Sramana Mitra: How much money did you raise?
Chris Folayan: We don’t disclose the details, but it was a seed round.
Sramana Mitra: When was this?
Chris Folayan: This was four years ago.
Sramana Mitra: So 2012.
Chris Folayan: Yes.
Sramana Mitra: What happens next?
Chris Folayan: We raised seed financing and focused on marketing and expansion.
Sramana Mitra: What was your core customer acquisition strategy?
Chris Folayan: The acquisition strategy was about getting the word out and getting customer confidence. Confidence in Africa is the biggest hurdle. In order to do that, we did several things. I’ll tell you what we did wrong and what we ended up doing right. Buying email lists and putting billboards was what we did in the beginning. We didn’t really see that hockey stick that everybody is looking for when you start advertising and marketing like that, because a lot of people didn’t know who we were.
In Africa, trust is a big thing. After doing newspaper ads, billboard ads, and radio commercials and not seeing that major hockey stick, we ended up figuring out through some focus groups that there are many who do that and are con artists. This is Nigeria so you have to be really careful. People have a hard time trusting in Africa in general. We had to come out and gain people’s trust.
The way we ended up doing that was by partnering with a bank. There are two ways that I’ve learned to build trust in a country or environment where trust is very hard to find – partner with a bank or a religious firm. We partnered with a bank and we also partnered with a few churches. The bank is the one that really got that hockey stick going. It was called Sky Bank.
Sramana Mitra: What was the partnership?
Chris Folayan: The partnership was an exclusive credit card. You can get Mall For Africa credit card from the bank. Now we’re a branded credit card with the banks. You’ll see Mall For Africa on a MasterCard. That gave us legitimacy. You also get a discount with that bank if you have a Mall For Africa card.
Sramana Mitra: Was the bank promoting this credit card?
Chris Folayan: The bank promoted the card very well. They spent a lot of money with newspaper ads, radio commercials, and ATM machines. Whenever you walked into any of the banks, there were these banners that spoke about Mall For Africa and encouraged people to get the credit card. That’s what ended up getting the customers to feel comfortable. They thought, “I can trust these guys because they’re partnered with a bank.”
Sramana Mitra: The bank was acting almost like a guarantor of some sort.
Chris Folayan: That was our tipping point for gaining a lot of market share. Our customer acquisition skyrocketed at that point.