Two gentlemen on a mission to democratise e-commerce at the prime internet age of 21st century are counting their blessings. They are not only achieving their dreams for turning a coincidental idea into a money minting project but also defining Kenya’s e-commerce with a bang.
They founded Soko Huru, Swahili word for ‘free market’, an online portal that has bridged the gap between two or more distant willing sellers and willing buyers.
Sammy Subu, a graduate statistician, and Raphael Kinoti, a final year student of Computer Science at the University of Nairobi are the central force behind Soko Huru. “Soko Huru is a passionate community of buyers and sellers that is driven by a culture of openness, trust and reliability,” says Subu, 28, the founding CEO.
The idea behind their business venture is a tantalising one considering two men who did not believe that many years on Soko Huru would be the talk of town. It was born out of necessity and by accident.
“We did not plan to create this site for people to buy and sell,” says Subu. “One of the founders wanted to promote his juice business but did not have money to pay for Facebook and Google ads.”
They then embarked on a unidirectional brainstorming session, which gave birth to the company that generates enough income, so they say. “We started with a small Facebook group and when transactions started happening we decided to launch the site,” he says.
E-commerce in Kenya is on the rise thanks to a growing number of people owning smartphones, which created more job opportunities as well as digitised shopping. This has led to a new trend, where the seller hardly meets the buyer thus opening avenues for Soko Huru and likes.
“We are on verge of e-commerce revolution and Africa is on the rise. We have seen massive growth in the number of internet users due to increased access to smartphones.”
Their personal savings and aid from friends enabled them pump Ksh500,000 into the business, though skeptically, as none of them believed it would work. They have now moved and target to hit millions of shillings from investors and take the business to the next level.
“At beginning we were not ready to take outside investment since we had not yet figured out a working business model and we were still refining product. We still feel that we don’t have a perfect product but we are ready for massive adoption,” confides the soft-spoken Sammy.
Right tools, right audience
For Soko Huru, social media is their heaven on earth where they monitor and respond to responses from a variety of clients. “Social media powers Soko Huru. In order to have a vibrant, open and passionate community we have to be visible on social media. This boosts trust and promotes our culture of openness,” he says. Soko Huru boasts over half a million Facebook fans and ever-expanding Twitter audience, now at 50,000 followers.
The way it is
All a seller needs to do is post their products on the platform then Soko Huru creates more visibility to attract interested buyers. “If the sellers want more visibility they pay for our services which include premium listings or monthly subscription fee or activate our different advertising packages,” says Subu.
Soko Huru has created job for like-minded entrepreneurs, as it comprises five people on “secret mission of changing the way Kenyans buy and sell online.”
They, however, have to grapple with funding due to near death experiences and solving trust issues, delivery challenges, sometimes due to high traffic on the site and on the roads. E-commerce sales in Africa are projected to grow annually by 40% in the next 10 years, a revolution that shines a ray of hope to Soko Huru.
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