Many Nigerian startups have set up operations in Yaba, the district of Lagos most frequently compared to Silicon Valley and home to tech companies like Africa Internet Group (owners of Jumia, Kaymu and other booming startups). But at least one startup is operating elsewhere. And the founders of gift-card company SureGifts say they’re doing just fine without easy access to accelerators and innovation hubs.
I sat with the three co-founders — — Adeoye Ojo, Babafemi Lawal and Olaoluwa Samuel-Biyi — at their operational base on Lagos Island, a few kilometres away from one of the major beaches in Nigeria. They said the company’s journey started about a year and a half ago when the three, all ex-employees of ecommerce giant Jumia Nigeria, observed that many people buying stuff online were doing so to get gifts for their loved ones.
Almost two years after kicking off its drive to make gift-card culture popular in Nigeria, the co-founders believe the Nigerian market is ripe for the picking.
“I think Nigeria is ready for gift cards. Without doing much aggressive marketing, we’ve been able to process thousands of gift card requests from and for individuals across Nigeria and even beyond,” said Adeoye Ojo co-founder of SureGifts.
For example, weddings in Nigeria are characterised by well-wrapped gifts the couple often doesn’t want. But a gift card allows the newly wedded couples to choose stuff they really need in their new home. The startup also allows special messages to be delivered at specific times of the day, which means if it’s your friend’s birthday tomorrow, you can have the card sent at exactly at 12 midnight.
University of West Indies-trained Samuel-Biyi noted that while SureGifts was generating revenue from the five-to-thirty-percent commission it receives from merchants on the platform, it is now well positioned to provide services to corporate organisations. The company has thus launched a corporate gifts section, which allows corporate organisations to motivate their workers with gift cards instead of items like bags of rice, household items and televisions.
It has an employee incentive that is designed to increase overall work performance, reduce turnover, boost morale and loyalty and so on. It also has sales executive incentive programmes intended to motivate salespeople to achieve set goals, as well as consumer and stakeholder incentive programmes.
Lawal noted that the service means that everyone is a winner — including SureGifts, since the company is able to get new clients from the initiative.
“When companies give their customers our banded cards, and the recipient uses the card, they often come back to us when they want to give a friend or family a gift. They always enjoy the experience and desire to pass it on,” he said.
The co-founders say they will be able to reach more corporate organisations and customers if they are able to get more merchants on board.
“We will soon be announcing new merchants in order to further increase available options for our clients. We found out that while some merchants are household names among our customers, we tend to explain the cool stuff that others do. But it is necessary for us to have as many merchants as we can possibly get on board,” he said.
“While our generic gift cards are doing great, we also have gift cards for the various merchants and we’ve discovered that gift cards for Park ‘n’ Shop are doing great, Jumia too is popular, not forgetting FashPa and others,” he said.
Ojo said SureGifts was set to deploy gift cards as a medium through which funds can be raised for projects and causes. This new service, according to him, is 80% ready. When it goes live officially, Nigerian corporate organisations will be able to support the needy with functional gifts.
“This will best suit corporate bodies’ charitable giving and Community Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives. Recipients will be empowered to choose exactly what they need when they need them the most,” Ojo said.
SureGifts’ co-founders are also seeking to promote the use of gift cards for religious and evangelical purposes. The co-founders said they’d identified avenues for corporate companies to promote the spirit of brotherhood and fellowship with gift cards.
SureGifts started with three young Nigerians looking closely at the activities of online shoppers in Nigeria. They decided to introduce a service that, while popular elsewhere, is entirely new to Nigeria. And in the last year and couple of months, they’ve strived to get Nigerians to embrace gift cards as they embraced ecommerce and smartphones.
“Following the initial burst, we’ve had up and down moments and we’ve been able to perfect our technologies over the years. We are confident in our ability to succeed in this market. We are still confident that if ecommerce can succeed in Nigeria, gift cards will also succeed,” Ojo said.
Even though it is still the only gift cards company in Nigeria, the three co-founders laughed when asked whether they were scared of competitors with larger funds. While they gave the usual competitors-are-welcome speech, their body language suggested they would like to remain the first and only company offering gifts cards in the county for as long as possible. As far as they are concerned, they’ve spent a lot in developing the technology and understanding the market. Now is the time to record exponential growth via corporate clients, without losing the customer who only wants a gift card for his girlfriend’s birthday to be delivered at midnight.