It’s 4AM on a humid Monday morning in Lagos, Nigeria as I type this. On one end, I do feel anxious about fully resuming back to 9-5 while on the other end, I believe it’ll be nice to finally get this out of my head and set the tone for the day.
2022 was one hell of a year! No cap. There could be no better way for me to put it. I had never been more optimistic in my life about any year than I was with 2022 and for a few good reasons, one of which was that I had seen a glimpse of the extent to which my life could grow if I stepped out of the side lines. And I did step out of the side lines last year.
I have previously documented a few of my endeavours on launching and scaling ecomm stores, but not so much about what happened beyond that. To give a recap, I launched an ecomm brand in 2020, scaled it to over $10K in 30 days, subsequently went on to sell out all inventory from my local supplier and closed shop. In 2021, I set out on a similar journey as well – found some unique products from an exclusive supplier, whipped up a clean store on Shopify and went to market in 5 days…got spat out of the market rather too quickly. I knew exactly what went wrong after a project post-mortem and the unlikely culprit was this; “the inability to get products to customers in a timely, cost effective means while maintaining brand quality, a.k.a logistics.”
Post pandemic, a lot of business owners had learnt to adapt by moving shops from brick-and-mortar to some form of online commerce (e-commerce, social commerce, Instagram vendor, call it what you will). What this meant was that business owners would now have to pay extra in terms of logistics cost to serve their customers right. Logistics is expensive, especially in this region where the prices are almost solely determined by the mood of the dispatch company or independent riders. If you’ve ever sold anything online in Nigeria, you know this exact feeling.
Armed with this knowledge, I could have proceeded to relaunch my ecomm store with better logistics operations and improved margins but there are at least 39 Million MSMEs across Nigeria, many of which were new to this new model of ‘online business’ and would also be faced with this same problem of finding the right logistics partner for their business. So I did a thing, stepped out of the side lines into what would now be called Cora Delivery.
Enter Cora 1.0 – The Idea
“What would it take to beat Gokada at their game?”
I remember texting two friends these exact words. One laughed at the thought, the other responded “go for it, that’s all I can tell you.”
Starting out, I knew exactly what I didn’t want this service to be and this was based on first hand experience as a customer first and also from my days at Jumia On-demand. The first struggle was then defining what this product was to be and after much thought I settled on one theme that’ll go on to guide everything moving forward; it had to be built for SME business owners. Not food vendors. Not large corporations. Not fintechs. Think that Instagram vendor selling thrifts, or that student who runs a Telegram group for Turkey bags pre-order. Someone had to be catering for this group too, right?
This theme set the direction in which we were to build, and model. The product had to be stupid simple, the messaging couldn’t be bougie, our prices could not be ridiculous. The expensive cost of deliveries can easily be tied back to the urgency attached to it from business owners who don’t want to lose a sale, expectant customers who just parted ways with hard earned cash to a vendor they may not really trust and the dispatch riders who set out to hit a certain financial target for the day – and of course the rather unusual operational bits. But what if we could slow things down a bit for everyone with next-day delivery, how feasible was that going to be?
I had a poll put up on Instagram, would you rather pay per km for same day delivery or get it delivered next day for a fixed price. The feedback was a resounding “next-day delivery at a fixed price.”
Now we knew who our ideal customers were, and we knew what they wanted. But talk is cheap, would these prospective customers put their money where their mouth is?
Enter Cora 1.1 – The Litmus
Getting a prospective customer to show interest is the easy part, getting them to swipe their credit cards is where the juice is! That was the ultimate litmus for me.
The thought process behind this again was simple; there are a handful of existing players in the logistics space and hundreds of independent alternatives out there, would customers still give us a shot to handle their deliveries?
I whipped up a WordPress site in a few days to serve as a landing page but rather than creating a boring waitlist site, I took it further to actually measure user intent and commitment. I added a dummy sign up page (complete with a welcome email) to test if people would be willing enough to give their personal details for this unknown service. It worked. 300+ people supposedly signed up in the 3 weeks period we had some paid promotions behind it.
There was no faking this, business owners had this pain and found this solution worth exploring.
Enter Cora 1.2 – The MVP
If I’ve enjoyed any part of this entire project to date, it’s been taking something from an idea to real life. From 0 to 1. From thought to paper to Figma to WordPress 🙂
There were a few old designs I had from 2019 when I had nurtured a similar idea, I started with these. Came up with a few different iterations and guided the UI/UX implementation for this. Again, this product had to be stupid simple to use. Function over aesthetics. Here’s what we eventually settled at;
Now, I’m nowhere near a developer in any way so this part was really a struggle for me. Had to delve into a whole different world to understand the difference between front end & back end, what on earth was an API? And Flutter is different from Kotlin? How then do I know which is suitable to build in? Environments?
Needless to say, there were some expensive mistakes made, literally. Like building out the first version on Android Native using Java and having the entire backend database on a server I had no access to – rookie mistake, i know right!. Got ripped off on that first version for sure.
But, it was all a good (albeit expensive) learning phase.
Enter Cora 1.2 – Launch Day!
After several weeks of tweaking things out with the devs and multiple QA tests, we eventually pushed code to production and deployed on Android only.
This happened to be the first of many things to go wrong with launch.
OTP wasn’t being delivered. Back end functionalities surprisingly just stopped working. iPhone users popped out of everywhere to request a mobile app. Beta customers just wouldn’t move from waitlist to mobile app.
Long story short, it wasn’t the launch I had planned for and that really waned my confidence. It’s worse because not being the technical guy to fix these on a whim really messed up a lot of things and patience is a luxury when depending on a third party to see the same sense of urgency as you have.
And so the next few weeks (read as months) really saw me withdrawing all publicity efforts and being back in a place of uncertainty about what next – especially since I had sunk a lot of personal savings into this project and could barely afford to hire another dev to fix these bugs! 😉
Sometimes, simple is smart!
One time, during one of my very numerous venting calls with a friend, they had mentioned an easier, cheaper to implement “web app”. I brushed it off as impossible almost immediately without giving it much thought.
Fast forward to a few restless weeks (again, read as months) later, I finally decided to take a deeper dive into this potential solution. Indeed, what I searched for in Sokoto was actually right in the sokoto.
What do you get when you string WordPress + email notifications + WhatsApp? An interesting, stupid simple “web app” which sounds too ingenious. But as basic as it sounds, it did work some magic and rekindled whatever waning motivation I had left.
We toyed with this new model in October based on learnings from the first launch and ‘relaunched’ with another group of users. The charts speak for itself.
Q4 ended with just under 200 delivery requests, 76% of which were fulfilled and a solid recurring customer rate of 90% (it only took one successfully fulfilled order to bring them coming again – and potentially bringing a referral along).
Moving forward! – To infinity and beyond!
Considering the projections and milestones I had planned towards when launching this project, compared to all the numbers which are pretty much flatline, this project comes off as a failed attempt at launching something out there. There’s no way to sugar coat it.
Some days I ask myself, why logistics? Why not SaaS, or infrastructure (which is buzzy by the way)? The simple truth is; logistics is hard, but even hard things need to be done by someone.
There have been immeasurable learnings from this which would guide growth over the coming months;
- If you’re non-technical, get yourself a tech bro(or sis). Save yourself the stress!
- Blitzscaling is not your mate! And no, it wouldn’t be the same for every vertical.
- Tech heavy vs asset heavy are two very different games and each require a special set of skills.
- Simple is smart!
- Find discipline from within. Do the things you say you would do.
- “Na smalls, we go run am.” There’s so much assurance with hearing these words from the right person(s). Surround yourself with the right support system.
Moving forward, the goal is pretty simple; stay alive! And here’s how we plan to achieve this;
- Reduce average cost per fulfilment (there’s currently a formula in test)
- Increase customer base.
- Optimize for WAU retention.
- Build the tools/services that solve customer problems to unlock new revenue (and we’ve been taking key notes – watch this space)
It’s been an exciting journey so far! Getting feedback from early customers each time an order is fulfilled is simply beautiful to see.
We’ve built a stellar, solid product which I am very confident in to solve the problems we set out to solve. It’s only a matter of steady consistent growth. Currently on track to achieve a 50% quarter-on-quarter growth. Cheers to day 1.
Happy to chat about all things e-commerce, MVPs, logistics and driving growth.
Whether you sell on Instagram and WhatsApp or own an e-commerce store, Cora has the best delivery network to help you reach more customers across Lagos.
Source: Ugo Nwankwere