“impossible to develop such a sector without the participation of public authorities”, Simon Mbelek

Posted on 11/30/2022 at 4:22 PM by Esther Fossi

The co-founder of the e-commerce platform Kuruba, in an interview with the Journal du Cameroun, invites public authorities to invest more in this sector.

His SME Kuruba has been in the e-commerce market for almost two years. What is the balance sheet in numbers?

If we take into account the beginning of the discussion between the co-founders, the planning and assembly of the project before its launch, in fact we are talking about two years today, since everything started from 2020 right after the implementation following the activities of our former employer. However, the official launch of the www.kuruba.cm platform took place in April of the current year. First of all, I would like to congratulate us because even if we had the arguments in this market segment, there were some uncertainties regarding the growth of our economic model in a region as complex as Cameroon. Today, numbers give us something to dream about for an interesting future. We cover nearly half of the city of Douala with nearly 100 vendors across multiple product categories, not to mention the hundreds of retailers who have agreed to trust us. We are also succeeding in this commitment thanks to a team of young Cameroonians (which we named k-force) mobilized throughout the city with the mission of training our stakeholders in the use of our platform. Our ambition is to carry the torch of this activity to cover the entire region, in particular the remote areas that most need our offer.

Jumia closed its doors in Cameroon due to lack of performance. Kuruba doesn’t have the means of Jumia, what strategy have you adopted to succeed in this sector where the leader has failed?

As we have been saying since the beginning of this adventure, our past experience has taught us a lot and it is thanks to this that we have not fallen into the trap of populism. Our economic model is currently unique in Cameroon as it is not directly aimed at the final consumer, but at intermediaries (retailers). We didn’t want to fall into the model of others because it was too complex in execution with too many restrictions in terms of operations. Our offer is aimed at more than 500,000 retailers for a market of more than 5 billion dollars (data from bretton wood stores). You’re right about our means, which are not as expressive as Jumia’s, but we’ve built our growth by bringing together partners who trust us and are determined to write this story with us. We are convinced of our project, it only remains to convince more investors of this potential. It’s an activity that requires a lot of resources, it’s true, but we have everything to get there.

Can e-commerce help households at a time when inflation is just waiting to peak?

Electronic commerce is considered by several development agencies as one of the key sectors for the economic recovery of the African continent. This is a fact that no country can refute. However, it should not be embraced in the same way because realities are not the same from one city to another or from one country or even from one continent to another. In Cameroon, for example, users are not only looking for the ease of life that this activity brings, but they want to have a direct contribution to their pocket: that is, they want the cheapest. This is where models like Kuruba are needed, as they put producer and retailer in direct contact. Just for information, know that the retail market is also complicated because there are many intermediaries (wholesalers) and the direct consequence is the final price, which will always be too high for the final consumer. By reducing the number of participants, we reduce costs and give the end consumer the possibility of having the product at the best possible price. Our role is to facilitate these operations across the country.

What do e-commerce SMEs expect from public authorities?

Several times I had the opportunity to speak before some members of the government about the government’s role in the development of electronic commerce. During these meetings, I was always clear about the important role that government could play. It will be impossible to develop such a sector without the participation of public authorities. To develop it, you need capital that the market doesn’t offer today, you have to train young people in the trades of this activity, you have to organize it through a mutually beneficial legal and tax framework (between the actors and the ‘State’) . On capital, the president announced, in his last speech to young people, the creation of a guarantee fund (although I am very skeptical); this fund will be a great contribution. Let’s also talk about that line 64 that is on the front page of all newspapers today, what is it really for? Well, the government could release a portion for the development of the digital economy. The impact of e-commerce is not only felt on the players, but on the entire GDP, but to get there you have to work and the government has a big role to play.

Interview by Esther Fossi

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