The story of the Owlet, Africa's first social media marketplace

The startup culture in Nigeria is booming.

Owlet

In every corner, there is a young mind pondering how to provide payment solutions, disrupt one industry, or solve one major problem within the ecosystem. Even with some of the harshest economic conditions in Africa, young Nigerians are striving to build incredible products. You only need to look at this year's Y-Combinator winter batch, which is set to be the largest batch for African startups yet, to see the number of brilliant ideas/solutions being purported. It is exciting to watch them grow.

One of those brilliant young individuals with dreams of changing the status quo is Elijah Olusehinde Kolawole, the CEO and founder of The Owlet, an easy-to-navigate digital market out to democratize shopping in Africa. The Owlet is Africa’s first social media marketplace and is defined by tech aficionados as one of the amazing new digital products rocking the ecosystem. Like most of these dreamers/founders, Elijah set out to solve a problem that he could not avoid.

When Idorenyin Obong and Femi Aghedo, founders of Aboki Africa, launched Grey Finance, they wanted to solve a simple problem they faced. Obong, who worked remotely for international companies, was getting paid in Dollars. The money was flowing into his domiciliary accounts. However, when it was time to exchange it for Naira, he had to find a bank, withdraw cash and meet with a Bureau De Change operator. He would travel long distances for just one transaction. Nigerians struggle to exchange foreign currencies in their domiciliary accounts for local currency.

Elijah’s startup story is not so dissimilar. He was born in Lagos, the largest city in Nigeria, a country plagued by traffic and a growing population. The mathematics graduate from Osun State University saw congestion and overpopulation firsthand. When he moved in with his aunt in Ogun State, he witnessed the inefficiency of the physical markets. “My aunty was a trader, so I used to follow her to the market to help. The condition was unbearable. The smell was terrible and it was not even safe. The place was jampacked, people had their things stolen, and women face harassment and all sorts of social ills in the market. It is not an ideal place. You are walking around in the heat and all the hostility looking for what you came for.”

From a young age, he was interested in building a commercial shopping experience that mitigated all the consumer struggles while allowing entrepreneurs to earn more from their businesses. While that idea sat gallantly in his mind, he fell in love with social media and the internet as the technology boom flourished. He held a job while in school. Elijah later quit the job, describing it as 'unbelievably boring'. He began to pursue excellence in social media/community management. It all began to align for him to pursue his dreams, and he started building the foundation for The Owlet while in school. The Owlet is Africa's first social media marketplace. Its goal is to revolutionize shopping on the continent by allowing entrepreneurs to earn more from their businesses without the high overhead of a physical shop. It also seeks to provide a better connection between consumers and merchants to simplify shopping on the continent. For consumers, The Owlet offers convenience by allowing buyers to purchase over five million products from over 10,000 sellers all across Africa. Simply put, The Owlet strives to make e-commerce as seamless as possible in Africa, giving shoppers a smooth way to buy and sell goods.

As a business owner, you can now have your digital shop! The Owlet will help you earn more by providing an easy-to-navigate platform that allows customers to easily purchase the items or services you are selling. For shoppers, The Owlet makes it possible to shop anytime and anywhere. You can now do your grocery shopping without worrying about lugging heavy bags or buying what you don’t need. The Owlet is a digital market that offers entrepreneurs and customers better shopping experiences.

“I keep telling people that building The Owlet was not even the hard part, but they never believe me. The hard part came when we had to run campaigns to bring business owners online. For a brand built on being online, we had to ditch everything we knew about online marketing and walk into the streets to get people to try our marketplace. For young people, adoption of our product was easy. For the older generation, it took a lot of convincing for them to trust our brand.”

The physical marketing method also brought his young team together and bonded them even closer. “You may not know this but there is a major youth empowerment drive powering The Owlet. We set out to create employment for as many young people as possible. The average age of the team is between 24 and 25 years. Our team comprises of brilliant social media and marketing experts trying to impact the world in their own way and we are so proud about all we are achieving.”

In the words of the CEO, The Owlet wants to improve the shopping experience across Africa. The business model was hyper-criticized especially when Elijah said he would not be looking for investors and self-fund the entire project. However, he smiles when asked about his decisions. “Our lights are on, and they are in no danger of being turned off. All our staff are paid promptly and in full. Our freelancers and interns are striving bullishly to secure permanent positions. We have one of the best employer brands around. Even if I go back to when we first started, I’d still do it the same way. I wouldn’t have it any other way. We don’t have to worry about what we are doing with investor funding, and we don’t have to explain anything to anyone but ourselves. We have no exit strategies. We are just taking bold and exciting steps at will. When we misstep, we take a step back and analyze before moving on.”

The Owlet connects business owners with consumers through a marketplace that offers a convenient and hassle-free way to shop. It is a revolutionary marketplace that intends to change the eCommerce industry, eliminating the inefficiencies of the old guard with their antiquated business models. Their marketplace is making it easier for business owners to get their products in front of the market and to their customers, and helping them to increase their margins.

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