Photograph — Ventures Africa

Have you ever tried to buy a pair of shoes, a bag, or a piece of clothing from the UK or the US but had to settle for one here in Nigeria because of high importation costs? Fashion items and gadgets from these countries are better than most homemade ones. Perhaps because industries in Europe and America are better regulated. From production to packaging, quality assurance is a priority for manufacturers. So, one would hardly find a substandard product from these destinations – unless it was a pirated copy that found its way to you. 

For some Nigerians who drool over “abroad things”, the difficulty of importing items as low as 2kg is a pain point. These are the category of people who would love to import fashion items and gadgets. Another category of people is those living in the UK or the US, who spend as much as $25/£25 for a bowl of Egusi soup (Melon Stew). Back home, that would have cost about $10 with enough “assorted” protein to accompany each bite. If these folks could solve these problems, they would. This is the problem Ujama Akpata and Kikelomo Fola-Ogunniya are solving with Jand2Gidi, a logistics company that caters to the import and export needs of customers. Through Jand2Gidi, these women are uniquely redefining Nigeria’s logistics industry. 

After bagging her first degree in Law from London Metropolitan University and a Masters at University College, London, Kikelomo would later head back to her native land to attend law school and be called to the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA). Meanwhile, Ujama studied Chemical Engineering at the University of Nottingham, England, and later earned her Master’s degree in advanced Chemical Engineering at Imperial College, London. Their paths crossed in 2009, at law school Abuja, where Ujama was visiting to throw a birthday party for her then-boyfriend, alongside his best friend from town. Today, these women are not just business partners but friends married to two best friends.

Kikelomo supervises marketing and operations at Jand2Gidi, while Ujama handles the financials. The business launched in 2013. Before that time, Kikelomo took up a legal job with Aelex Legal Practitioners & Arbitrators after serving her one-year NYSC with ExxonMobil as an intern. On the other hand, Ujama worked with Century Exploration for 2 years and later moved to Petrofac International Ltd to pursue an engineering career that span over another 2 years. Kikelomo would later join her to work with Petrofac International for two years before co-founding Jand2Gidi in 2013. In this interview, the women walk us through nine years of entrepreneurship in Nigeria’s unpredictable business climes.

Ventures Africa (VA): What inspired Jand2Gidi? 

Ujama: Jand2Gidi was formed out of a need to try to get things from the UK to Nigeria. We lived in the UK for close to 18 years and had grown accustomed to buying items from the UK high street stores. So when we moved back to Nigeria, it was like a rude awakening because we didn’t have access to everything we were used to. We always had to wait for somebody to travel to be able to courier things. And as with travelling relatives, they will get to a limit where they just stopped picking up your phone calls and don’t want to be a part of it. So we decided that instead of always asking people to help carry things for us, we would try and solve the problem ourselves.

We started bringing things in ourselves and eventually began to solve the same problem for people in the same position. Quite a few people had moved back from the UK to Nigeria at the time. Also, there were not many delivery companies that used to ship things to Nigeria at minimum weights of 2kg. One would have to bring things like a car or a big container load of shoes to get things over to Nigeria. It was big businesses that were mostly shipping, and many small companies didn’t look at individuals that had 2kg worth of items to bring in.

Catering to the small-scale shipping needs of people became their Unique Selling Point (USP). Ujama and Kikelomo have been able to cater to people bringing in items like a pair of shoes, a few pieces of clothing, toiletries, etc., with Jand2Gidi. But how profitable has business been for them?

VA: What has business been like for you in terms of profitability compared to other logistics businesses that cater to bigger shipping needs? Do you have a fair share of the market?

Kikelomo: When it comes to having our fair share of the market, we have grown our brand name. We can be easily recognizable amongst our target audience- social media has helped us achieve that. 

From inception, Jand2Gidi focused on just doing deliveries only from the UK to Nigeria – which (kind of) put us in a box. But it has been nine years now. Yet, many people don’t know that our offerings have expanded to global deliveries. They also don’t know that we do local deliveries within Nigeria with bikes and vans that run the errands. We plan to expand this offering to other countries in Africa. We want to let people know that we do beyond what we have been known for. That way, we can further increase our market share.

Jand2Gidi has gained the capacity to meet the needs of B2B, B2C and B2B2C customers. By that, I mean people bringing in heavy equipment and flat-pack furniture, people that need sea freight or heavier shipments. By B2B2C, we are catering to businesses that are reselling logistics services. For example, a delivery company that wants to bring things in from the UK for customers can rely on us. Our platform offers them API integrations so they do not have to reinvent the wheel. 

Doing business in Nigeria can prove difficult these days, especially for players in a male-dominated industry like the logistics industry. This guides our next set of questions.

Kikelomo Fola-Ogunniya and Ujama Akpata co-Founders, Jand2Gidi.

VA: What is the recurrent challenge you face in your businesses?

Ujama: One of the recurrent challenges we face is the ever-changing government policy. It keeps changing on a monthly or weekly basis. For instance, during the COVID-19 period, there were a lot of challenges for delivery companies. The government insisted all delivery companies, no matter how small, should have a NIPOST license. We face things like that nearly every week where different types of documentation come up and riders or delivery companies need them to operate. This increases the cost of our service. If we have to pay so much for this documentation, how much do we pass on to clients? So that is one of the major challenges.

In July 2020, during the COVID-19 lockdowns, the Nigerian Postal Service (NIPOST) announced new fees for courier and logistic business operators. It charged Municipal operators N1 million for a new licence with an annual renewal fee of 40 per cent (N400,000.00).

Ujama: The second major challenge, especially for importation, is the fluctuating exchange rates that have decreased customers’ spending power. The exchange rate when we started in 2013 was about N157/$1. As of today, it is about N700/$1 in the parallel market. So you can imagine the number of customers that probably had to rethink their strategy. 

Kikelomo:  Fundraising is also a challenge we faced at inception. There were information gaps. We also nurtured this fear of losing our business or getting in bed with the wrong investor. So we felt all alone. However, the Lagos States government, through the Lagos States Implementers Fund (LSTF), was fantastic for businesses like ours. In 2017, we got a loan of N5 million from them, payable over three years at 5 per cent. That opportunity helped to boost cash flow. We repaid it on time- within three years- in 2020. 

More so, staffing is a challenge- being able to find and retain the right hands. Not just any hands but trustworthy hands because we deal with customers’ packages. People we can trust with customers’ goods, our resources, finances, etc. 

VA: What is it like playing in a male-dominated industry? How do you get to navigate through gender biases?

Kikelomo: We have had our fair share of feeling the bias in our industry as the logistics industry is typically male-dominated. But when Ama (Ujama) and I got in, we did not see the ‘male thing’ as a problem or hindrance. We just started despite the realities. But within a few months, we started feeling the heat because we were not recognised as players in the industry. 

In one of those early days, we attended an online forum for discussing challenges in our space. We noticed that each time we gave our opinion, nobody acknowledged anything we said. Why was no one responding to our comments? Why were we being ignored? We were the minority at the time but I’m happy to say that nine years later, we have been able to place a mark on the industry and proved our staying power as females. 

I do not see our gender as a handicap. Instead, I see it as something that has elevated us and helped us push the industry further. I believe that in line with this year’s International Women’s Day theme, #BreakingTheBias, we have broken the bias in our logistics space. We approach work like humans, not necessarily as females. We know that we have to try twice as hard or three times as hard to make a mark. And I believe that we have done that and are on our way to doing more.

VA: Walk us through your shipping process. From order to delivery.

Ujama: We have made it very simple for people to bring things in. If they want to import, customers would need to visit our website, create an account and select what they want to do. For instance, if they are ordering from Amazon and want to ship the items to Nigeria, they would need to subscribe (for a fee) to get an address to deliver it to in the UK. We will provide them with delivery hubs (address) in the country of their choice, which becomes visible on their dashboard as soon as they subscribe. They would then use that address and plug it into whatever UK, US, or Canada website they are ordering from. Items get shipped to that address through the local postal system in the destination country. 

The moment it gets to our hubs, the item becomes visible on their dashboard as we received it. Customers get a notification alert about their goods- including what they weigh. If they want pictures of the items we provide them and launch the shipping process to Nigeria once payment is made. 

We ship out of the UK, US and Canada every Friday and it takes 7 to 10 businesses from the UK and the US to arrive in Nigeria. Meanwhile, it takes 10 to 12 business days from Canada. We deliver all items to customers’ doorsteps with the address and phone number provided on their dashboard. 

For exports, if customers want to send things from Nigeria to any country, they just plug in the information on our website. They can arrange for us to pick up their goods or they come to drop them off at our office. We courier the goods as soon as payment is made. 

Ujama and Kikelomo have simplified the import-export process. However, most people who have relatives and friends living in the UK, US or Canada, can relate to the hassle of getting things from or to them. Sending food items, especially, internationally could be a chore. Sometimes, people return home with the items they had planned to ship overseas. This leads to our next question.

VA: Does Jand2Gidi export food items from Nigeria to other parts of the world and how do you check for quality assurance? 

Ujama: Yes, Jand2Gidi sends food items only to the UK (for now). For the sake of quality assurance, we insist on dry foods and we have a team that does the check. We do not do perishables like fish, etc. But we do things like dry pepper, egusi, plantain chips, etc. Adding animal products makes things a bit more complicated. Nevertheless, we are still working on that aspect as well.

VA: Every business has its bad days. So, what are bad days like for Jand2Gidi?

Kikelomo: Bad days could be many things, especially when dealing with unforeseen circumstances. For example, you have your flights booked for your shipments and the next minute, the airline offloads. Meanwhile, you have given a timeline to your customers, and they have events or business needs that they made bookings for. In that case, you would have to disappoint several people due to circumstances beyond your control. That is one of the typical, crazy days. This scenario does not happen always but you can imagine what it is like when it happens – it still disrupts many things.

Another example of a bad day has to do with clearing delays. Recently, there was an issue between clearing agents and customs. And that caused a backlog at the airport. Our UK shipments did not leave as scheduled on Friday because the cargo unit had to be cleared before anyone could add fresh goods. That already is one week of no dispatch from the UK. That was a disruption. 

On the ground, here in Lagos, we have issues where a rider is booked for the whole day with a box full of customers’ items. Unfortunately, his bike breaks down beyond immediate repairs – not just something as simple as a flat tire. They could even get arrested by regulators or be involved in an accident. These challenges come up and cause a lot of setbacks. But when those things arise, we just communicate with our customers. Even if it is not a quick delivery, communication becomes necessary when things do not go as planned. 

VA: Where do you see your business in five years?

Ujama: In the next five years, we hope to have raised enough funding to get us to the level we are aiming for to have a fully automated website and hubs in multiple African countries. We hope to become Africa’s DHL with a positive global outlook and to increase our fleets. We want to be able to integrate businesses into our platform as we move to provide seamless deliveries to international brands. We also look forward to International companies plugging into our APIs for the seamless delivery of their products to any African country.

Kikelomo: We hope to be up to par with technology. Everybody talks about AI, so, we hope to be AI compliant. We also hope to be crypto compliant if crypto becomes one of the general mainstream legal tenders. As the world is changing around us, we shall innovate so that we are not left behind.

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