From the powerhouse of Nigeria, Abuja, Marvin, a young and ambitious entrepreneur, is on a mission to revolutionise the way local businesses connect with customers. Unimpressed by the limited opportunities for everyday businesses to thrive in the digital era, Marvin established Hala Shops, a one-stop shopping app that aims to democratise commerce across the continent. Read on to learn about Marvin's Quest to empower local businesses in Africa with Hala Shops.
Marvin Uche, the CEO and Co-founder of Hala Shops, recognized a prevalent issue in the continent —that most local shops were still operating offline, while the world around them was rapidly embracing digital advancements. During his exploration of the payments landscape, he noticed that people were spending a significant portion of their money at local shops, yet these businesses lacked an online presence. This realization highlighted a disparity between the growing online presence of larger businesses facilitated by platforms like Paystack, and the untapped potential of the smaller shops scattered throughout neighbourhoods.
With this insight, Marvin and his team identified an underserved market and saw an opportunity to bridge the gap. They aimed to empower these local shops by bringing them online, making them easily discoverable and accessible through a smartphone. The vision was to enable users to find and purchase products or services from the shops in their vicinity, fostering a sense of community and supporting local businesses.
We discovered that there was an underserved market. People would prefer to buy products or get services from people next to them or closest to them rather than have someone else deliver. Our mission became clear: How do we bring the local shops in your estate, on your street, online so you can discover them on your phone and easily buy from them?
By creating an online platform for these local shops, Hala Shops seeks to democratize commerce and unlock the economic potential of Africa's everyday businesses. The initial focus was on establishing a seamless buying experience, with the understanding that once these shops were online, they could be offered additional financial services in the future, further enhancing their growth and sustainability.
Marvin and his team built Hala Shops to make commerce easily accessible and uplift the local business ecosystem, laying the foundation for a transformative digital marketplace that would empower both businesses and consumers across Africa.
Marvin and his team embarked on a multifaceted approach to connect with their target audience and bring local shops onto the Hala Shops platform. They realized that traditional online marketing alone wouldn't suffice. Instead, they leveraged the power of community engagement to reach and engage with their desired users effectively.
"We've learned a lot, We made mistakes, but we also learned from them and continuously improved. Our networking efforts became more strategic, allowing us to identify the right places to market and engage with our audience."
Rather than relying heavily on online marketing, Hala Shops focused on offline community-based initiatives. They tapped into church communities and schools, using these platforms to foster entrepreneurship, inspire new business owners, and introduce them to the possibilities offered by the online marketplace.
"Our primary method involved partnering with church communities and schools. We immersed ourselves in local markets, particularly in our target city - Abuja. By joining relevant groups and actively participating, we gained valuable insights into market demands and the needs of local businesses. We also reached out to delivery companies, recognizing that although they facilitated deliveries, they don't create commerce. By connecting with these companies and their extensive network of businesses, we offered them a platform to increase their customer base and orders."
The team understood the significance of community-driven approaches, emphasizing the message that entrepreneurship is vital for community prosperity. Through their interactions, they shared this empowering message, organizing events in collaboration with schools and churches to amplify their reach. These events not only provided a platform to educate and inspire, but they also facilitated valuable feedback from their audience.
By actively participating in communities, fostering entrepreneurship, and building relationships with both businesses and customers, Hala Shops is able to create a growing network of local shops, connecting them directly to their customers.
Marvin emphasizes the iterative nature of their development process;
"We listen attentively to the feedback we receive from the communities we engage with. They share their experiences, highlight areas of improvement, and suggest new features or businesses they would like to see on our platform. This feedback enables us to continually build and improve Hala Shops based on their needs and desires."
Success for Hala Shops means empowering businesses to expand their customer base and thrive while contributing to the prosperity of their communities.
Hala Shops distinguished itself from other platforms by offering a comprehensive mobile commerce experience, seamlessly connecting buyers and sellers within a single app.
"Hala is the only mobile commerce platform in Nigeria where buyers and sellers converge. While other platforms function as catalogue-based e-commerce platforms or rely on social media for transactions, Hala Shops operates as a network, serving as a complete marketplace. Both buyers and sellers utilize Hala Shops, eliminating the need for external links or third-party apps."
Everyone at Hala Shops, whether they have an established shop or are setting up a new one, gains access to the same set of tools for selling. The app provides a messaging feature that enables direct interaction between sellers and customers. Sellers can also use the broadcast messaging option to reach their entire customer base, make announcements or share updates.
Hala Shops also incorporates its own built-in payment system, offering users personalized account numbers for receiving funds and tracking expenses.
Marvin highlights the platform's capability to support larger businesses in automating their services;
"Apart from smaller businesses, we assist larger enterprises in creating mini versions of their services on Hala Shops," he explains. "For instance, we've worked with BuyPower to build a mini version of their platform on Hala Shops. Similarly, restaurants can create mini-apps, streamlining their operations without the need for separate dedicated applications. The ultimate goal is to help small businesses grow and automate their experiences, thereby charging commissions. We're currently building mini apps for various other businesses, ranging from virtual card services to banking and savings solutions."
One of Hala Shops' defining characteristics is its unwavering commitment to customer feedback. Marvin emphasises;
"Everything on Hala Shops is built based on customer feedback. We don't make assumptions. The initial version of Hala Shops was developed as a chat platform, aimed at facilitating connections between businesses and customers. However, based on the feedback received during testing, users expressed the need for a payment system and a marketplace. We listened, learned, and adapted. The money on Hala Shops stays within the platform and can be utilized for various services users desire."
User-generated feedback fuels Hala Shops' growth and sets it apart from competitors.
"We continuously engage with our users, gathering their suggestions, preferences, and concerns. This feedback shapes our development roadmap and drives our unique approach. From marketplace notifications to pricing adjustments, we rely on user feedback to guide our decision-making process. It's this constant dialogue and collaboration that makes us truly unique, as we build Hala Shops based on the needs and desires of our users."
By actively listening to their users, Hala Shops ensures that the platform evolves in alignment with customer demands, offering a personalised commerce experience that caters to the specific needs of local businesses and their customers.
One of the significant challenges faced by Hala Shops was the lack of competitors with a similar vision.
"One of the biggest challenges that we have is that we don't have too many people who have the same vision. We didn't have competition in terms of building a mobile-first commerce platform that incorporates both buyers and sellers, along with payments. Nobody was thinking that way, except for the Pocket app. That was one of the issues we encountered, which influenced our marketing strategy and messaging."
To address this challenge, Hala Shops embarked on a journey of engaging with their users to understand their preferences and perceptions. Marvin shares;
"At the beginning of the year, we proactively reached out to segments of our user base, contacting about 5000 customers. Through these conversations, we gained insights into what they liked about Hala Shops, what motivated them to download the app, and what they would tell others about Hala Shops."
The feedback received from users played a crucial role in simplifying Hala Shops' messaging strategy. Rather than focusing on the app itself, the emphasis shifted to the shops and products available on Hala Shops.
"It's like Netflix. I wouldn't tell you to download Netflix. I'll tell you to watch 'House of Cards' on Netflix because that's what you want to watch…We focus on promoting the shops and the products people want to buy. Hala Shops is the underlying experience, but we've learned that what truly matters to users is the availability of desired products and the convenience of shopping."
Consequently, Hala Shops promotes the individual shops and the specific products users can find on the platform. By highlighting the shops and products, users are encouraged to explore and discover more options within the network.
Hala team's shared vision and dedication is to empower individuals to start their businesses easily. They envision a world where platforms like WhatsApp offer Hala Shops' features, allowing anyone to establish an online shop without the need for additional platforms or websites.
"Everybody that knows how to use WhatsApp should be able to start a business online without having to use any other platform. They should be able to connect with every shop, pay for everything, and generate income independently."
Marvin believes that Hala Shops has the potential to surpass the impact of social media on commerce. He states;
"If all the commerce that happens on social media is estimated to be a $30 billion economy by 2028, we believe that Hala Shops will create even more commerce. We are creating an ecosystem where users can open the app, browse through the shops, and make purchases seamlessly. Hala Shops is not just an app; it is the catalyst for commerce."
Unlike social media, where users primarily engage in browsing and may stumble upon products, Hala Shops offers a unique experience.
"On social media, people don't visit with the intention to buy. It's like watching TV and coming across an advertisement. But on Hala Shops, users open the app to make purchases. We create the commerce directly within the platform."
Hala Shops' core purpose revolves around democratizing wealth creation and fostering prosperity within communities.
By providing equal access and making it easy and affordable for individuals to set up businesses online, Hala Shops aims to formalize and add structure to the predominantly informal commerce sector in Africa.
"We believe in adding structure to informal businesses and providing opportunities for people to solve problems and make more money. Our decision-making is driven by the pain points experienced by users, ensuring that Hala Shops addresses their needs and facilitates their success."
Download Hala Shops App now.