We enable small businesses grow sales through online platforms – Qshop’s founder

TAREBI ALEBIOSU is the founder of QShop Tech Inc., an e-commerce platform that powers Small and Medium Enterprises. It gives businesses the opportunity to create their e-commerce website and sell their products globally in multiple currencies, and also receive international payments. In this interview, she speaks of the strategies the company is adopting to provide support to businesses in critical areas like access to finance, market reach, and business training. AMAKA ANAGOR-EWUZIE brings the excerpts.

Kindly take us through the activities of QShop and how it is helping to solve some of the homegrown challenges Nigerian Micro and Small Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) face?

QShop is easy to use and do-it-yourself e-commerce platform designed to help small and medium-sized enterprises structure and scale their businesses. For a multitude of reasons, many Micro and Small Medium Enterprises in Nigeria struggle to grow their businesses and revenue streams.

It has been seen that access to credit, knowledge deficits and technology gaps are crucial areas where these MSMEs need support. Technology is an enabler, so our goal at QShop is to empower small businesses by closing the MSME technology gap with accessible, e-commerce technology which streamlines their sales and operations.

Before setting up Qshop, you provided solutions for both the private and public sectors, how did the experience shape your strategies for running QShop?

Building custom solutions for public and private sector organisations across diverse industries provided valuable insights. It also provided us with lessons and networks that we continued to apply in the day-to-day running of QShop. For example, some of our existing relationships have been instrumental in achieving our partnership and acquisition goals, even some of our earlier investors were former clients.

Our experiences and operations at Yoke Solutions- a technology services firm -enabled us to hit the ground running. Our ready talent pool enabled us to immediately develop and deploy QShop.

Also, from our experience in delivering other solutions like, we discovered the many pain points of MSMEs and the reasons the e-commerce platform they were using do not help their business operations. This was why we developed a solution that addresses the peculiarities of MSMEs to deliver a product that serves their needs making it easy and affordable to run an e-commerce business.

Read also: DBN calls for policies to spur MSMEs growth

Key sectors can be seen as vital to the transformation of the Nigerian economy. How can technology help to build, expand, diversify, and scale up the MSMEs sector?

Technology has enabled access to many business management tools previously unavailable to MSMEs years ago. Today, MSMEs can readily participate in e-commerce, leverage inventory management and record-keeping tools, access credit facilities, and extend credit to customers.

We have already seen the impact of technology in the payments ecosystem with leading giants like Interswitch, Flutterwave, and Paystack. It has also improved lending offerings to Micro and Small Medium Enterprises and provided unprecedented access and opportunity to scale. This enhances their ability to play an important role as the backbone of the economy, become a major contributor to the national Gross domestic product (GDP) and create job opportunities for Nigerian youths. This is as statistics show that MSMEs account for 84 percent of employment nationwide.

How is the operation of QShop structured to attract and sustain the patronage of MSMEs? What are some of the unique selling points that stand the company out?

Ease of use is one of the most important drivers of technology adoption for Small and Medium-Sized Businesses. Hence, any product or solution with a steep learning curve will typically experience low adoption levels. Ease of use is also the number one reason about 10 percent of our user base migrated from larger competitors to our easy-to-use QShop.

Our direct Instagram integration means that businesses do not have to spend time setting up and can quickly import pictures and videos directly from Instagram, where they may be already selling.

Today, MSMEs can readily participate in e-commerce, leverage inventory management and record-keeping tools, access credit facilities, and extend credit to customers

Additionally, QShop offers multiple local and international payment gateways, which means that we provide more flexibility that enables MSMEs to receive funds easily.

What is your assessment of the MSME sector in Nigeria? How large is the industry and what additional government-led support is required to improve the current conditions of players in the sector to harness their potential and improve contributions to economic growth?

The industry is massive. In Nigeria alone, there are 40 million+ Small and Medium Businesses, approximately 50 percent of which are engaged in retail trade, and another 6.5 million sell informally on social media. Like with most industries, an enabling environment in the area of provision of constant power supply, and regulatory policies that aid innovation, finance, and training schemes will contribute significantly to harnessing the growth potential of MSMEs in Nigeria.

Getting the buy-in of stakeholders in Nigeria to develop an important industry like the one you operate in is a huge challenge. What would you say is the best approach to expanding additional support from the private and public sectors?

We all have a role to play in developing this industry. The public sector has the lead role in providing an enabling environment and the right policies which discourage fraud, encourage innovation and stimulate the economy. These public sector-led initiatives will, in turn, drive private sector enterprises to provide finance, technology, and products, which will naturally cascade down to MSMEs in the form of accessible products, wholesale supplies, support, and more.

Even though I have listed these initiatives in a sequence, life is never serial, so all stakeholders need to innovate as best as they can within the current constraints.

Many government agencies are already taking steps toward providing an inclusive and enabling environment for MSMEs. The Lagos, Ogun, and Ekiti state governments have exciting initiatives and have made investments to boost growth for Small and Medium Enterprises.

Kindly share some of the lessons learned from your experience as a woman in the tech industry.

In almost all the organisations I have worked for, I have been in the minority. While sometimes I have to work harder to prove my expertise, working as a woman in technology has been a very positive experience. Coming from a family of all female children, we were raised to believe we had no limitations as women; this mindset has been instrumental in pushing through any challenges- real and perceived -I have faced as a woman.

In my opinion, the most significant challenge with female inclusion in the Nigerian tech industry is lack of education and, for some, conviction. Society has dictated ‘who’ the Nigerian woman is and ‘what’ is expected of her for ages. It is important to know when to ‘quiet’ this voice as a woman. Where education is concerned, we are moving in the right direction; there are several women-focused training programmes and grants.

However, there is room for more. It is also important for young women to know that there are many careers within the industry; sometimes, a supposed aversion to working in technology is due to a ‘not so pleasant experience in a coding class.

What are some of the challenges you have faced in the course of operating QShop?

As with many other businesses across diverse sectors, sizes, and reach, we are often faced with navigating challenges, including those entrenched in regulations and day-to-day business running. However, an understanding of the operating environment and respect for regulatory requirements helps to reduce the occurrences of business hurdles.

Some of the notable challenges include selling a product with long-term benefits in a ‘now economy’ where everyone expects immediate gratification. Another challenge is the trust deficit that is now rampant due to sensational reporting and social media algorithms that gives fraudulent online purchases significant reach.

Also, there is a competition to retain the best talent across the industry for both large and small organisations.

What are some of the plans QShop has for the rest of 2022 and the next five years?

Our long-term growth plans are underpinned by our focus on boosting growth for retail-focused businesses. Our growth plans include extending QShop to provide support to businesses in critical areas like access to finance, market reach, and business training. We also plan to roll out additional product integrations with everyday tools that our entrepreneurs already use and love. We are also working on expanding our operations and services beyond Nigeria and the MSME sector.