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How The Demand For Groundnut In India Inspired A Nigerian To Launch One Of Africa’s Largest E-commerce Platforms

Uju Uzo-Ojinnaka is the founder and CEO of the online trading platform Traders of Africa (TOFA). She started the business after learning about the demand for groundnuts in India from a Ghanaian friend.

She founded TOFA to serve as a trading platform for groundnuts, inspired by how Chinese billionaire Jack Ma started his online trading platform after being frustrated by the lack of Chinese beer online. Although she started the company to create a platform for trading groundnuts, it has since expanded to include food, beverages, apparel, houseware, furniture, beauty and personal care products, packaging and supplies, minerals, and agricultural supplies and produce. The platform enables prospective customers to search for products and view their availability throughout Africa.

TOFA started in Nigeria but has expanded to other countries in Africa. “I wanted to start with five African countries – Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya, Nigeria and Ghana,” said Uzo-Ojinnaka. “We went from Lagos, Nigeria, to the other four African countries to recruit merchant acquisition directors who would source and onboard suppliers.”

According to her, the platform also collects and analyzes sales data to better understand the spending pattern of buyers. The data, Uzo-Ojinnaka noted, “will be very important for governments and organizations in terms of showing what’s needed in different regions in Africa.”

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The platform is based on Africa’s agricultural potential. The continent is often referred to as the world’s breadbasket, but poor infrastructure has resulted in massive food losses. Furthermore, most African farmers are not connected to the global economy, denying them the opportunity to trade with buyers from other parts of the world.

Uzo-Ojinnaka started the company in 2017 with 9,000 suppliers from five African countries. Despite the large number of suppliers on the platform, trust was one of her major challenges. Buyers and sellers, she claims, did not trust each other, and no one was willing to make the first move.

To build trust, she created an offline version of her platform, which is accessible to buyers and sellers. “Through this, we were able to facilitate the building of trust between them,” she told IncAfrica.

And according to her, she extended it to her company’s culture. “I need to settle my home first, and I tell my staff the same thing. Before they come to work, they must settle their homes first. If their home is not settled, there’s nothing they can do at work,” she added.

“I want TOFA to be so successful that it outgrows me and to the point that I can’t handle it anymore. If, when that point comes that I have to leave and I’ve sacrificed my family, where will I go?”

Prior to starting TOFA, Uzo-Ojinnaka was working in the banking sector. She also joined her family to run a business importing construction products from China and elsewhere.

 

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Written by PH

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