Starting a blog without sharing your own story on your blog is criminal, well not criminal but not portraying yourself in a good light. So here we are, one year has passed since we started Melvit.com. The idea was conceived in a middle-income 2 bedroom apartment in Lagos Nigeria while the domain was bought in November 2014. The business has not been launched yet as we are still designing the website to reflect the main functionalities for the product launch.
The starting point for most successful start-ups is to find a gap in the market that needs to be filled. Other businesses or start-ups produce a product or a service that the public does not even know they need yet, create it and show people the benefits of using it. My co-founder (also my brother), Kolapo, and I started our business this way as well. We discussed various gaps in the Nigerian market that will benefit the public and initially we settled on one, but the reality with start-ups is that turning a need or an idea into a profitable business is much more difficult than initially thought.We worked on the initial idea, trying to put in place processes to run the business. Our initial idea was to source and sell luxury goods imported from the West to Nigeria. Our model was to source these luxury goods as soon as orders were placed on our website. But soon enough, we realized that there were several pitfalls and challenges with this model ranging from exchange rates, income level, and public perception to delivery and returns. We had already wasted time and money on this. But we did not consider this a failure but a learning experience. Even though this idea did not come to fruition, we learnt a great deal from it. We had a rethink and remodeled our business to provide a sustainable platform for only locally produced goods in Nigeria. Looking through other African countries, we recognized this gap as well so we extended our business to other African countries. Though our first focus was on handmade product only, it wasn’t long before we realized that sellers of handmade items would grow to become manufacturers in a short while and sticking with one concept that can be overrun within a short while means we have to make provision for growth of our sellers, hence the need to include manufacturers to capture any form of production.
If you are in the process of opening a business, do not despair if you get it wrong, you learn from those mistakes. The wisdom from your failure will propel you to success.
Once we got the idea and the business model settled and got our niche, we set about sourcing for funds for our start-up. There is no shortage of ideas, they abound everywhere you go. But the deal breaker is to have the funds to put that idea into reality. However, business founders cannot source for the finances needed to initiate their ideas. In our own case, our dream and idea is a big one and will require a lot of funding to fully achieve our goal. Like most cases, we did not have the finances to make this a reality from day one. There are various sources of finance out there such as private investors, venture capitalist, loans (banks, family or friends), crowd-funding, non-profit organization funding and your own money. My brother and I currently hold a full-time job which we do not intend to leave for our business yet. In addition, we do not have all the finances to get the business to operation till we start making a profit. So initially, we used our own money to start the business. We had to make sure that we were careful with our expenses as our finances were limited. In addition to this, my brother made applications (and is still applying) to several non-profit organization entrepreneur funding programmes. We won a $10,000 funding from The Tony Elumelu Foundation. And in another one of those applications, we were shortlisted as one of the top 10 startup businesses in Nigeria by Total Nigeria 2016 for its annual Total Start-upper of the year challenge. We did not want vested interests to dictate the operation of our business. So we stuck to only using these funding at this crucial start of the business. We do realize that this will delay the launch of our business. Nevertheless, when considering the funding to use for your business, one has to bear in mind the effect this will have on your business – from loan repayments to venture capitalists changing your business plan or business model.
A look through Africa and its producers, we realize that the major problems we need to solve are the lack of access to the market, finance, low level of intra-trade among Africans and a commodity-dependent economy. Though we have not fully developed our solution for the last problem, the first three are being addressed through our yet to be launched platform. By allowing African producers in handmade and manufacturing to list their items and sell directly to anywhere in the world, we are giving local African entrepreneurs access to market their goods to the world to increase their revenue or profits. We will also ensure our platform is robust enough to handle big-ticket transactions by manufacturers from anywhere around Africa. Giving start-ups and businesses access to raise funding, finance or investment is paramount for business sustainability. We will be offering a variety of opportunities for funding and finance on our platform. We have also included a comprehensive business profile where sellers can source for investment from the public by allowing them to share real-time sales data, video pitch, business team profile, production process, business plan, balance sheet, income statement with potential investors.
We are focused on delivering a truly robust platform that focuses on alleviating local African entrepreneurs’ challenges as well as encouraging business growth.
By starting Melvit.com we are betting on the long term and are of the opinion that true development comes through production/manufacturing and no economy can be termed as developed in the world without strong industrial factors with people producing what they consume. The world has gone through three major revolutions which are agriculture, industrial and currently technology revolution. Africa, as a continent, has not been able to tap into any of these three phases as much as we should. Though by a large indication of a continent with more than 1.1 billion people and over 500 million mobile phones, it is apparent that technology has caught up with Africans. What about industrialization? It’s like jumping from 1 to 3 and skipping the industrialisation revolution. In most developed countries, technology got there because industrialisation has prospered and given birth to companies building tangible products like desktop computers, mobile phones, cars, household equipment etc. The Africa rising narrative seems to have mellowed because some consider it a myth, while some consider it real. As a true son of the soil, I consider it a journey, a journey that can only be fully achieved through a developmental economic strategy. We must first focus on manufacturing and industrialisation and use that as a leverage to penetrate technology to every nook and cranny of the continent. We hope that Melvit.com will help spur the much needed industrial revolution needed in Africa.
Our vision at Melvit is to be the frontier platform to access African brands from any location in the world. Well, our journey still continues and we would be here to watch our brands grow from a common bedroom business to a global disruptor. We will continue to publish blogs about our journey to success. So, watch this space.