Q&A: Olaoluwa Samuel-Biyi, co-founder, SureGifts.com.ng

In 2013, three employees of Jumia Nigeria left the company after gathering enough experience to further build the booming e-commerce sector in Nigeria. Three months later, Olaoluwa Samuel-Biyi, Adeoye Ojo and Babafemi Lawal launched SureGifts.com.ng, a platform that aims to popularise gift cards in Nigeria. Samuel-Biyi tells HumanIPO how the platform plans to revolutionise the act of giving without losing the personal touch.

HumanIPO: Why did you leave Jumia? And how long did it take to come up with SureGifts?

Samuel-Biyi: We left Jumia between July and August 2013. We left because we simply felt that we had gathered enough experience to take the next big step to build the nascent e-commerce sector in Nigeria.

The idea to introduce a dedicated gifting platform came up on a Saturday, a popular day for weddings in Nigeria. We realised the sheer amount of waste resulting from ill-thought gifts that guests shower couples on the day. We know that most couples end up with a storage room full of redundant gifts, and simply store them for the purpose of re-gifting to the next unfortunate couple. We figured that a solution that puts some of the decision in the hands of the gift recipient will be very useful for weddings, birthdays and indeed any occasion. SureGifts was conceived that instant, and it launched three months later.

Don’t you think you are changing what gifting really means by allowing the recipients to decide what they get?

SureGifts does not take any personal touch away from gifting, it only adds some practicality. For example, if a friend just had a baby, I’d rather give her a Mothercare gift card than baby materials for several reasons: It’s easier for me because I don’t have to resort to guesswork regarding her preferences, baby sizes, items she already has in abundance etc. Also, she has the liberty to choose exactly what she needs from Mothercare whenever she needs them the most. This will prove to be a much more memorable gift than one that’s restrictive, and my personal message attached to the gift card will resonate deeper.

Your platform is somehow different to what is popular in Nigeria. How does a customer make use of the platform?

To use SureGifts, gift givers simply browse through several filters like occasion, location, gender and age, price etc, and narrow down the merchants featured. They then select their favourite merchant and view several location images, as well as additional description and customer reviews of the merchant’s business to help make your buying decision. Next, they select the preferred gift card denomination, decide the mode of delivery and add a special message to the recipient if they choose. Once purchased, the recipient receives the beautifully-designed gift card either via email or at a physical location, and they can redeem at the giver’s chosen merchant. The generic SureGifts gift card can be redeemed at any partner merchant, and all SureGifts Gift Cards don’t expire.

Is the service currently restricted to gift givers and recipients in Lagos?

No. Although a bulk of our merchants are currently in Lagos, we hope to have some presence in other cities within a few weeks.

Let’s have an idea of the planning that went into the project before its official launch?

Soon after we debated the idea, we went to work researching gift card programmes in more developed countries, particular adoption patterns and technology. We then invested some more time surveying the market locally to gauge sentiments. Once we got the green light from a large base of potential customers and merchants, we started work on defining the technology and financial requirements and began software and business development. Planning is still ongoing.

Gift cards are still unpopular in Nigeria, how do you plan to clear this major hurdle?

You’re right, gift cards are still unpopular in Nigeria, but so was the entire concept of e-commerce only two years ago. We believe the value of our product will quickly become obvious as early customers and merchants become evangelists of the platform. Also, we’ll be activating a strong marketing engine for that purpose.

What is your target for the platform in 2014?

2014 is a critical year for us. We hope to be a household name by the end of the year, with SureGifts gift cards redeemable in nearly every city in Nigeria. Our launch date was timed to enable us gather data on seasonal trends that we can use to optimise in subsequent years, so it’s a big year of learning as well.

What knowledge obtained from Jumia will come in handy on this project?

Each team member brings different and valuable experience to the table, spanning from financial planning, to online marketing, operations, customer service and business intelligence from Jumia other several other engagements. Our team is eclectic and we hope to harness their diverse talents fruitfully.

Where can the gift cards be redeemed?

Some of our existing merchants are Samsung (MGS), Mothercare, Adam and Eve, David Wej, Moma, and many more.

What is the plan to support local brands too?

We’re only particular about the quality of our merchants, regardless of their owners or affiliations. So far, a majority of our merchants are local.

Which category of gift cards are people picking up most?

We’ve seen a lot of activity with gift cards tied to electronics and appliances. We don’t have enough days of data to call this definitive of popularity however.



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