.

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