When Jean-Jacques Maikere got a job as the managing director in Jumia Mall Angola, he was hesitant about taking up a new challenge. But deep inside his heart, he knew well that life is all about taking risks and he accepted the offer. Today, JJ as he prefers to be called, is currently the managing director of Jumia Market Kenya and the company’s success attests to his leadership acumen. He talks to HENRY KAHARA on building a reputable online brand.
A few years back, the concept of e-commerce was completely unknown to Kenya. Then entered Jumia Market and others of its ilk and e-commerce is currently the norm.
Jumia has completely taken over online businesses in the country as millions of Kenyans buy and sell goods at the swipe of a phone. But what does it take to build such a brand?
An interview with Jumia Market’s managing director Jean-Jacques gives us a sneak peek into this business model.
The Jumia Market office is a beehive of activity. It’s hard to identify who is who as they all appear to be in the same job category. My presence at the office doesn’t create any attention for they are used to visitors.
A customer care representative rushes to my aid thinking I am one of their clients but I am quick to make my mission clear.
As I was in the process of taking in the environment around me, a young man clad in a dark blue blazer, a white shirt with blue stripes and khaki pants comes my way and gives me a firm handshake.
He introduces himself as Jean-Jacques and I am taken aback a little bit for he is not what I had in mind. Jacques is your typical 26-year-old and not some stern, middle-aged man in an official suit and tie, as one would expect of a managing director.
“Don’t mind our offices. We have just relocated here from our main offices in Westlands and we are still in the process of settling down,” he explains about the condition of their offices, which to me is the most youthful office I have ever been to.
He further explains that they are preparing for Black Friday shopping holiday – a day following Thanksgiving Day in United States of America (The fourth Thursday of November). On Black Friday, customers get discounts on a variety of products they buy.
Theirs is a modern-day open office perhaps in line with the contemporary business model they engage in. We settle for the interview in one of the quiet corners in the room.
JJ is an easy man and I connect with him effortlessly. He starts off the interview with an explanation on the concept behind Jumia Market.
“Jumia Market is basically an online marketplace fully focused on small businesses. We are under the Jumia Group,” he explains.
According to JJ, when he was first sent to Angola to launch Jumia Market, he was not sure what the management expected of him. He was fresh from working with Ernst & Young as a financial auditor. However, he was certain he would rise to the occasion his initial misgivings notwithstanding.
“As human beings, we sometimes tend to develop cold feet whenever we are introduced to something we are not used to. After I managed to lay my fears to rest, I saw it as an opportunity to learn and grow my experience,” he notes.
“I was sent to Angola in 2014 to be the founder of Jumia in the country. The project was a success,” says JJ who hails from Rwanda. It is noteworthy that JJ built the company from scratch.
His position thrust him into leadership position and in retrospect; JJ reveals that it is the experience he gained from Angola that has helped him to take Jumia Market Kenya to its new heights.
“It is not an easy task being at the steering wheel of an organisation. It takes hard work plus strong leadership skills. You also need to have a strong team in place for an organisation is as strong as its weakest link.
As a manager, you have to learn to put the best resources, human resource and otherwise, in the right place,” he says adding that aside from coming to terms with his new position, he had to learn Portuguese, Angola’s official language, which he admits was not an easy task.
He admits that being an overall leader can be overwhelming and therefore one needs to believe in oneself and be confident of the decisions they are making since there is no one above them. In addition, he avers a manager has to be wise enough to acknowledge his mistakes and learn from them.
“My experience prior to Jumia Market included working as an auditor. I had also worked at Thomson Reuters in the UK,” he says. At Thomson Reuters, his work majorly involved giving an overview about what analysts thought of a company. JJ holds a Masters degree in engineering majoring in finance.
Jumia Market started in Kenya in 2015 under Jumia Group and they target small, online businesses.
JJ says he instantly fell in love with the country owing to Kenyans’ friendly nature and favourable weather. The fact that he needn’t learn a new language was the icing on the cake.
“We speak English in Rwanda so I was at home given Kenya is an Anglophone country. Kenyans are also very hard working and are very adaptive to new technology so it was easy setting up base in the country,” he notes.
On his daily schedule he explains: “My day at the office starts at 9am. The first activity is usually a meeting to review the previous’ day work. It is also in the same meeting that we outline the day’s objectives. I spend the afternoon going through administrative duties that need my attention.”
JJ confesses that he is a workaholic. However, whenever he has free time, he indulges in a good book or cooking. “I mostly read books on politics and history but that doesn’t mean I have a political ambition,” he quips.
How Jumia Market works…
“We target small businesses, offer them access to thousands of clients and help them grow. They register on our platform and we help them get the products. You only need your e-mail and phone number in order to register. Zero capital needed,” he explains.
Jumia Market has registered more than 10,000 sellers and they are optimistic the number will only go higher. “We want to give as many entrepreneurs as possible an opportunity to grow,” insists Jacquies.
The 26-year-old observes that online business has potential in Kenya since many people can access Internet through their smart phones.
“Another benefit that Kenya has is the fact that most people are learned hence making it easier to interact with them,” he says, adding that Kenya has a big potential compared to many other African countries.
“One thing about online business is that you compete with everyone regardless of their locality. Online businesses are not limited by boundaries hence a trader in Kenya is competing with another in China. At Jumia, we give our clients advice on how to carry out their business effectively.
The price of goods is at the discretion of the seller but he has to make it competitive. The other beauty with online business is the fact that you don’t have to pay rent or even have employees. This really cuts down on the capital needed to launch a business and running costs,” he says.
JJ notes that although business is picking well, not everyone has fully embraced the concept of online businesses. “Sometimes you sell a product to a customer via the Internet but they insist on visiting your premises.
They simply don’t understand that you are operating from home or wherever. Even though we are on the right path, I would like to see e-commerce get more relevant in the country,” he reiterates.
JJ advises young people to find their passion and pursue it fervently. “If you have a business idea, take a risk by putting it to task and investing in it. Believe in yourself, start small, and push it to grow bigger and better,” explains JJ
He further urges young people to stop wasting time doing what they don’t like but to go for what they want noting that one can only reach great heights in life when they excellently do what they love.
“A good entrepreneur needs to be focussed, as there are a lot of discouragements on the way,” he says as we wind up the interview.
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