‘With Fintechs growth, Nigeria may become Africa’s financial hub’

EMMANUEL OKOROAFOR, managing director/CEO of Hobark Consultant Management Services Ltd, and founder of MEPON Ltd, a company that provides online platforms for ‘Global Equipment and Facilities Hire’ and ‘Services for Hire.’ In this interview with IFEOMA OKEKE, he speaks on the growth of e-commerce in Nigeria and how MEPON is contributing to drive that growth.

What inspired you to set up MEPON and what made you think the idea will be accepted by people?

It is well known that prosperity spreads to communities that are connected to centres of economic activities. Traditional connectivity routes include land (Road and Rail), sea and air, and more recently via the internet. This inspired the idea of MEPON – globally accessible platforms (centre of economic activities) to bring online and help local businesses and services reach a wider audience, expand customer base, and generate more revenue – creating prosperous communities.

The idea has received great commendation from numerous industry leaders, who all believe that for ‘For communities to thrive, one needs a tool that enhances visibility and sustainability of local businesses; that is global online presence.’

Since you commenced, how has the response been?

Currently it is Website based and the corresponding Apps are under development. The database of vendors and visitors to the sites are growing

What measures have you put in place to eliminate poor service between the service provider and customer?

To protect the business and our customers, vendors will need to sign up, verified and approved before listing a service or equipment. We welcome reviews from customers, and decide whether to recommend a vendor or not. All submitted reviews are vetted before being published. Reviews would only be added where there is evidence that the customer has previously been served by the vendor. A vendor that repeatedly receives bad reviews will be removed or delisted from the platform. Basically, every business on MEPON Platforms is fully reviewed, checked, and approved. We ensure to maintain a safe and reliable space to access service-related professionals, and equipment and assets owners 24/7.

What does it cost a service provider to get on the platform?

There are various subscriptions levels, including also promos, on offer together with the benefits, for both Services For Hire and Equipment Hire platform

How will MEPON make life easier for an average Nigerian living in urban centres?

Everyday tasks can be time-consuming, or service professionals difficult to find. Our platform gives persons an easy way to find and compare services in their area or where they need it. So, we help them get more done in less time by finding service professionals faster and taking advantage of competitive price offerings in the market. It also permits owners of equipment and facilities that are idle and un-used to monetize their assets, thus enabling those who want to hire to have access to diverse, efficient tools, machinery and equipment.

Did your experience, skill or/and education in any way help you come up with this initiative?

My 31 years of experience in academia and industry helped: I have been involved in the decision-making or tasked with coordinating procurement of services or equipment for large and small projects. Regarding services, to control costs, it made sense to qualify and utilise available local services. However, they were not readily visible because they were offline, which made it difficult and time-consuming to complete procurement processes. Based on these and knowledge that an online presence is an essential tool that will benefit businesses and local communities, I sought to provide a globally accessible platform to bring more of those service professionals into the online space, thus supporting local businesses by giving them an opportunity to quickly connect with buyers without the hassle of having to build and maintain their own websites. –

Concerning equipment it was obvious at the end of projects, companies that could afford to buy equipment and tools ended up with them left idle, unused, and stored away, sometimes for months or years before being used again. On the other hand, there were businesses that could not afford to buy these equipment and tools, and need access to the type of equipment and facilities being left idle by other companies. They were forced to heavily leverage their businesses to access these tools that were only needed for the length of their projects or delay project start. I sought to connect these two businesses in an efficient and cost-effective manner that ensures reduced costs for business operators through easy and affordable equipment hire, while enabling companies to maximise the use of their assets. –

Unlike the websites that rent their own equipment, MEPON gives users a global reach to list and take advantage of opportunities worldwide and economies of scale.

How do you think the government can help increase the number of persons involved in e-commerce in Nigeria?

No one will like a situation when they are transacting for the line to drop. That makes a frustrated customer who may turn off e-commerce transactions. Thus, E-commerce requires stable and robust communications networks. To promote and increase the population involved in e-commerce, governments in countries like Nigeria may want to engage more with communications networks service providers to establish robust and stable networks with wider reach and also affordable to the masses.

Apart from population, what other advantages does Nigeria possess to record great strides in Africa’s e-commerce industry?

For now, Nigeria is witnessing a boom in startup fintechs, which are facilitating e-transactions across the country and West Africa. If the trend continues, which Nigeria is currently leading within Africa, and is sustained, Nigeria may become the hub/clearing house through which transactions in Africa pass through – like the City of London with respect to international transactions

Would you say Nigeria is seeing a slow or fast growth rate in e-commerce? Please give reasons for your answers.

Nigeria is seeing a fast growth, when you track the startups that prop up every day. The growth will continue so long as there is confidence that the transactions are secure from criminal activities

Who are your target audience/ market?

MEPON target audience are the self-employed or SMEs that offer a variety of services, and need to enhance their visibility via a major platform to attract customers beyond their customary base, and hence generate more revenue. These could be services providers (Construction workers, Builders, Nurses, Dentists, Gardeners, IT Pros, etc) or equipment and assets owners who would rather monetize their assets via hiring than to have them idle and deteriorate. Africa is the market and MEPON platforms aim to be the centre of economic activities that facilitate the movement of services, equipment and people.

E-commerce thrives when a society is largely cashless. We are still a cash-inclined society. What is the import of this?

Currently e-commerce is thriving in Nigeria and the volume of transactions is increasing daily, and expected to continue to rise. The arrival and rise in Fintech companies is bringing alternative means of payments to ordinary Nigerians and will contribute towards driving more e-commerce

One of the lessons the world learnt last year during Covid-19 lockdown was the inevitability of online business. Going forward, what do you think every business owner, big or small, or aspiring entrepreneur ought to do to optimise the opportunities that are inherent in e-commerce?

An outcome of the Covid-19 pandemic is the emergence of e-commerce as a primary route to survival, especially for SMEs – moving a key component of the marketing mix to online platforms; helping businesses to increase their online presence and grow sales using digital tools. They may have their own website or App, but listing on globally accessible platforms (new centres of economic activities) will push and sustain their brands. E-commerce platforms like MEPON, AMAZON, FLIPKART, etc generally bear the cost for online and offline advertising, search engine optimisation, and social media exposure for businesses on their platform. There are also special campaigns which SMEs on these e-commerce platforms can benefit from in the form of a boost to sales volume due to high customer traffic.

Although Nigeria is recording big strides in the number of people getting online, the country, however, also has a large illiteracy figure. How will this affect e-commerce in the long run?

Illiteracy in Nigeria is defined as lack of basic western education, but that never stopped our forebearers from transacting and conducing lucrative businesses. There are illiterates in the Europe, America and elsewhere that are comfortable with e-commerce (first of which was ATM transactions), and the same will apply in Nigeria. After all, Software Apps have made a lot of things easy to accomplish by both the educated and illiterates.

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