Rupu CEO explains how they built a successful e-commerce business in Kenya

With a bigger team today, the business faces a different set of challenges, including lack of trust and knowledge about e-commerce among customers.

“The market is still in a growth phase. A lot of people still need to be educated on e-commerce and how it works. The majority of the queries we get are: where is your shop? Can I come pick up a product?”

The young CEO is, however, optimistic about the future. According to the Communication Commission of Kenya, the industry regulator, the country has over 16 million internet users today. This has opened up a big market for businesses like Rupu.

“We fundamentally believe the market is super huge,” Maina said. “They say 60% of Kenya’s population is between the age of 35 and 16. [The market] will just balloon. What is going to happen is that more of them are going to have access to credit, M-Pesa and bank accounts. They are also going to be entrepreneurs [and will need a platform to market and sell their products].”

So, what’s in the future for Rupu?

“We want to be the largest e-commerce player in this market. As the market continues to mature and people get more ingrained in using the internet for day to day life, we will be able to add more value. We are looking at continually modifying the product, addressing customer needs and extend the trust and training we have on our deals model.”

Although he describes Kenya’s technology industry as “interesting”, Maina would like to see more real businesses.

“There are lot of people working on stuff that are just sub-features of a bigger business. It is not a product in its real sense; it’s a website, it does one thing really well [but] it has no growth path. You can’t take it and scale it,” said Maina.

Maina advised other entrepreneurs who are interested in starting technology businesses to be realistic, know how valuations work and partner with people who have a background and deeper understanding of how to run a business.

“The technology is not the business. I think one thing that really differentiates Rupu from any other startup that I have seen around is that the founders were not techies. It is not necessarily [about] the coding.”

He added that investors play a critical role in the success or failure of a business and entrepreneurs should be careful when dealing with them.

“Your investor is pretty much tied to how successful you will be. If your investor is in it for the quick buck then that is how your business will be modelled,” said Maina. “A challenge I have seen with other startups here is investors insist on making decisions that are not necessarily beneficial for this market.”

Entrepreneurs should also invest in ideas that are easy to execute.

“You should always go for the lowest hanging fruit. It is easier to show proof of concept with something easy… sometimes going for the easier idea actually makes sense,” said Maina.