In January, Eric Nyombi, aged 22, worked with Jumia, a company that deals in online selling of a variety of items as a sales agent. His work involved getting clients to buy items from the company, online.
However, approximately three months later, after mastering the art of e-commerce, he quit Jumia to start his own company, TilyExpress in April.
He was driven by the desire to have a money-making venture of his own, to, among other things, pay his daily bills, cater for his own tuition and hostel accommodation.
His parents are financially incapacitated to take him through university. He also pays his own tuition through the higher education student financing board, a government programme.
From personal savings at Jumia, Nyombi started TilyExpress by sourcing for a service provider to design his company website at Shs700,000.
The same service provider also designed the company logo and brochure to market the young company at Shs100,000. Besides a running website, Nyombi also needed items such as computers to manage the website, a smartphone, internet connections and a team of people to work with.
Starting the business
“TilyExpress is an online platform that connects a buyer to a seller with no need of visiting a physical shop through holding stock of vendors. If a vendor has their stock or shop anywhere, they apply to open up a shop with TilyExpress. I display their products on the website and other platforms such as twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp where I advertise. When someone places an order, the vendor brings it to my hub and I do delivery to the customer. I make commission off the product as agreed by the vendor,” Nyombi says.
The fact that e-commerce saves time to move around town looking for a particular item of a particular brand is one of the factors that inspired Nyombi to start TilyExpress.
“I chose to go online because I realised that when I have a physical shop, I cannot sell shoes, electrical appliances, clothes and kitchenware in one shop. I realised I was going to limit myself and had to think out of the box. Online is a platform that does not limit you to meet your customer expectations,” he says.
Growing the numbers
When Nyombi was starting out, he run a number of adverts to get a few vendors with products to advertise on the website. The first three vendors he registered in April dealt in kitchenware, fashion and groceries. The number of vendors has since then grown to 17.
“After running vendor adverts on the website, I embarked on advertising products on Facebook and other social media platforms. I sometimes marketed the business through friends and strangers. Along the way, one of the vendors made sales of Shs700,000 in the first month of business. Out of this money, I charged them a little commission of Shs300,000 for the work done to market their products,” he adds.
“If you are a vendor and you are devising ways of increasing sales, we make an agreement where TilyExpress comes in to advertise your products online. When you apply, it means you have opened up an online shop with TilyExpress,” Nyombi notes.
The commission Nyombi charges vendors is dependent on the category of items. For fashion items, he charges 15 per cent and 10 per cent for kitchen or home items. For gadgets such as phones and tablets, he charges approximately five to 10 per cent. In the end, he collects the money (commission) and uses it to run the business.
Besides the website and social media advertising, Nyombi also creates market for TilyExpress through a sales associate programme where he calls upon young entrepreneurs to earn commission when they advertise some products to customers.
“I have recruited T-sale (TilyExpress sales agents). They help increase sales in the business and also help in generating the money I use to place ads on social media and Google. I give them (sales agents) a given percentage of commission off every order they make and they are paid at the end of the month. It is a business opportunity for the youth who do not have jobs. The more orders someone makes, the more commission they earn at the end of the month,” Nyombi explains.
Initially, Nyombi recalls that he started with advertising of household items and kitchenware. Along the way, he realised the need to diversify to all kinds of products to include clothes or fashion, shoes, baby’s wear, office furniture, electrical appliances such as flat irons, stationery, groceries, car spare parts and school laboratory apparatus, among others, to widen customer choice.
When business is booming, he is able to make Shs250,000 as weekly commission. When there are many orders in a month, he makes Shs1m or slightly more.
One of the challenges Nyombi met along the way was that the public had negative attitudes about online shopping. Most people only buy an item after looking at it physically. Some of them have refused to buy into the idea of buying items online but this has not stopped Nyombi from marketing the business.
“A lot of sensitisation needs to be done among Ugandans to make them believe that just like physical shops, online buying also provides same services. It is the way to go because of increased globalisation where things are bought online and delivered at your doorstep. If you are able to buy an expensive item like a car online from Germany and it is delivered to you, it means you can also buy a flat screen TV online in Uganda,” he observes.
Currently, Nyombi boosts of approximately five employees involved at different stages. Some deliver products to customers while others run the website and keep track of incoming orders.
Trust and flexibility are some of the primary principles that Nyombi sails on to grow the business. This, however comes with the courage to run the business 24/7. In case your product is not delivered to you according to your descriptions, he is flexible to allow a seven day’s free return and full refund. This, he notes, gives customers assurance that customers trust his services.
In two to five years’ time, Nyombi intends to establish a warehouse where vendors can keep their stock to do express delivery to clients. He is also working on developing the TilyExpress application to increase the number of customers accessing the online store, beyond the website and social media.
“Regardless of whether you are a youth or adult, if you are starting a similar business, be aggressive because e-commerce is a business that requires time. Even if you invest money without time, your efforts might end up wasted. You should As well be committed to run the business,” Nyombi concludes.