Ahwenepa.com, an e-commerce platform, offers creative fashion designers across Africa the opportunity to market and monitor performance whiles giving freedom to buyers to order and get exactly that.
At a recently held pitch event organized by TURN8 a Dubai based seed accelerator, they were the last to pitch because technical hitches prevented them from doing so earlier and still determined to take the chance. Lo and behold, they emerged the victors and are to apply to the accelerator.
Since The Spirited Hub is determined to bring you the best innovative and change driven startup ventures from Africa to motivate you. The ever proactive founder did us the honor of letting us in on his company and a dose of motivation to propel you. He is the DOER… Read on and be inspired.
Can you please give a brief detail about you?
I’m Henry Nii Ayi Cobblah, born and grew up in Takoradi a Ga and a Fanti as well,funny. I schooled at Ghana Secondary Technical School-GSTS and then to Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) to study Computer Science and completed in 2013. I set up iSolveAfrica Limited, in 2012 whiles at KNUST to provide innovative solutions for Africa, which we have to date created about 298 websites and mobile applications in and outside Ghana.
So there came Ahwenepa in May 2013, as one of the outstanding solutions we provided for African Fashion Designers and Fashionistas.
That’s quite a remarkable acheivement right from school. Okay, can you explain to us what you offer the fashion industry at Ahwenepa.com, and how you have performed so far?
Ahwenepa is a customisable online global marketplace for strictly African fashion and lifestyle products. Our aim is to create more micro & medium sized entrepreneurs with innovative African Fashion Designers and products strictly selected with quality.
A global marketplace to meet different designers who manage their own products online or get their items managed and sold online with targeted marketing skills and high-grade analysis. We currently have over 120 designers and still pushing in more. We have corporate and personalised services for customers from large and small-scale institutions and individuals.
The feature that stands out is CustoME that is, the Live Customisation of the product online. It is a Drop off, Packaging & Delivery service by the platform making it seamless for sellers to sell and buyers to buy. Buyers have the easier form to order what they want and not what is available with a standard local and international payment systems based on location.
Buyers get options like Cash on Delivery, Quick Delivery & Easy Replacement. The seller also gets instant cash payment & maximum return. There are features like the “make and feel“, which focuses on the sellers & the time story to their innovative designs.
We protect designers’ ideas and designs with our packaging concept and USSD Verification on purchase.
QUALITY, INNOVATION, CONVENIENCE, ORIGINALITY AND AFFORDABILITY is what we seek to get into the market stream.
We are still building and so when we get to the point where we have most features ready we believe it will catch up with the emerging online market evolution in Africa. “Ahwenepa Nkasa, Locally Prioritised, Globally Preferred.”
There is a notion that consumers in this environment are yet to embrace fully the transaction of businesses over the internet especially to do with trust issues. What is your position on that?
We believe in the start of businesses and finding better ways to make your clients find your service convenient for them. So we believe it’s a growth trend to be hooked on to. But if we don’t start what will we hold on to, to learn and accept when ready? We want to position ourselves in the market for brand visibility, trusted and then move to provide the right solutions to customers then to make them stay to make it a normal part of life – Customer Retention. Our environment is gradually accepting it as a trend and therefore we have to be positioned to give such solutions to people.
Are a lot more creative designers perceiving e-commerce platforms like yours as viable avenues to market their goods?
Well, we need to make them believe in it and see it as a strategic line to tow to get their innovative designs out to the globe than in their comfort zone. It is a process and change takes time and so it’s for us to make them not just believe but feel the benefits.
For those of us who do not understand what the word “Ahwenepa” is, what does it mean and why did you choose it as your brand name?
Ahwenepa is a Twi word (language of the Akans in Ghana) which means well woven. People normally confuse it to be quality beads. Well, this name was chosen because we wanted an African identity for an African product. Ahwenepa sounds well with our vision and quest to promote quality and innovative creations across Africa and beyond.
How did this fast rising startup company start and can you say it is achieving its goal?
It started with my co-founder’s appreciation of African fashion and in-depth understanding of marketing and with me having the mindset to solve African related issues with technology. We started as a classified site to allow designers to display and market their products for free and also as a research tool for the African fashion industry.
We realized the marketing (online or traditional), packaging, delivery, originality of products and customization issues designers faced and so moved on to an e-commerce website and mobile app in May 2014 where we had am amazing launch at the Zepto showroom at Spintex.
We are on course and get better by the day.
Many out there are unable to achieve their dreams of starting their own businesses due to lack of capital. You have started your journey quite well. Tell us how you came by the initial funding for your business idea? Have there been external fundings as well?
Interesting! Well, we believed in starting with what you had. So we used leveraging. With my team at iSolveAfrica we built the website and on course with the mobile app. Since my co-founder is skilled in marketing we used free social media tools and so started with brand visibility and organic advertisement. A good percentage of the work had then started. Now we get designers to believe in the idea and so we start with little sales and we are moving. Currently raising funds and investments for the bigger groundbreaking points which will be exciting, to see us on the big stages by God’s grace.
You know what, just start with what you have and find someone who can believe in it to help out. Don’t be scared to share your ideas with potential activist.
Has mentoring played any significant role in your growth?
Awesome people have contributed a lot of ideas and experiences. You sure need to open up the idea for criticisms and encouragement but one thing to note is to make sure it’s a problem you will be dedicated to solving. We also have had to dedicate a year to learn from the grounds to make sure we know what the system provided and how it works. We’re still learning.
Has your perception about entrepreneurship changed since you started your venture? What have you learnt that you can share with the world?
As a team and myself, we have learnt a lot in terms on building a team and combining skills, financial issues, customer service and more. What I can share is make sure you know what you want to do and learn.
If you don’t learn you don’t know much and if you don’t know much you can’t do much.
Initial ideas can change but the zeal for solution to the problem should stand to get the best.
What is that one life experience you are applying to your business for long-term success?
It will certainly be web and mobile development (Technology) skills. It’s awesome to be behind the main idea and get it executed to fit the environment and my team members equally bring on board awesome experience and skills to add up. Be related to the solution and understand what it adds.
For those who want to enter this e-commerce space, what will be your candid advice for them to avoid pitfalls?
Get a niche. Most people want to create the next Amazon and eBay platforms. But I believe in solutions for a niche. You can’t sell anything and everything unless you have the means to the end. Also know the culture and people you want to sell to. Be innovative and be different.
As the founder of this promising startup with over 120 designers marketing their products on your website, what mistakes have you made and what lessons can you share with us?
When we started, we wanted to sell for every designer till we got to the “FAKE PRODUCT” point where some designers were presenting fake or non-quality products. This has now helped us to get to the position where we don’t compromise on quality and originality.
One unavoidable component of any business is the challenges that you have to face. What are the challenges in running Ahwenepa.com and how are you overcoming them?
Cashless payment difficulty with customers. Most customers prefer cash on delivery system which I think should be on the low. For delivery issues, we are currently dealing with that in collaboration with an app service called GNALET. There is the problem of imitation of products which we are now tackling with the USSD verification for clients.
This should create some level of confidence for most customers. Simply, what is your principle for doing business?
Quality, Innovation, Convenience, Affordability and Integrity.
Are there plans to expand into other African markets?
We have started representations in some African countries like South Africa, Nigeria, La Cote d’Ivoire and Kenya. Extending our reach as we seek to have quality from most of the African countries. We are also building strategic partnerships to help our growth.
Superb! Where can Africa expect to see Ahwenepa.com in a few years to come?
We want to be present in over 20 African countries and also make inroads into the international market. We have Africans all over the world and we believe they would love to showcase their culture and so we will be here to help them get these products. It’s a big dream but we won’t stop being doers of this dream.
How rewarding and exciting has being an entrepreneur been for you as a young African CEO?
Being the DOER in here gives me much pleasure to see products being delivered and the smiles of both the designers and customers. We are constantly inspired to get the best out there and not just sales. The feedback always make me smile. We can do it and it’s a mindset to be Doers. I know there are a lot more out there to be done and more solutions bears out there.
What will be your words of motivation to the many who will want to be in your shoes and a message to your clients?
Let us be the “WHY NOT” thinkers and not be the “WHAT IF” and “HOW” breed. We are the answers we seek.
Thank you, Henry!
Mr Henry and the Ahwenepa team are marching on to bring the best of experiences for fashion lovers and creative designers across Africa! Visit Ahwenepa for your own collections and accessories from top designers out there.
Are you motivated to bring your idea to see the light of day? Don’t stop at anything, the world is there to be explored. See you at the top.
These are some notes to take from Henry Nii Ayi Cobblah;
- A business idea can spark from the strengths of the co-founders
- Research is key when you want to enter an existing industry
- Start small and start with what you have, eventually believers will join in pushing your dream
- Don’t be scared to open up your idea for criticism
- Your business concept should be relevant to a niche
If you want to share your experience as a startup founder on TSH to Africa, send a brief detail of your business to firstname.lastname@example.org
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