Nigerian startup Suplias, a B2B marketplace where mom and pop stores in Africa buy inventory from manufacturers using a mobile app, is targeting even quicker growth and international expansion after raising funding and taking part in the Silicon Valley-based Y Combinator accelerator.
Founded last year by Sefa Ikyaator, Michael Adesanya and Stephen Igwue, Suplias saves the owners of mom and pop stores time when purchasing inventory, and allows them to keep their shops open during critical business hours.
It helps store owners buy inventory directly from manufacturers using its app, with next day delivery, and has seen significant uptake – growing 40 per cent month-on-month for 11 months.
Ikyaator and Adesanya worked together at Procter & Gamble in Nigeria, which is where they first saw the need for a company like Suplias. They observed that mom and pop store owners were locking their stores and travelling miles to visit multiple wholesalers in order to buy inventory, costing them 15 per cent of their revenue and causing a lot of undue stress.
“Having spent 25 years building our expertise within the African retail space, combined with growing internet and smartphone penetration in Africa, we saw the unique opportunity to build a technology solution with 10 times faster ordering time and five times cheaper delivery cost for store owners,” Ikyaator told Disrupt Africa.
“At the same time I was thinking about this opportunity, I saw an advert for Amazon Dash where individuals could have their homecare products replenished by Amazon at the click of a button. This idea kept me awake at night. I wondered if such a concept could work for mom and pop stores in Africa. So, I called my friend Stephen, who is a software engineer, and convinced him to build an Android app to test out whether mom and pop stores would be willing to place orders via a mobile app. In parallel, I called Michael, who was in Stanford GSB at the time, and urged him to come back to Nigeria so we could transform Africa with the “big idea”.”
Everyone was on board, and within four weeks the team had spoken to 50 mom and pop stores. Thirty of them had smartphones, and 20 were excited to place their orders on the app. This user testing led the trio to quit their jobs and focus on building Suplias, which it launched in May 2020.
“Our customers place orders for a wide assortment of products via the Suplias mobile app and get next day delivery at their doorstep,” Ikyaator said.
“Seventy per cent of our customers are women who are the primary source of income for their families. At scale, Suplias will help to generate huge economic gains for small business owners and improve the living standards of many families in Africa.”
The team started Suplias with their savings to establish the concept before getting external funding.
“Once we started gaining traction, our former colleagues at Procter & Gamble, Michael’s classmates at Stanford GSB were the first to invest in Suplias. Next, we raised funds from Africa focused funds like DFS Lab and Future Africa,” said Ikyaator.
“Today, we are funded by venture capital firms in Silicon Valley including Atacama Ventures and Soma Capital.”
The startup was also one of a number from Africa to take part in the Summer 2021 edition of the Y Combinator accelerator.
“The YC programme will help us accelerate our mission to help small businesses thrive and excel in Africa’s US$180 billion food and beverages market,” Ikyaator said. “With YC’s support, we are planning to make the right connections to build out the engine for commerce in Africa. We have already had the unique opportunity to learn from Brian Chesky of Airbnb, Patrick Collison of Stripe, and Emmett Shear of Twitch, and we’re looking forward to even more mentorship as we scale Suplias.”
The company, which makes money from commissions from manufacturers and delivery fees from retailers, is initially planning on adding more to its product, before expanding to new markets.
“We launched Suplias in Nigeria to help mom and pop stores solve problems they face with restocking their shops, but we quickly discovered that there were two other critical pain points hindering their business growth in addition to restocking,” said Ikyaator.
“Firstly, access to credit to finance inventory and secondly, handling cash and payments. In line with our mission to help local businesses thrive and excel, we have set out to build a platform that provides seamless inventory restocking, inventory financing and payment and cash handling.”
The plan is to build out its platform in Nigeria first, and then expand into the African continent.
“Mom and pop shops are everywhere and they’re the backbone of the economy. They need integrated support and we see Suplias filling that role as we expand,” Ikyaator said.