Around the world, there are fears that drones and robots could take over a lot of jobs in the near future. For the Nigerian logistics sector, however, this is going to have its challenges.
The Nairametrics Business Half Hour radio show hosted Moses Enenwali, where he recounted how his inability to send a parcel out of the country during the lockdown led him to start Topship Logistics.
Moses said that a lot of real-life scenarios on Nigerian roads would have to be factored in, as well as the cost-effectiveness of the system.
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“One has to consider the bumpy roads, thugs on the roads, thieves and several others which are a possibility on Nigerian roads. One also has to factor the cost of the drones, and decide if it is cost-effective,” he explained.
As several sectors mourned the spread of the Coronavirus pandemic and the resultant shutdown of the global economy, entrepreneurs in the logistics sector were smiling to the bank, due to the sudden change in fortunes and the realization that the world was indeed going digital.
“Logistics found me…”
Moses Enenwali, co-founder and CEO of Topship logistics, a business that rose from the dust of the pandemic, affirms that his faith in the logistics industry was strengthened at this time. With everyone locked in their homes and countries at this time, it became glaring that logistics was not only an important business, but an essential one.
In January 2014, he started out with Ernst & Young as an associate and worked there for about 17 months. He moved to Africa Courier Express (ACE) as a client manager, which formed his initial experience in logistics. He later worked with Sage as Strategic Business Development Manager, and as a consultant with Sahel Consulting.
Moses then served as a part of the Sendbox team responsible for driving supply-side growth across service lines. He recalled that all of those jobs gave him extensive experience in the logistics industry.
“I did not discover logistics. I think logistics found me. I was looking for a certain kind of leader and founder and that was what I found in Tunde Kehinde that inspired me to go work for ACE,” he recalled.
The business was born in the midst of the lockdown arising from the pandemic, at a time most people were looking for safer but cheaper options to move things in and out of Nigeria. Moses recalls that he was trying to move some things into the country and could not get one that suited his needs.
“I was able to find two providers but one of them was very expensive and difficult to understand, while the other was not selling to people like me who wanted one-offs,” Moses explained. This clearly showed a gap in the space and given his extensive experience in logistics, he reasoned that he could provide a solution.
A light model that comes without strings
Logistics is a complicated and difficult space to operate in, and most startups there find themselves choked by the sheer enormity of the initial set-up costs and operating expenses. Often, they could struggle to recoup initial costs and loans before breaking even, or even contemplating expansion.
Topship started with the aggregator model – one that allows them to enter partnerships with parties that have some of the required startup resources. Instead of going for a mass purchase of vehicles, motorbikes or airplanes, the company entered several partnerships with these parties.
Moses explained, “This model allows us operate and scale significantly faster than most. We are like the Uber for logistics, aggregating partners and working with them to ensure that we give the most effective services.”
The model came from his previous work experiences. “ACE raised a lot of money but used a huge chunk to buy logistics assets and solve logistics problems so I learnt not to do that because that would make it even more capital intensive. At Sendbox, I also learnt that a lot of people are willing to partner with you when you present an opportunity to them to sign up on your platform, so we saw that the uber model can also work for logistics,” he said.
Customers for this business include students sending scripts and documents to countries like Canada, or small-scale entrepreneurs trying to export their products (wigs, shoes and bags), or even parents trying to send supplies to their children schooling in other countries. Corporate bodies also use the company for their logistics.
Connecting with customers
Topship thrives on technology, which means that most of its customers connect digitally. Enenwali notes however that there is always need for a physical presence, even though the company offers doorstep pickup. “People want to know that there is a physical location where they can see and connect with you and know if their packages would have issues with the customs. They can walk in, weigh their packages and send the desired packages to their loved ones,” he explained.
Still in its first year of operation, Topship has two locations in Nigeria, one in Lagos and another in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. The goal is to have physical presence in all states of Nigeria, with a processing manager to man these centers.
To protect customer satisfaction, insurance policy is a necessity for fidelity guarantee, and theft of goods in transit, if they occur.
Business in the new normal
The new normal has come with new sets of rules on occupancy and social relations. Employees no longer meet physically to bounce ideas off one another. In this new plan, Topship has a bulk of its staff working remotely with just the processing manager left to work physically from the office. Customers have to abide by the new guidelines as well, to limit contact.
“It is not a work culture I am very comfortable with, but we all have to make adjustments for our safety. I like to look people in the eyes and interact with them, but there is only so much we can do with zoom.”
Having eliminated major expenses, the founders of Topship were able to bootstrap the initial costs. However, there are plans to raise funds from external investors for expansion purposes, since the model is not capital-intensive.
“Nigeria is opening up to the world and exporting her products to other countries. Local manufacturers in places like Lagos, Ibadan and Aba would like to take advantage of it. This means that there is a large market for us, and I believe that in the next five years, we would be a 200-300 million dollar business,” Moses said.
Topship logistics is aiming high in the Nigerian logistics market. Moses sees the business becoming a last stop for e-commerce businesses, given its rich network and model which allows it to handle on-demand deliveries and real-time deliveries. It is both cheaper and more effective so more businesses would be willing to key in.
Topship operates a model that is centred around partnerships, and to protect this, the company uses Service Level Agreements (SLAs) to protect it from defaults.
“However, there are points where we have to employ empathy because we understand the situation in the country. Sometimes the dispatch riders make all attempts but traffic, rainfall or accidents could disrupt their arrival time so we have to apply a human face before dishing out sanctions,” he explained.
Besides the partnerships, there is a need for staff, and getting good manpower often poses a challenge for startups. Topship adopted a Stu-tern method, getting undergraduates and graduates interested in interning for a while where they learn while earning
“More importantly, I work with referrals from A players because I believe that A players know A players. The choice of staff can make your brand the best or worst for your customers,” Moses emphasized.