Starting a business in Nigeria is not for the faint-hearted, but starting a premium luxury footwear line takes more than guts. Babajide Ipaye, the CEO of Keex, Nigeria’s foremost footwear line, shares some of the challenges he had to surmount to take the brand to the global market.
What are some of the challenges that you faced and how did you surmount these challenges?
One of the challenges we faced was getting this to be accepted in the market place. One of the first challenges we faced was ordering. Nigerians are not used to pre-ordering. They want to see the shoe, then buy it. They'll be asking where is your shop. So, when we started. We didn't have anything. In terms of products, it was just an idea. So, the first challenge was actually getting funding to start the whole business idea. There are lots of great ideas in Nigeria but the funding is always very limited.
I decided to go a different route. The initial plan was global market rather than Nigeria. I tried to study the crowd funding system and I realized that Europe, United States and some other countries have already been doing this for a long time. I realized quickly that the west already has a trust system and they are used to doing anything electronically.
I decided to go on the crowd funding site. And immediately we got on, we realized Nigerians were not among. I had to find out from a friend of mine who lives in the UK. So by partnering with him we would be able to leverage on his identity and use the platform. And it is a platform that is already built on trust. So we had to do a lot of sensitization, a lot of marketing as well.
We are talking 2015. If you think back, the internet was not as strong as it is now. People did not trust us enough to use their cards on the website. We had to introduce payment on delivery just like Jumia and Konga. Which means you had to order the product on the website and we take it to you, then if you like it, you can pay for it. We lost a lot of initial businesses because some people used to play a lot of pranks.
I see that you use influencers and known faces to promote the product. Has that helped in promoting the brand?
The people that have worked with us as a brand, we are even privileged to get them to wear the shoes in the first place. It has helped us to extend more to where the brand as an individual wouldn't have gotten to on our own. So yes. They have been extremely helpful and we cannot undervalue what they have done for us as a brand. But not just celebrities and influencers.
So, you've had experiences in business which many start-ups don't have. What are you doing to help other start-ups to be good and do well?
Over the number of five years that Keex started, I have been involved in quite a number of initiatives. There was a first bank campus outreach with myself and a couple of other people. I have spoken at other functions to talk about my story. Last year, I offered a free class on crowd funding. How to raise $20,000 in 40 days. I also had a workshop in my office and recorded it and made it available on a website for people to watch. We also bring people together to share their experiences.