I Hated Going To The Market, So I Built A Solution For People Like Me
Mar 09, 2022·
5 min read
The back of Ojuolape Arojo’s t-shirt reads Say Goodbye To Market Wahala, a statement that succinctly articulates the promise of AppleCart, the fresh food delivery business she runs from her home in Ikeja GRA. In a warmly lit study full of books covering a wide range of topics - from the history of the Yoruba people to Christian fiction - she tells us what inspired the idea for AppleCart.
“I’m the last child of my family and, as with many Nigerian families, the last child typically gets sent on errands and that includes going to the market. The trips were really stressful and I remember thinking: why can’t someone just bring this to my door? Then when I was in school in UNILAG, I found out about someone delivering freshly grinded pepper and other food ingredients to people in their hostels. That helped me see the possibilities and a market for the idea. What sold me on actually starting, however, was an internship I had at a non-profit organization focused on supporting women in business and public service. Being in that environment and interacting with so many women in entrepreneurship inspired me to dream bigger and do better. So I did a little survey where I ran the business idea by the participants. What I got was mixed reactions, but the fact that there were positive responses gave me the push I needed to start Apple Cart.”
Running an e-commerce business in Nigeria presents a unique set of challenges. On how she has been able to keep the business afloat for 8 years, Ojuolape had this to say:
“With e-commerce in Nigeria, there’s a trust barrier to break. People here aren’t very trusting so you have to create a human brand and constantly ensure that people see that you’re authentic. So, even though we collect orders via our website, we try to make confirmations as personal as possible. It could be via a text, a WhatsApp message or even a phone call. We also try to make ourselves very available when customers have complaints or concerns. A lot of the time, people feel like they’re getting the best out of their money when they can interact with the actual humans behind a business and not just an interface.
Having the right people on board my team is also extremely important to success. I’ve had some staffing challenges in recent months and it’s just reinforced my belief that you can’t do it alone. You need people to support you and more importantly, who can take over the business so you’re not so deep in it that you can’t take a step back to assess it.”
A first-class graduate of Economics, Ojuolape has always been a numbers person. While the ability to look at numbers and make decisions based on them worked for her business for a while, Ojuolape’s search for a broader solution led her to the LIFT program, where she has learned a good deal about strategy.
“Last year, I began to ask myself: how do we scale this business so we can have even more impact in our community? The search for an answer to this led me to the LIFT program. When I started AppleCart, I thought the biggest problem we’d have was that we’d be overwhelmed by orders after a few weeks. Experience has taught me that, as a business owner, the idea you think is so great might not be met with the expected passion when you take it to market. It’s easy to lose steam when things like this happen, so a program like LIFT is important to help you rethink and reimagine and rescale. Late last year, I did an accelerator program with Alibaba. That was great and exposed me to so much but it lacked the Nigerian context that LIFT has.
Doing business is a marathon, not a sprint. A lot of budding entrepreneurs burn out early because they come in with so much passion, but no real plan around how to implement it. LIFT has helped me understand this and reorient, reposition and strategize for the long run ahead. I’ve also learned some valuable lessons about setting and documenting processes, which I’ve been trying to do for my business for the last 2 years.”
For young people looking to start businesses, Ojuolape shares words of wisdom gained from years of running a business in Nigeria:
“My first advice to young people is to believe in yourself and believe that you can. This belief will carry you through the trying seasons (and there will be many of them.) For young women especially, break that internal barrier that asks you to “tone it down” or “not do or ask for too much.” Be outspoken. Be a go-getter. Remember that you can take hold of big things and do big things and transform your world.
It’s important to have a culture of excellence as a person and let that translate to your business. The market remembers. In a sector like this where there is a lot of mistrust, referrals go a long way. Excellence is what makes your customers look for you.
Look for opportunities in unusual places. For example, COVID was an opportunity for us. Even people who were usually headstrong about going on market trips themselves started becoming more amenable to our business.
Have a support system. It might be staff at home or your business, or a community of entrepreneurs - something that ensures that your life is well-balanced and you don’t feel overwhelmed.”