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.
“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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