MyBigOrder: The making of a Sh40 million shopping platform

It is that time of year again when we go on vacation with family, travel up country to see the parents, eat till we can’t breathe and shop till we drop. It’s the holiday season and Christmas is right around the corner.

Christmas this year, however, came early for 32-year-old Alphonce Juma when he bagged the biggest investment from this season’s KCB Lions’ Den TV show.

His mobile application interface, MyBigOrder, drew Sh10 million from Joanne Mwangi, in exchange for 25 per cent equity, which values the app at Sh40 million. The app connects customers to merchants and service providers nearest to them.

It took Alphonce six years to build the interface, which went live in May this year.

It has since signed on 1,000 merchants selling more than 20,000 products and services.

This Christmas period promises to be a busy one for MyBigOrder as customers who want to avoid long queues and traffic opt to shop online.

Alphonce takes Hustle through his entrepreneurial journey from Rarieda, a small town in Nyanza, to Nairobi’s Westlands, where his offices sit today.

What gave you the inspiration to start MyBigOrder?

I studied information science at Moi University.

When I graduated, I figured I had to come to Nairobi to get a chance at success. I come from a humble background, growing up in a family of nine children. My father, at some point, left us so it was up to my mother to bring us up.

She did the best she could, educating most of us until high school. I paid my own way through university.

When I arrived in Nairobi, my first business venture failed because of high overheads. I switched to designing websites, which didn’t need a physical office. I couldn’t afford a computer, however, so I had to work from cyber cafés.

I’d walk for an hour from Kayole, where I lived with my brother Benedict, to Donholm to catch a train to town so I could access a cyber café. I did the first six websites for free to build a portfolio.

Eventually, my company, Oracom Group, was making enough to enable me to start developing MyBigOrder.

How does MyBigOrder work?

It’s an interface between merchants and customers. We approach providers to sell their goods on our application, and customers to buy from them. We also register transporters to deliver the goods should a customer ask for delivery.

What makes the application efficient is that we use geo-fencing. What this means is that we’ll always connect a customer to the nearest possible service or product to them.

Say, for instance, you live in Kilimani and are looking for a pair of shoes, we’ll find the nearest shoe merchant to you.

Once you’ve identified the shoe you want, we connect you to a driver from the same area.

The driver picks the shoes from the merchant and delivers them to you.

What’s your turnaround time?

We aim to deliver within the hour.

Christmas is approaching, which means orders are likely to shoot up. Do you have the capacity to meet high demand?

With 1,000 merchants showcasing more than 20,000 products and services, I’m confident we can meet demand. You can get almost anything from MyBigOrder, from groceries to real estate.

We have signed on companies like Crown Paints, Antarc Furniture, Text Book Centre, Mika Electronics, Unga Limited, Nice and Lovely, L’Oreal, Hot Point, Ramtons, Farmer’s Choice to name a few. We also have supermarkets like Liquid Homes, which is a virtual supermarket catering only to online purchasing.

So, will we manage the Christmas season influx? Absolutely, and we encourage people to use our convenient app for all their shopping needs.

How do you make money?

We charge medium-sized merchants a fee of Sh1,000.

The large distributors and drivers get charged a commission of the sale – 10 per cent for distributors and 15 per cent for drivers.

Customers don’t pay to buy from our site; in fact, we have a reward system, awarding points whenever someone shops with us.

These points can either be redeemed as cash or a credit note by the customer, or donated to a charity of their choice.

The interesting thing about the points is that customers can accrue points with other customers that they know, for instance, a chama or a church group, and redeem them in bulk to give to a charity.

We have a church that’s marshalling their members to do this. All charity deliveries are free of charge.

How many orders are you currently processing a day?

We are at about 50 orders a day, but we haven’t focused on marketing to customers as much as we did on getting merchants. We’ll push the customer marketing from January and at that point, we anticipate approximately 100 orders a day.

What about your turnover?

Since we launched in May, MyBigOrder has made a profit of Sh2.5 million, mainly from registering merchants and also, as a value add, marketing for them online using bulk SMSes. The mother company, Oracle, has been turning over Sh2.5 million to Sh3 million per month this year.

You’ve come a long way from Rarieda ....

Yes, I have, and I count my blessings every day. One thing I haven’t changed, though, is living a simple life because I plough back most of the profits into the businesses.

I’ll keep doing this until I feel we’re completely stable as a company.

MyBigOrder got an investment of Sh10 million from KCB Lions’ Den, what do you plan on doing with the money?

Marketing. Our entire business depends on numbers. I don’t take our growth so far for granted. When I left Rarieda, my mother and aunties were so perplexed about what I was coming to do in Nairobi.

I tried to explain to them that I’d be working with computers in design and programming, but they couldn’t understand it. According to them, I came to Nairobi to ‘repair radios’.

It’s a standing joke, and I allow it because it reminds me of how far I’ve come from that ‘radio repair’ man.

What’s your vision?

Apart from growth, it’s impacting people like me who came from extremely poor backgrounds to get a fair chance to make it in life.

I have 43 members of staff, and 80 per cent of them are from low-income homes. My very first employee, John Sisoh, comes from a village near Rarieda.

When he joined me in Nairobi, he was considered a rogue element in his village, rebellious and consistently causing trouble; now he brings in on average Sh1.5 million into the company every month through bulk SMSes. I want to build more Johns and Janes.  

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