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Meet Etop Ikpe, the man who seals the deal in 45 minutes 

Etop Ikpe always knew this problem existed. As a matter of fact, it was his desire to proffer a solution that made him co-found Cars45, an auto-trading platform… Find out what this problem is by reading the story of one of the most vibrant entrepreneurs in Nigeria today.

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Etop Ikpe

Only a few things feel worse than buying a product and later realise that you paid far more than it was actually worth. One of them is finding out that you sold your product for much less than its value. These problems are related and occur regularly in the business world, especially for those who deal in second-hand products. Etop Ikpe always knew this problem existed. As a matter of fact, it was his desire to proffer a solution that made him co-found Cars45, an auto-trading platform.

Another problem in the Nigerian automobile industry which Etop wanted to solve was that of time. Car dealers often have the problem of waiting for days, sometimes even weeks or months, before they can get a buyer. Etop wanted to fast-track this time-frame. And that is one of the core aspects of Cars45’s business model.

On this week’s Nairametrics founders’ profile, we examine how the Cars45 model works by focusing on the man that has made it all possible. Get to know Etop Ikpe, the Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Cars45.

READ MORE: Aliko Dangote and his slide from $25 billion to $7 billion

His school days and early career

Etop had an educational background that gave him an edge in mathematics. Therefore, he dreamed of becoming an engineer. To him, this was the best way to put his mathematical skills into good use. However, fate had other plans for him as he ended up studying Actuarial Science at the University of Lagos. He would later describe this course as “a combination of mathematics and business”. He graduated in 2004.

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He took his first shot at entrepreneurship as a student, when he co-founded clickmobile; an IT solution for companies to build business apps based on htmls. ClickMobile was intended to aid field users to access critical information, view their tasks, shifts, report their attendance and access customer information among others. The idea occurred to him at the time he was working as the manager of a cinema in Benin city. His lecture schedules usually left his Fridays free, so he spent his weekends in Benin working. As a manager of the cinema, Etop reasoned that there had to be a way of getting the organization to function seamlessly.

“For me, it has always been about using technology to solve problems” he later said.

Etop Ikpe during a function

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3stitches – a business of love

This is another business by Etop which he would always remember fondly because it was instrumental to him meeting his wife. As a cloth dealer, Etop’s then-to-be-wife always had a challenge – debtors. The pileup of debtors made it very difficult for her to effectively run her business. So together with Etop, they came up with 3Stitches, an online platform that would allow people shop for clothes and pay for them almost immediately. However, even though this was a cheaper option instead of getting a physical store, Etop would later recall that it was difficult to even get a dispatch rider in the initial months.

“I spoke with about 50 people before one man agreed to work with us. Nobody understood what we wanted to do. So, starting out was tough.”  

READ ALSO: OLX Group becomes largest shareholder in Cars45’s parent company, FCG

Over the next two years, the duo succeeded in expanding gradually without losing focus of their main goal of providing customers with quality products at affordable prices. By the third year, there were more entrants into the e-commerce industry and competition had become quite tough. So, the couple decided to sell out.

Etop is one businessman that likes to consider deals based on how strategic they appear in relation to his goals, as well as the market realities. Explaining his decision to sell 3stitches, he said:

“For me, selling 3Stitches wasn’t about the money even though I made a good deal from it. I knew that the landscape was changing and people with more money were coming into the market. 

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“Life is a learning curve. I saw that the online store business was becoming highly competitive and I wanted to learn too. Serious money was being invested in it and I was running a small business; so, I decided to do what I believed was right.” 

While running 3Stitches, this serial entrepreneur started the Tinker and Bell Media Limited, and independently produced several programmes. One of these programmes is “We Run the Game”, a syndicated sports show that was broadcast across 12 terrestrial broadcast networks.

Following the divestment from 3Stitches, he moved on to work for Dealdey.com as the Vice President of Operations. In less than two years, he had become co-MD at Dealdey. The online platform offered juicy deals at discounted prices.

When Dealdey was later acquired by Konga, the new owners saw the need to retain Etop Ikpe, seeing as he was a critical staff. Consequently, the made him the Director of Marketplace Operations. But he wasn’t going to stay at Konga for the rest of his career. The man had plans of his own.

Founding Cars45

After eight months in Konga, Etop felt an itch to leave. He had always thought of technology for solving critical life problems and at this point in his life, he had spotted another which he needed to address. His personal experiences while trying to sell or buy a car had exposed him to two of the biggest problems of car dealers. Not only was it difficult to sell a car at a good price, the car sometimes developed more problems just sitting in the garage and waiting for a buyer. “Time na money” is a song we all grew up singing, but no one understands the importance of time like a businessman.

Etop realised that there was a need to build a platform that would connect car buyers and sellers in the shortest possible time, as well as enable them to conclude a satisfactory deal. This is how Cars45 came to the rescue, with the mission to sell every vehicle within 45 minutes after inspection. Etop Ikpe came together with co-founders, Iyamu Mohammed, Sujay Tyle, and Peter Lindholm, and Cars45 was established in 2016.

READ MORE: Meet Elochukwu Umeh, founder of Africa’s digital powerhouse

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“The number 45 first came because we wanted something catchy, something that would be easy to remember. But then we also intend to sell the car within 45 minutes, from the point inspection is done” he explained.

A vehicles inspection facility

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Navigating the business terrain

The car dealership business in Nigeria had a problem of integrity and trust. Prospective buyers always had some sour experience which made them really wary and skeptical about seller’s claims.

Resolving this required an independent but reliable expert to serve as a middle-man. The cars45 business model solved this problem with its 200-point inspection unit where the vehicle is assessed and valued before offering a deal to the seller. This assessment gives the condition of all parts of the vehicle, noting what parts are faulty and what it would likely cost to fix it. All of these affect the final selling value placed on the car.

READ MORE: Cars45 sets up Academy for Car Dealers

“Anyone coming to do business with us is rest-assured about our transparency on the condition of the vehicle,” Etop later told CNBC Africa.

At the moment, the company has over 60 retail inspection centres across Lagos, PortHarcourt, Abuja, Ibadan, Kano, and Benin, and some other 200 locations in cities across the country. The adoption of online auctions has helped to digitize the process so that all transactions could be concluded online.

Dealing with the initial hiccups

Verifying the source of the vehicles was one of the initial challenges Cars45 had to deal with, as they did not want to unwittingly deal in stolen vehicles. This would have come with grave consequences, especially since the company was just trying to gain trust in an industry that was bereft of it.

READ MORE: Nigeria spends N1.08 trillion to import used cars and motorbikes in one year 

“The verification of cars wasn’t easy at the inception and it was very fundamental to what we were doing. We have a lot of fragmented databases in Nigeria and it was rigorous trying to get relevant agencies to take us seriously” Etop explained.

Differentiating serious sellers from people who wanted to test the waters was also another challenge. Convincing sellers to bring their cars to the inspection centre was also a challenge at first, and to keep business going, the company had to go to their houses to conduct inspections.

It was a rough first year, as Etop recalled, and the company was unable to secure an inspection location within the first five months of its establishment. Property owners were skeptical about allowing car dealers to use their property for such business, given the fraudulent nature of the industry. Rough as thing became, Etop recalled that giving up was never an option.

“Our goal was basically transparency and trust. The market was a lucrative one, but we needed to gain trust, so we set up a customer-focused strategy”.

Each service in this strategy, when implemented naturally raked in more income for the company.

When the company started the “refer 5 used cars to us, and get N100,000”, sales rocketed in no time, directly translating to increased revenue for the company and more satisfaction for the referrers.

Some milestones actualised

Within the first year of operation, the business recorded a high success rate, earning millions of dollars in profit. Also, Cars45 raised $5 million Series A round in funding from Frontier Cars Group within one year of its establishment. The capital raised was channeled into scaling the business in Nigeria, improving the online platform, and building other revenue sources within the used-cars market, including the used-vehicle space.

Cars45 also effected its international expansion plans in 2019, widening its operations to include Ghana and Kenya, after the Frontiers Car Group raised $400 million in a Series D funding round.

READ MORE: How So Fresh founder dumped oil money to sell fruits and salads 

Etop Ikpe insists that the easiest path to success is focusing on the customers. After its commencement of operation, Cars45 did not just focus on making profit but on building customer trust through transparency. This is because Etop understood that business could not thrive where customers do not trust the dealer.

“If you are too desperate to make money and take your market share, you will end up doing things that will make it difficult for you to ever earn money. Focus on amazing service delivery and be as transparent as possible” he advises.

Being very strict on budget management is also another factor he considered key to the success of Cars45, especially since the profits did not start rolling in immediately.

Etop hails from Akwa Ibom State and is the third of four children. He is married with a child, and leisure time for him is spent with family, reading biographies, or watching documentaries.


NOTE: The author sourced information from here, here, and here while writing this article. 

Ruth Okwumbu has a MSc. and BSc. in Mass Communication from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and Delta state university respectively. Prior to her role as analyst at Nairametrics, she had a progressive six year writing career. As a Business Analyst with Narametrics, she focuses on profiles of top business executives, founders, startups and the drama surrounding their successes and challenges. You may contact her via [email protected]

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Profiles

Scaling in Nigeria’s fashion industry is tough work – Ugo Monye 

Ugo Monye takes us through his journey to becoming one of the most popular fashion brands in Nigeria.

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Scaling in Nigeria’s fashion industry is tough work – Ugo Monye 

With the large number of business names being registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) on a monthly basis, it is easy to assume that starting and scaling a business in Nigeria is a piece of cake. In reality, however, it is a completely different story.

Even after surviving the first few years, scaling for expansion can be a hard nut to crack, particularly in an industry that is still unstructured.  

Ugochukwu MonyeFounder and Creative DirectorUgo Monye Fashion Company was a guest on the Nairametrics Business Half Hour, and shared some challenges of scaling in Nigeria’s fashion industry.  

READ: Konga CEO targets $10 million daily turnover by 2024

He observed that one challenge entrepreneurs have to face in the industry while trying to upscale is the shortage of manpower. 

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“No one wants to work for anybody. People don’t want to be part of another person’s success story, because everyone feels they can as well float whatever it is you are doing. This is part of the reasons the industry lacks structure, and still not fully developed, he noted 

Even when one employs a staff, they only work a short while before they start contemplating how to leave and replicate your businessIn my line of business, the result is many small fashion businesses with few (if any) outstanding brands.  

There is much room for specialization across the value chain, but people cannot specialize, because of the absence of a structure,” Ugo added.    

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READ: Embattled MTN pursues out-of-court settlement with CBN

Discovering Ugo Monye 

Ugo grew up with a mother who owned a fashion business, so he picked interest in fashion early enough.  However, he did not wish to pursue this line, as the realities at the time did not present the fashion industry as a mouth-watering alternative to other well-known professional lines.  

“At that time, there was no glory in being a tailor or a fine artist, he explained.  

His parents wanted him to read Fine and Applied Art in the UK, and hone his skills in Fine Arts, but he refused, opting instead for a course in Business Administration so that he could go into importation business upon graduation. Exposure and knowledge soon showed him that often, a person’s passion and calling had to cross paths.  

He started coming up with creative designs and clothing ideas, drawing inspiration from the things around him in the university.  

READ: Buying signal, Bitcoin whales with 1000 BTC or more continue to rise

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One holiday, Ugo went home and decided it was time to bring the ideas to reality. He linked up with a couple of tailors that worked with his mother, and using some of the old machines still available in the house, they brought the first Ugo Monye clothing designs to life.  

At that time, the business operated with the name CIUCI (a word which he derived from the initial letters of his five siblings), later changing to Ugo Modern Design, before he decided to just stick with his name, Ugo Monye 

He continued with his designs through his university daystill the end of his one-year mandatory service – NYSC, after which he got a job with a Strategic Consulting company. It only took a short while before Ugo realized that, as much as he was earning more than some of his peers at the time, there was no sense of fulfillment in what he did. He turned in his resignation and decided to go all-in on fashion designing. He attended a fashion school to hone his skills further.   

READ: How NNPC saved $3 billion from arbitration 

All hands on deck 

The fashion industry is not an easy place to start, and anyone starting out in the space must be ready to play all the required roles. In this industry, Ugo became a designer, tailor, marketer, brand promoter, and every possible role as he strove to get things rolling.  

“It is not just easy to get people to do these things, because the industry has not attained a structural level, where a person will decide right from school, that he wants to work as a designer with this company, as we see in other sectors, 

There is also the tendency for people to feel that they don’t have a serious job because they are tailors, and sometimes feel ashamed to identify as one. Things are gradually changing as people are beginning to identify with the industry, and this brings hope for more growth in the sector.  

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Monetizing a fashion company takes different forms, designing, clothes making, selling, and even consulting.  

Ugo says that as a brand, the Ugo Monye brand is more about details, “There has to be that touch of finesse in the finishing, and in fact, we pay more attention to the parts of the clothes that people do not see. This is what stands you out from others. 

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READ: Ripple unlocks 1,000,000,000 XRP

A dream still in the process 

Though Ugo Monye has become a brand to be reckoned with among celebrities and notable personalities in the last decade, Ugo says that his dreams for the brand are still yet to be actualised. He sees his brand becoming a force to be reckoned with in the coming years, a brand that every fashion enthusiast would want to be identified with as the industry takes shape.  

“I am not yet wowed by anything I have experienced so far. There are quite a lot of achievements I have made with the brand, but it is still not up to what I dreamed of. There’s no short cut to anywhere that is worth going to,” Ugo concluded. 

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Profiles

We started PiggyVest to digitize ‘wooden box’ saving method – Odunayo Eweniyi, Co-Founder

Inspired by the local wooden box piggy bank, the idea for PiggyVest was birthed.

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The Financial Service sector has rapidly evolved in the last decade; with several viable startups springing up with innovations, most people never thought was possible. One of the notable startups, currently redefining the FinTech industry is PiggyVest. 

PiggyVest is the first online ‘savings and investment’ app in West Africa, with one mission to give everyone the power to better manage and grow their own finance 

For a company started by six young graduates, their success story is truly inspirational 

Today, Nairametrics profiles one of the brains behind this ethical startup company – Odunayo Eweniyi 

READ: Nine finalists to profer tech solutions to COVID-19 challenge 

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Early years 

Born in Oyo statethe 27-year-old Odunayo spent her early years invested in reading books. She excelled with ease in all subjects at her primary and secondary schools. A feat not surprising, as she is daughter to two professor parents. 

Odunayo recalls that even though she wished to study Medicine and Surgery, she did not consider herself empathetic enough to thrive in the profession. She went on to study Computer Engineering at the prestigious Covenant University, graduating top of her class in 2013. 

READ: New crypto gains 1,633% in four days, catches Ethereum creator’s eyes

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Finding her Co-Founders 

As an undergraduate, Odunayo had already taken an interest in Coding and Artificial Intelligence and expected to take further studies in it. However, this did not happen immediately, as she started with job-hunting after graduation.  

“The first thing that happened to me was that I went for a job interview, and I was asked to quote a salary and I did. When the offer would come back, the salary they offered was 80% lower than what I expected, so I rejected it, she recalled. 

Subsequently, she teamed up with a couple of friends from her university days, and they came up with the idea of PushCV. Recounting the decision to team up with them, Odunayo says,  

READ: Why Africans are fast using Bitcoin for payment transfers

We all were amazing engineers in schoolSomto once built a miniature airplane, so I was pretty confident that a joint venture with them would produce amazing results. 

The other team members were already working on a discount card startup called Parolz, and she joined them to work on this for some months, while simultaneously still jobhunting with Oluwafemiand Somto was working on something called CV Flash, to help people who couldn’t write CVs properly or did so with terrible English. 

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Odunayo became a Co-founder at CVFlash, helping to write the CVs for clients. She was also writing for TechCabalZikoko, and later worked as Editor of TechPoint AfricaAll of the income from these jobs kept her going, and was also being channeled into getting the startup off the ground.  

READ: CBN starts disbursement of N50 billion Covid-19 intervention fund

Soon enough, PushCV came to the forefront of their interests, when clients started requesting that they help them ‘push’ their CVs to employers. The friends decided to collapse Parolz, and concentrate their energies on the startup raving with the most attention from users 

To differentiate PushCV from others, they started pre-screening candidates, so that only the best candidates would be sent to employers. Their activities attracted attention, and by August 2014, they got their first investment from Olumide Soyombo’s Leadpath Nigeria – an office space in Yaba, and a cheque for $25,000 

READ: FG gives reasons for fuel subsidy removal, discloses alternative to kerosene

How Piggybank was conceived 

By the end of December 2015, the team came across a tweet from a lady, about how she had saved N365,000 by putting N1000 in a wooden piggy bank daily. They decided then, that finding a way to digitize the concept would help salary earners save towards their financial goals.  

They launched Piggybank.ng on the 7th of January 2016, as a ‘savings-only’ platform, and the fully tested version was ready for public use by April 2016. Gradually, the brand grew by user-recommendations and testimonialsThese free adverts were a testament to the team, that they were helping with a real need in our society. 

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Three years later, in April 2019, they rebranded to PiggyVestand started offering direct investment opportunities to users, allowing them to combine discipline plus flexibility to grow their savings and investments. 

Users can now use the Quarterly savings options, save towards financial targets, or lock funds away. They can also take advantage of investment opportunities on the platform. The company currently serves 350,000 users, helping them save and invest combine billions of Naira every month, that they would probably be tempted to badly spend.” 

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Not a roller-coaster experience 

About her several experiences as co-founder, Odunayo said 

“The journey was full of self-doubt, and it took a toll on my self-esteem. The first thing I learnt was that I had to be adaptable, people don’t give you money then use your own For the first two years of running the company, I had to work a side jobwith the entire proceeds invested into running the start-up. 

The team was made up of six-persons at start-up, although only three people are listed as Co-Founders – Odunayo Eweniyi, Joshua Chibueze, and Somto Ifezue. Each person on the team had their specialty and strength, so it was easy to assign responsibilities. There was no accountant in the team, so they managed their finances themselves, noting that there were months, when they could not even pay themselves. 

Further education, honours, and recognitions 

Odunayo got certified in Full Stack Web Development (Computer Software Engineering) in 2018, as well as an online certification from the Harvard Business SchoolOdunayo is also CISCO certified. The Oyo-born tech founder says that she has intentions of furthering her education. According to her LinkedIn profile, she is currently undergoing a Master degree in Finance (banking) at the SOAS University of London  

“I draw inspiration from my family. They believe in me so much, that it is hard for me not to believe in myself. she said in an interview 

In 2019, Odunayo Eweniyi was named one of Forbes Africa 30 under 30 – Technology, and one of 30 Quartz Africa Innovators. In the same yearshe was named SME Entrepreneur of the Year West Africa, by The Asian Banker’s Wealth and Society, and is listed on Forbes Africa list of 20 New Wealth Creators in Africa 2019. 

She sits on boards like thAdvisory board of TrainFuture in Switzerland, the Gender Lens Acceleration Best Practices Initiative – a collaborative effort of Village Capital US, and the International Finance Corporation’s, Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (IFC-WeFi). 

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Business Half Hour

The path to becoming a Chocolate giant is not ‘chocolatey’ – Femi Oyedipe, Loshes Chocolate

From trying out different ventures, Femi Oyedipe has found her success in chocolate making.

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In Nigeria, starting and running a business – any business, is no walk in the park, as countless entrepreneurs have failed repeatedly. Hence, starting and successfully scaling a business, is a feather only few can lay claim to.

Co-founder and CEO of Loshes Chocolate, Femi Oyedipe, was a guest on the Nairametrics Business Half Hour, where she shared her start-up story and succeeding in a field where she was entirely self-taught.

The graduate of Biochemistry from the premiere University of Ibadan, recalls that her decision to start producing chocolates locally meant that her office became her classroom. Her words described the satisfaction she has derived from this chosen path.

“The fun of trying out new recipes, making mistakes, learning and unlearning till you understand the best recipes is a huge reward,” she said.

The decision to start

Entrepreneurship is innate for her, since she always gravitated towards it. However, taking it as a full-time venture definitely seemed less attractive. So, she tried out other options, things she could do alongside a day job. She had a brief stint as a make-up artist, and then another in trading Ankara fabrics, before becoming a cake-maker.

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It was while making cakes, Femi picked interest in chocolates. As a caterer, she would use them in some cakes, sometimes breaking or melting ready-made chocolates.

“It did not make sense to me that we still had to import almost all the chocolates on the store shelf, even when we had cocoa locally available,” she recalled.

However, she was still hesitant to take the bull by the horn, until 2015.

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“I had my eye on a job I was going to start when I came back from the U.S in 2015, and it was supposed to take me on a totally different career path. When it didn’t come through, I was upset and disappointed. It was in the midst of this disappointment, that the inspiration to make chocolates came.”

It dawned on her that the major ingredient for chocolates – cocoa, was locally available in large quantities, and decided to challenge the norm of importing chocolates for consumption. From her house, in that same year, she started Loshes Chocolate. The single-origin, bean-to-bar chocolate maker in Nigeria.

Early challenges

Capital is key to any start-up venture, and it was no different for Loshes Chocolate. Femi pooled resources with her husband, and started by sourcing cocoa from local farmers, then processing it into chocolate for direct consumption, and for use by caterers and confectioners.

“The drive was ensuring that we retain the natural flavors and health benefits of cocoa, as against the usual mass-produced chocolates which have lots of additives. People are becoming more conscious of eating healthy foods, and we try to meet that need while producing chocolates that are still yummy,” she said.

Being domiciled in one of the largest cocoa-producing countries, availability of the major ingredient had taken care of a lot of problems except for electricity – a possible deal-breaker.

“It takes about 36 to 48 hours to grind the cocoa beans into powder, and you can imagine how much power that consumes,”

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“We needed some machines to get started and could not lay hands on them at the time, so my husband being an engineer helped to fabricate some of them. We got some parts from local markets in Lagos state, like Orile and put them together to make the machines we needed,” she explained.

Femi understood early on that, variety is the spice of life, so She spent time trying out new recipes, with family members and friends also serving as ‘guinea pigs’ for each new recipe. This served as a great source of feedback.

Later on, they needed to get the specialized machinery, and Femi recalled how fluctuations in Foreign Exchange, and the availability of manpower to maintain and service the machines posed a serious challenge.

Yet, she remains graceful in her advice to would-be entrepreneurs. “Just start where you can. In there, is where the innovation lies, because you do not have access to so much, and the business environment in Nigeria is not easy for SMEs. Instead of turning your back, you stay and become creative,”

Scaling up

With so many milestones attained, the company is not resting on its laurels. Loshes Chocolates still serves the local market at the moment, but there are plans to raise funds, scale-up, and start exporting. Femi is optimistic in the possibilities that abounds for her company, as is evident from her mantra, “All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.”

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