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CEO Weekends: Kenya’s Dukalangu Wants to Connect Local Artisans to Buyers Everywhere

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1002071_170109876500723_1152990856_nDukalangu, a Kenyan online shopping and delivery platform for  handmade artifacts aims to connect local artisans to customers around the world and create opportunity for both and even obtain more value out of the connections.

“Logistics and delivery for exports to foreign markets is high up on their 2014 agenda as it will aid in increasing the international market quota that they are looking to achieve to exponentially grow their local fashion industry, “said Dennis Wambugu Gichuki, Dukalangu CEO.

Apart from working on international market penetration, the platform also aims to expand across the country in two years by launching physical drop off point for their products in all major counties. This will make their products more accessible to customers and will also help them gain trust from customers who are still used to offline person-to-person transactions.

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“We not only need to have a strong online presence but a physical presence too. More Dukalangu agents will continue to spread the brand network and partnerships with shipping partners as well to help expand our reach globally.” said the Dukalangu CEO. ” This has all been laid out in timelines over the next two years to aid the growth of dukalangu as a brand and growing business.”

After the countrywide expansion the firm says it will expand into the entire East Africa and establish its footprint in the e-commerce sector.

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Tribal-Sun-2-1140x450Dukalangu works with designers from all around Kenya who enroll on the portal and provide updates of their products that range from handmade accessories, bags to well crafted shoes made from African ‘Ankara’ fabric. The firm connects the designers to the customers who visit the site and then organize the delivery of their purchases via mobile money and online various online payment systems.

Founded by Dennis Wambugu Gichuki and Kevin Marisia Amateshe, the idea was inspired by the increasing use of internet in Kenya and the sprouting of eCommerce.

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“Truth be told, e-commerce is a budding business in Kenya and Africa at large, says Dennis Gichui. “The increase in usage and integration of mobile money payments makes it more accessible for day to day users to easily purchase goods online. Coupled with the reduced running costs that an online venture encounters, the increase in number of people using the internet provided a comforting market base in which we could base our business on.”

But just growth of internet uptake wasn’t the only point that moved them to start. Gichui says the idea of Dukalangu came about after they both had experienced difficulty trying to buy items online and were disappointed. They then carried out research on how to go about it. They also came to realize that such a platform could help promote goods and products of local designers and local entrepreneurs.

He realized the work experience he had gained and skills learnt could easily be transferred to Dukalangu and ensure its success and bring about many positive changes in people’s lives and in Kenya’s online businesses.

“I started learning business at a fairly tender age frequently accompanying the folks to the family business, I can largely attribute my business acumen to this. I’m fortunate to have been able to grasp many business concepts from here and can apply much of the same to Dukalangu,” says Gichui. “The dukalangu concept was one that was very intriguing when we initially came up with the prototype. The idea that we could help hundreds of unemployed youth make a living through fashion posed a unique venture we hadn’t encountered here locally and with hundreds of willing buyers locally and internationally, an online platform seemed the best means to connect the buyers and sellers.”

According to Youth Challenge International (YCI), a non-governmental organization, almost 60% of Kenya’s population is aged 15 to 35, with the youth comprising 61% of the country’s unemployed. By promoting local designers and merchants through an easily accessible online platform we hoped to help reduce the rising unemployment amongst the youth, most of whom are highly creative.

These statistics expose a glaring opportunity for Dukalangu to actively participate in economic and social development, in line with the Economic and Social Pillars of Kenya’s Vision 2030.

Armed with a BSc in Information Technology from USIU and currently undertaking a Masters in Mobile Innovation and Telecommunication at the Safaricom iLab  at Strathmore University, Gichuki teamed up with Kevin Marisia Amateshe, who holds a BSc. Degree in Electronic and Computer Engineering from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, Kenya and the current Product Manager at Orange Kenya (Telkom) for Orange Money to make it happen.

He aslo assembled a great team as they couldn’t do everything on their own. They hired  Martin Amateshe as a Business Development Manager, Douglas Gichuki for legal advice and Intellectual Property, Idah Waringa as head of  Logistics and Deliveries  and Paul Bonyo  as a Social Media Manager to build the platform from just a website into a fully-fledged company.

Dukalangu sources its products mainly from the local designers and merchants. Most of the crafts from local artisans are handmade whereas some of the merchants have their products imported and use Dukalangu as an avenue to increase their sales.

Though there is always competition, the Dukalangu aims to carve out a niche that they feel hasn’t been adequately addressed in the past by different players in the market. They also plan to roll out a personal shopping service for avid shoppers who have a knack for purchasing goods overseas with reduced cost being our key selling point to customers and with an expansive product and service range they say they will have the edge over their competitors.

Dukalangu is currently working on finalizing partnerships that will allow local artisans on their platform to access microfinance loans so that they can expand their production capacity and businesses at large. Core to Dukalangu is letting entrepreneurs among the youth realize that their talent can help them make a living through fashion. The Dukalangu platform aims at creating employment and as a result it actively participates in the country’s economic growth.

Gichuki says online shopping is growing by the day in Kenya and in Africa at large. As a matter of fact, despite the slowing down of economies world wide, online business continued to register growth without any hitch. The cut throat business competition has made many Merchants to realize the need to find other less costly ways of reaching their customers. This explains the increase in many businesses in Kenya having active social media pages and a relentless online presence. However, this does not give the results required to achieve satisfactory business growth. It is for this reason, therefore, that Dukalangu has stepped up to some of these merchants to partner with them for purposes of giving them more visibility.

The scene in Kenya can be challenging, with stiff competition and advertising costs proving to be the biggest stumbling blocks to any start up however, that said, the e-commerce environment in Kenya is very enticing in the returns that it has to offer in a relatively short time span. The growth that we envisage as mobile use and internet use increase in tandem is likely to propel the business greatly.

Recent awards at the Kenya ICT at 50 Champions gala for the Best ICT Lifestyle Award and Orange African Social Venture Prize of 2013 help us see that we are on the right track and with more progress can make a significant impact in the industry.

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Sam Wakoba
Sam Wakobahttp://techmoran.com
Taking you on tour through Africa's tech and business ecosystem, one story at a time since 2010! Based out of Nairobi, Kenya, Sam is the founder and managing director of Moran Media, which runs  TechMoran.com, various other digital platforms and a startup incubation hub for Kenya's youthful entrepreneurs. Drop me a mail at [email protected]

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