Tuskys: Online marketplace to promote Ugandan products locally

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Tuskys Uganda was started as an effort to make more Ugandan products available in the local market – where foreign goods seemed to reign. What started as an online platform has now expanded as the startup is currently setting up physical outlets in the country to distribute their products. VC4A spoke to Jeff Kabuleta, co-founder of the startup. “Local products are just as good, but in Uganda they are not given the extra push these products deserve.”

Tell us more about Tuskys Uganda and what inspired you to start it?

“Tuskys Uganda was started in 2008 as an online market place for Ugandan art and crafts. Different craftsmen list their items for free on our website and we would aggressively advertise the products mainly in the USA and earn a commission from the sales. We started it as a side business and it surprisingly caught on.”

How is your company helping to solve the problem of underdevelopment in the SME manufacturing sector in Uganda?

“We want local products to have the same high demand as imported products, when the demand increases it will have several knock on effects such as more money for them to expand, increased quality for them through better research. We just do not stock products but we work with our SME suppliers to better improve them.”

You’re setting up physical shopping outlets to support products made in Uganda. Why operate an online platform and physical outlet at the same time?

“The physical outlets are the new stage, more like a graduation, it comes to a point where you have grown and can now afford the challenges that come with brick and mortar setup. The website will compliment the physical setup.”

What challenges have you faced in the setting up a framework that promotes Ugandan-made products?

“The business environment in Uganda is great, we have had a lot of support from relevant bodies. I guess people always thought it but nobody was doing it. Walk in to any shopping outlet in Kampala and you will find 90% are imported products more from our neighbors in Kenya, products such as oranges (yes the actual fruit), honey, tomato sauce and many more fast moving goods from outside are given more audience on their shelves than local products. Local products are just as good but are not given the extra push they deserve.”

What gives your product or service a competitive edge against your potential rivals?

“Each product on our shelf will have a story, by buying that product you are directly contributing to the life of that entrepreneur, association or cooperative. Our advertising will be geared towards that patriotic feeling, Kenyan businesses have perfected it and it is working wonders, I like how Tusker beer or Kenya airways are marketed, they make the target market feel proud for using them. If it has worked for them, we can do it too.”

What do you need to make your plans reality in the coming two years?

“We are currently fundraising $830,000 we have signed MOU’s with different firms that identify suitable investors, so we are just exchanging communications as we identify the right partner. We are keeping away from commercial loans and are seeking development partners who will understand our formula. The funds will be mainly go into store leasing, store design, advertising, sensitisation, SME consultancy and development, amongst others.”

What is your exit strategy?

“It is a bit detrimental for the entrepreneur to start a business and have an exit strategy from the beginning, that goal can blind you because you will be in a fast growth mode and miss out some key important factors that will cost the business. We will grow at the best pace that we can and if an opportunity to exit presents itself, why not?”

What is the project team really excited about right now?

“We have been able to meet small scale entrepreneurs of good products we never knew about some of the interesting situations we have come across is a home based entrepreneur who manufactures bath soap, but has secured market dominance in the local area shops in the 5 km radius of their small factory. Those are the people we want to bring onto the grander stage. We met another company that produces toothpaste, all these entrepreneurs have been shunned by the more established stores and those are the ones we are going to fine-tune and make them the next success stories.”

Find more information on Tuskys on their VC4Africa venture profile.

This article by Kanuri Stephen originally appeared on VC4Africa and is republished with permission.

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