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While the idea of a gift card ecommerce startup isn’t exactly novel, Suregifts from Lagos, Nigeria, has the type of VC backing and founder credentials that makes a startup stand out.
Suregifts founders Olaoluwa Samuel-Biyi, Adeoye Ojo and Babafemi Lawal are ex-Rocket Internet employees. The German-headquartered company’s love affair with Nigeria knows no bounds — the serial-cloner has been aggressively chasing the country’s fast-growing middle class over the last few years.
Jumia, essentially an Amazon-clone, is considered Rocket’s flagship West African business.
Samuel-Biyi joined Rocket Internet to build Jumia Nigeria as Financial Reporter, before advancing into roles in pricing, commercial planning, financial analysis — eventually managing the Children, Books and Drinks categories. He also led the business intelligence team in the production and purchasing division.
Ojo led the business intelligence team in Jumia’s marketing division and Lawal currently leads Jumia’s Business Intelligence team in its operations division as a controller analyst and has worked in roles within Purchasing and Business Analysis.
So what did the Suregifts triumvirate learn from their tenure at Jumia? Nigerians love giving and receiving gifts, apparently. Especially online.
Backed by angel investments from believers and mid-sized VC / tech incubator, Venture Garden Group — an ex-employer of Samuel-Biyi’s — Suregifts offers gift cards redeemable at high-quality merchant locations in Nigeria, as well as a “Gift Specialist” service — a type of virtual shopping assistant.
Here’s the video pitch:
Gift cards by merchants such as Samsung, Moma, Mothercare, Adam and Eve, David Wej, Deniartt, Abinibi, Denaki Langerie, Booksville, Angelikas and China Bowl are currently on offer. As the startup makes its money from revenue-sharing agreements with its merchants, the company promises that it is locked on expanding its network of merchants.
The gift cards can be filtered by occasion, location, gender, age, and price. If you’ve settled on a card, it’s as simple as selecting the preferred gift card denomination, deciding the mode of delivery and adding an optional message to the recipient.
The recipient redeems the card either via e-mail or at a physical location.
The startup also offers generic “Suregifts Gift Cards” that can be redeemed at any partner merchant — these cards don’t expire.
Suregifts does not integrate with existing merchant systems. Instead, merchants use a voucher code verification system. The system is delivered via the web or a Suregifts Android app. There’s also the option of placing a phone call to a merchant support line.
Suregifts is likely to roll out to other African countries, but its founders are candid about its challenges. Launched in January of 2014, the startup is still young and while the company’s founders don’t see direct competition, they admit a threat from point-of-sale prepaid debit cards.
The hope is however, that the novelty of virtual cards, or the ease of purchasing Suregifts cards will trump pre-paid options that “are expensive to make, purchase and ship, and do not appeal to recipients who do not want just another ‘ATM card’ in their wallets,” says the company’s founders.
It’s not a bad outlook. South African entrepreneur, Vinny Lingham’s gift card managing app, Gyft, has gone from strength to strength on the premise of putting your wallet on a diet.
Intriguingly, Suregifts isn’t all-in on virtual gift cards. The startup’s personalisation options for their physical cards aim to add personality and intimacy to the gifting process.
Samuel-Biyi reckons that “these [physical pre-paid] cards are not personal or intimate enough, not redeemable at the best locations, and they lose their expected utility as an alternative to physical gifting because they mimic cash transfers with their debit card properties.”
A bigger problem lies with selling the concept.
“Like online shopping two years ago, the concept is still novel to most Nigerians. The biggest challenge right now is effectively communicating the utility of gift cards,” says Samuel-Biyi.
“Nigerians are quick learners though, and we believe they’ll quickly see the value of gift cards and why they are ubiquitous in the developed world and among Corporates.”