[Interview] Peppa.io’s Bankole Alao on how they’re helping grow e-commerce business in Africa
Trust is a key component in the success of e-commerce business globally. Buyers first seek sellers who look and sound authentic, while sellers hope, against all odds, that buyers will pay with the least hassle. Great efforts have been made to make transactions smooth for all parties. A common solution is businesses integrating payment options as part of the checkout system, but this doesn’t work for all transactions done online.
The transaction phase presents a glaring loophole. The buyer is skeptical of releasing funds before verifying the product, while the seller demands that the product or service is paid for before making deliveries.
To deal with this challenge, Nigerian startup Peppa.io has built an escrow platform, helping to hold funds on behalf of transacting parties, until each one is satisfied with their end of the bargain.
TechTrends Media sat down with Peppa’s co-founder and CEO Bankole “Banky” Alao in a discussion that delved into several aspects of the growing e-commerce business in Africa.
Kindly introduce yourself to our readers
My name is Banky, Nigerian by birth and the CEO and co-founder of Peppa.io
What’s your background? Are you a born and bred techie?
Not exactly, but I have great experience in product design and management. It’s a good combination that has been helpful in running Peppa.io
Peppa is in the business of handling people’s monies, but you chose a name close to pepper. Aren’t you worried people might take it as a sweet spice or a bitter, trouble-causing ingredient?
This is more of a spice for the e-commerce industry. But Peppa is an iteration of “paper” which is a common street word for money. Either way, Peppa quickly communicates our mission, which is helping people build more trusted transactions, especially across the e-commerce ecosystem. With our service, all the parties involved are guaranteed payment.
We also provide a storefront, where sellers display their merchandise, can get and give feedback from clients, and get paid. In this sense, therefore, we spice up e-commerce transactions.
As you know, in e-commerce, speed of service is key. The sooner a transaction is settled the better for all parties. Our role is to add an element of trust.
Expound on Peppa’s Mission to us. What inspired you to build the platform?
Peppa was first and foremost born out of personal experience.
I was purchasing a high-value product and I met a dealer who had the exact product on Instagram. Once I decided to purchase, I enquired from several friends whether anyone knew of an escrow product, but none was forthcoming, so I just decided to pay. I lost such a huge amount of money that I am sometimes ashamed of revealing.
…How much exactly did you lose?
I am still not revealing that… hahahahaa
After sulking and lamenting, I thought I should create a solution to help many other people that might fall for such tricks as I did. That’s how Peppa.io was born.
Peppa is both an escrow platform, as well as a storefront.
For the escrow services, the buyer deposits money with us and it’s kept on hold until he/she is satisfied with the product they intend to purchase. For this, we earn a commission.
That kind of scam happens all the time. Thank heavens you’ve decided to be part of the solution. How Long Has Peppa Been in Operation?
We started laying down the groundwork in late 2021. Our operations kicked off in earnest in 2022. What you see now as an escrow and storefront platform came after several iterations over a long period.
How has the journey been so far?
It’s been an exciting journey because we’ve managed to bring on board about 10,000 buyers and 1400 sellers using our storefront to market their products. We hope to have 100,000 sellers and about 300,000 buyers by the end of 2023.
Launching an enterprise of this magnitude is a very demanding affair. Like many startups, we are resource deficient. The only funding we have received so far is USD 100k from TechStars accelerator program. We’ve been running operations mainly from the founders’ pockets.
You are expanding to Uganda, and hopefully all of East Africa soon. Describe this growth and expansion journey as you highlight your expectations.
Our mission is to be the leading provider of peer-to-peer payment services in Africa. We are excited to make our first entry to East Africa, which is a bubbling hub for mobile money technology. It’s also our first expansion outside Nigeria.
When looking at our options, Uganda tilted the scale, but it’s just the beginning. We were looking for a country with high adoption of social commerce and good penetration of mobile money among other factors. Uganda ticked most of the boxes.
However, in the next couple of years, we want to cover the entire East African region. We are very keen to work with the distributors here.
What has been your biggest hurdle?
Our main challenge has been finding the right distribution partners. If you have a good product but poor distribution channels, there are high chances of failure. But you might have a poorly structured product but your distribution is good and still thrive in business. We are therefore very keen on the partners we bring on board.
The cost of maintaining talent is also very high for a startup like ours. In fact, employee cost has had the greatest impact on our budget, followed by marketing. You have to maintain a tricky balance if you want to keep the lights on. We operated as a fully-remote company until early this year when we shifted to a hybrid model.
What do you think is the future of e-commerce in Africa?
There will be a significant shift in the future, but the industry will generally keep on growing. The modern marketplace will have other micro-players. For instance, people are now selling more through Insta and Facebook Stories as well as WhatsApp statuses. Consequently, people engage more in private chats. This is likely to shift market trends in the future.
What are we expecting from Peppa.io in the next 3-5 Years?
We are optimistic that we will grow exponentially as the continent leans more towards e-commerce. Our focus, for now, is to grow a platform that cuts across several markets. We hope to launch in four to five more markets in the next five years.
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