When he first set out from his rural home in Eldoret to seek a job in Nairobi, he’d never heard of the word “e-commerce”, leave alone Jumia. Then due to his knowledge in IT, he’d get a temporary job at Techno Brain before being called for an interview at Jumia, something which he says made him research about the company overnight to learn what it does. But as fate would have it, he’s among 3 people picked by the online retailer to train and help vendors willing to sell on the platform, a position called Buying Operations Associate. He’d soon be made Head of Buying Operations, working with about 120 vendors, with his aim being to turn them into millionaires. But how did he start and how has the journey been like? Here’s the story of Chris Rumenda (above), the Head of Marketplace at Jumia Kenya who believes he can be the MD of the e-commerce leader in the next 5 years…
QUESTION: Could you start by introducing yourself:
ANSWER: I’m Chris Rumenda and Head of Marketplace at Jumia Kenya. I’ve been with Jumia for 4 years now having started out as a Buying Operations Associate and then grew through the ranks to become Head of Marketplace. This means that I’ve experience in various areas of the business having dealt with vendor operations, vendor experience and now dealing with the whole of marketplace. In Marketplace, we attract new vendors, incubate them and then train them on how to sell online, and finally we’ve to keep and maintain them. We have to ensure that they’re selling every month and growing. I normally say that my job is creating millionaires.
Q: Before you joined Jumia, where had you been working previously?
CR: After I graduated from university in 2012, we set up a new firm with friend of mine Zaritex Knitwear in Eldoret where we focused on supplying school uniforms and sweaters to most of the learning institutions in Western Kenya. It’s a good learning experience for me because it gave me the chance to do everything – from HR, to Finance to Marketing including web design. This made me become what I am today.
Q: Why did you opt to be employed by Jumia instead of becoming a vendor based on your previous experience selling school uniforms?
CR: Some of us are from the JAB (Joint Admissions Board) era where you don’t get to choose what you want to do. When I cleared high school I’d wanted to do Computer Science but I was unable to get the course so I ended up taking Banking and Finance but I’d always had an interest in computing so during the long holidays, I’d get jobs in cyber cafés doing It-related stuff. Afterwards, my friends advised me to come to Nairobi for better career opportunities and joined Techno Brain where I was involved in an animation project for a month.
I later left Techno Brain and started applying for like 10 jobs per day while attending about 3 interviews a week, and eventually landed a job with Jumia in 2014. Interestingly, I didn’t even know what the company dealt with until the day of the interview when I decided to research on it and the position that I’d been called for wasn’t related to anything I’d done before. My initial role was just to ensure that as soon as vendors get orders, by then they were about 18, I follow up with them till they deliver the orders to the Jumia premises. That’s basically what we’re invited to do.
I’d had an interest with the internet and computing but I never imagined that I’d be employed in the e-commerce industry.
We have to ensure that they’re selling every month and growing. I normally say that my job is creating millionaires – Rumenda
Q: When you’re employed in 2014, what were your responsibilities?
CR: I came in in 2014 as the Buying Operations Associate and Jumia was just starting the marketplace model at that time. Previously, Jumia had been doing a retail model whereby they get an order, purchase the item from the vendor then deliver to the customer but were now shifting to the marketplace model even though most customers were still not tech savvy and comfortable with the online buying process. So we’re brought in to assist vendors in creating content and fulfill orders – basically to ensure that vendors update their stocks, don’t cancel orders and fulfill them on time.
From three, we grew to a team of six. And when my boss left for England, I took over his role in an acting capacity before being appointed as the Head of Buying Operations which later became Vendor Performance as we’re now dividing vendors into two groups – Key Accounts and Longtail Vendors as the vendor numbers were rising. The Key Accounts were vendors who have account managers while Longtail Vendors are those that are managed as a community.
The team at this time was involved with attracting vendors to sign up and sell via Jumia as well as operations and Vendor Experience. From here, we then grew into what is called a Marketplace.
From about 18 vendors at the beginning of the year, we grew to about 120 vendors and by this time, most of the big brands were coming on board and wanted to be associated with selling online. In 2016, we’d attracted about 300 vendors to the platform, and by last year we’d about 1,400 vendors. Right now, we have around 5,000 vendors selling on Jumia.
Q: How has the experience been like for you while working at Jumia over the last 4 years?
CR: To me Jumia is a like a family as most of the friends I have in Nairobi I got to meet through Jumia. But what I love most about Jumia is the growth, I see people moving from nothing to something, both our staff and vendors. Again, the company is dynamic and not bureaucratic while decision making is fast. Management is also receptive to ideas from staff.
Q: How has it been like working with vendors? What challenges have you encountered and addressed and what lessons have you learnt over the 4 years you’ve been here?
CR: It’s tricky but also fulfilling seeing where the vendors are coming from, mostly when it comes to guiding and teaching them how to sell online. Most of our small scale vendors use their phones to sell online and this calls for a bit of training from us on how to use the platform. But the vendors also work as a community and train each other.
Q: What’s the feedback you get from the vendors when you interact with them?
CR: Most of them are very positive about Jumia and see the platform as life-changing as some have even quite their jobs to concentrate on selling through Jumia and even employ other people, thereby creating jobs. They are also happy because the platform gives them an opportunity to sell their items throughout the country. Vendors are also happy about our payment terms which can even be made on weekly basis unlike dealing with who’ve dealt with major retailers which pay even after 6 months.
However, they still feel that they need to learn to keep up with e-commerce trends.
Q: Which are some of the vendors who you can pick as having grown really impressively over the last 4 years?
CR: Let me name a few of the vendors:
- Ultracommunication – Joined the vendor programme at the same time I was getting employed here and at the time we’re paying vendors on a monthly basis. At this time, he didn’t have stock and thus used to go to the other distributors when he’d an order, get the items from the other distributor(s) then supply to Jumia. And because we’re paying on a monthly basis, by the time we got to the middle of the month, he didn’t have the cash-flow to deliver most of the products and so, he’s then deactivate his vendor account on Jumia till the next payment at the end of the month. He’s the first vendor with whom we experimented whether it would be better to make payments on weekly intervals and what would happen. After this, he’s able to improve his rating on the mobile accessories segment then partnered with other traders who extended goods to him on credit, thereby boosting his stock. He then graduated to mobile devices from just accessories and is now among the top vendors in the mobile devices category.
- Gianna – The shop is operated by a fashion items vendor called Winnie. She came here for training with one of her friends after being told about Jumia as she’d been selling offline and needed to increase her sales via other avenues. By then she didn’t have a physical shop. After the training, she signed p and became a vendor the same day. The most exciting bit is that she now has 3 physical shops within the City Centre and encouraging her colleagues and relatives to join the platform and sell.
- Francis – The proprietor of Shamborina Designs who started by selling phone accessories but was very aggressive and hardworking and soon moved into selling other items. He basically wanted to sell everything. He could walk all over town just trying to get items that could be sold on Jumia, he even brought us items we’d never seen before. He was trying new things to see what can sell on Jumia then afterwards, invest in the item(s) with most sales. He had two shops on Jumia – one dealing with Fashion items and the other for General Merchandise. Later, he saw an opportunity and started introducing other vendors to Jumia, guiding them on how to sell then earning a commission once they’ve been signed up to the platform and making sales.
Q: Apart from financing, what other challenge(s) do the vendors talk about when you engage them?
CR: The main one is education and skill set as most of our vendors are mainly business people with just basic education whose primary goal is to make money. For most of them, what they are concerned about is how and when they’ll get paid, not understanding the process of selling through Jumia. This means that they encounter challenges when adding new products to their shops as well as record keeping and accounting processes. This led some vendors to leave the platform during the initial stages, that is 2014 to 2015, as they could not navigate it properly and went back to selling offline which they were more used to. But a majority of them have since rejoined the platform again.
This has made us invest a lot of resources in training them on how to use the platform.
Q: When it comes to Vender Acquisition, how many people do you work with and how’s the process?
CR: I have around 30 colleagues whom I work together with and another group of 200 who I also work with indirectly when in terms vendor acquisitions. When we’re focused on attracting vendors, we normally have an acquisition team which deals with vendor on-boarding (sign-up) which also liaises with the JForce team in getting new vendors to sell on Jumia.
Then there’s a team based here that does Tele-acquisition, that is call vendors that are currently selling on social media platforms and showing them the opportunity that exists and benefits of selling on Jumia.
After acquisition, we have the Jumia University which is in charge of vendor training, covering any area related to e-commerce – from basic e-commerce, to buying and selling online as well as how to be successful in e-commerce.
From here, there’s the Vendor Relationship Management whose role is to help maintain the good relationship that we’ve with our vendors as we are building a community. So they communicate with the vendors, engage the vendors during focus group discussions and develop and organize other activities that can ensure that our relationship with the vendors is maintained.
Q: Going forward, what are you working on for your vendors, and customers, by extension?
CR: As Jumia, our mission has been to offer our customers choice. And to do this we need to get more vendors, selling a variety of items and products on the platform. We want Jumia to be known as a one-stop shop and this involves increasing our vendor numbers which translates to even more customers. We also want to support and facilitate our vendors through financing to acquire necessary equipment – PCs, laptops and printers – so as to help them improve their business processes as well. Finally, we’d like to improve our systems and processes to make them more effective and efficient for our vendors.
Q: Give us a brief about your recent trip to Thailand and the Race2Bangkok campaign
CR: We had a competition called Race2Bangkok which was launched last year just before the Black Friday sale. The aim of the campaign was to prepare and ensure that our vendors were ready for Black Friday. And this called on vendors to give us a huge range of products, accompanied by their best deals (or offers) for Black Friday, maintain good operational capacity to ensure timely fulfillment of orders during the promo period. Using this criteria, we then picked the top two best vendors in terms of performance during the promo – that is David Kigo (proprietor of DM Electronics)and Ruhi Suttarwala (of Perfumes Kenya) – who were rewarded with a trip to Bangkok, Thailand where we met vendors from other countries – Egypt, Nigeria, Morocco and Ivory Coast – who also participated in and emerged winners in the same contest. We also met Heads of Marketplace from these other countries. We therefore shared best practices from each one of us.
We also had the opportunity to visit some of the biggest e-commerce companies in Thailand – that is NN2 and ACommerce. These are e-commerce support companies which help big brands to work with e-commerce platforms.
It’s wonderful experience and eye-opening. Thailand is like 2 years ahead of us when it comes to e-commerce.
One of the reasons why I went for the trip was to learn how competing vendors can successfully sell on the same platform and I learnt that Thailand’s e-commerce platforms have a lot of vendors.
Again, I learnt that the vendors in Thailand are taking their offline practices are introducing the same online – for instance, they try to maintain and keep their existing customers for as long as they can, offering them small gifts, ensuring they only stock quality products with some even paying freight fees for their customers. Their goal is to maintain the customer so that they become regular instead of one-off buyers.
Overall, what I learnt is that we’re in the right business, this is the future. In Thailand for instance, 70 per cent of e-commerce customers are from rural areas, while in Kenya we’re still working on how to get those in urban centres to embrace e-commerce. This means that e-commerce is still untapped in Kenya and has great potential to grow in the next 2 to 3 years.
Q: What kind of feedback did you get from the two winners from Kenya – David and Ruhi?
CR: David and Ruhi also learnt a lot going by what they’ve managed to do since they came back. Ruhi has for example ventured into new product categories, moving beyond perfumes to other fashion items and shoes while David has moved from just accessories to computing and related items. Meaning that they were able and meet with partners who’ve since helped them to expand their product portfolio. They’ve now become experts in their field and are even called upon to conduct training for other vendors.
In 5 years, I’ll be the MD of Jumia Kenya – Rumenda
Q: If you were not working at Jumia, what would you be doing or where would have wanted to be?
CR: If I was not doing my current job, I’d either be a vendor on Jumia or just somewhere within the e-commerce industry.
Q: And in future, say 5 years, where do you see yourself?
CR: In 5 years, I’ll be the MD of Jumia Kenya.