Trailblazing online shopping in Rwanda

Yvette Uwimpaye with some of the Murukali employees.

With many people leading a busy lifestyle and lots of infrastructure development taking place around the cities of Rwanda, 29-year-old Yvette Uwimpaye realised that it was becoming increasingly difficult for people to shop at different market places.

For her, the quickest solution to this problem was to create a simplified online shopping system that would save time and money.

How did this all start?

Inspiration came to Uwimpaye while she was on maternity leave after the birth of her first child.

“I was looking for a convenient place to shop online but I couldn’t find one,” Uwimpaye recalls. “I realised that while there has been steady growth in technology adoption in Rwanda, there is still a gap in using technology for quick delivery of household essentials. I became interested in how to combine business and ICT to provide product price information and how to easily access these products without physically moving around.”

After conducting market research to test its viability, Uwimpaye – who is also a graduate of Economics from the former National University of Rwanda – launched Murukali in November 2015 with RWF 1m (US$1,155) in savings from her previous job as a forex bureau account officer. With this she rented an office, bought office furniture and paid salaries for the first few months. She relied on social media advertising to get the word out on Murukali and offered free items to lure online customers for a return visit to the site and keep their support.

In the first four months, Murukali had an average of two orders per week and earned about RWF 15,000 ($17) per month. By the end of 2016, the business had turned over about RWF 120,000 ($139). The number of orders started to increase, and the company was able to break even in February 2017.

Today Murukali has a physical store in Kigali City Market B2-88 and an online shopping service selling home essentials, cosmetics, baby products and gifts. Customers can place orders via WhatsApp, SMS or by phone, and a wide range of payments methods are available, including mobile money, bank transfer, and cash on delivery. It also provides its tech-enabled platform as a one-stop shop for local producers who lack the means to market their businesses.

Online shopping requests are processed and delivered in less than three hours to people living in Kigali, and within seven days to people living outside of the city.

“My target customers are private companies, the working class, mothers, single people who lead busy lifestyles and do not have the time to go around shopping, new residents who do not know where to shop and those living abroad who need to shop for their families in Rwanda or for themselves,” she says.

Noted. How did the company grow into the business it is today?

Initially the distance between Murukali’s first office and the market was a major problem as it was difficult to source products and deliver them to customers on time. Moving to a physical store overcame this problem as it is now easily find what customers order and quick access to fresh food for orders is possible. Customers can also visit the store in person.

Another challenge was a sudden price increase and unavailability of some products, and currently the company battles with lack of finances, means for advertising and storage space for perishable goods.

Uwimpaye is keen on growing Murukali into a successful global e-commerce business. In 2017, she joined the Business Professionals Network (BPN)’s Rwanda programme which provides entrepreneurs with tools and strategies to grow their businesses sustainably.

“I partnered with BPN Rwanda and Inkomoko Business Development to help me become a professional businesswoman. I became more aware of my responsibilities to keep my customers satisfied and making my business profitable. Through them, I got a mentor who has been helping me to put my business on the right track. I also got opportunities to compete and win prizes.”

In December 2017, Uwimpaye was one of eight entrepreneurs who won the Bank of Kigali’s inaugural Urumuri Entrepreneurship initiative’s RWF 60m ($69,300) interest free loan. The company also received a loan from AEC Rwanda, one of the funding arms of Inkomoko Business Development, which has helped to improve the business and to develop growth plans.

Uwimpaye is convinced that Murukali is on the right track to achieve its goal of becoming the leading online shopping business in Rwanda. She plans on opening more physical stores in different parts of Rwanda to serve those customers in the same short time frame with which they are serving customers in Kigali. “This will aid our promise of quick delivery to customers,” she says.

Anything we can learn from her experiences?

Where some people see risk, Uwimpaye sees opportunity. When she was told she was crazy, she didn’t get discouraged.

“Some friends and family told me that this business model was not possible in Rwanda, but I persevered,” she says. “I didn’t give up because I believed that as long as I know what I am doing and I am serving a need for people living in Rwanda, I am on the right track.”