Deepankar is the CEO and Founder of VConnect, the first online platform that connects small business owners in Nigeria with their customers. Is this country the ignored promise land for entrepreneurs and investors?
What is VConnect?
VConnect is a network of local businesses and consumers. What we do is help businesses reach and connect with customers. Back in 2011 when we started VConnect, very few Nigerian small businesses were searchable online. Many of those folded because they couldn’t connect with a big enough customer base. It was that gap that we sought to fill: Give small businesses visibility in the emerging digital space. And we’ve done a good job! More than 1.2 million small businesses are now registered on VConnect with up to 2 million monthly visitors.
Some would call us a directory. But we are more than that. What we do is helping businesses and customers have robust conversations. That’s what makes the platform so useful. People don’t just find contact details of businesses, they find a complete set of information – in the form of ratings and reviews – that help them know whether to transact with a business or not. On their part, businesses see and reply real-time to user feedback.
We have continued to grow in response to the needs of the market. A few months ago, we launched a new feature called Business Lists that helps customers create lists of businesses that fulfill certain needs or around a certain theme. It’s like a playlist for businesses. We’ve seen incredibly creative uses of this tool. We know too that the creative possibilities of this tool are endless!
What’s next for VConnect?
What we have baked into our DNA here is consistent innovation and self-disruption. And that will stay with us in the future. In the next five years, we will develop in at least two more countries. Our presence is majorly in Nigeria for now (2016). We are advancing on our plans to establish in Ghana, which is only a few miles west of Nigeria.
Beside the expansion, helping businesses is a key part of our operations. So over the next few years, we will be getting more creative with how we help local businesses increase their online visibility and build an authoritative brand.
How is the business ecosystem in Nigeria?
Nigeria is a hard place to do business, but that’s why it’s also fun. This forces our team to be more creative in problem solving. For instance, came up with a unconventional solution to cut our burn rate since Naira (the local currency) started weakening drastically against the Dollars, for instance.
And you are right. Nigeria is also a dynamic place to do business. The people have such peculiar needs that if a business isn’t ready to keep experimenting and embracing risks, golden business opportunities have long gone.
Would you recommend Nigeria for those who would like to develop there?
Nigeria is a great place to set up. It can be extremely complex to set up at first, but once all your ducks are lined up, you can get an incredible return on your investment. There are simply so many problems here that need creative solutions. And that represents the perfect opportunity for any entrepreneur.
What are the key points to bear in mind when setting up in Nigeria?
Ready to pour great effort into market research. Nigeria ‘s a peculiar and astonishingly complex market. Bear in mind that, a model or solution that is a wild success in a western market might not work in the original form.