SMEs are key drivers of Nigerian Economic Growth – Deepankar Rustagi, VConnect CEO

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With the astronomical increase of businesses in Nigeria, customers always desire authentic information regarding potential clients – the kind of services they offer and their capabilities. Business owners, especially Small and Medium scale (SMEs) entrepreneurs; also aspire to enlarge their businesses by looking for financial support and promotion of their brands. In this day and age, where information and refined packaging define selling power, businesses desire extensive coverage and attention.

In the light of this urgent business need of buyers and sellers, VConnect, an indigenous technology firm, came into existence. VConnect started as a local search engine that helped in promoting local businesses in Nigeria, especially SMEs, by helping them in the advertisement and sales of their products. The company has also enhanced the customer-client relationship to ensure that buyers can easily get access to reliable information about businesses, have conversations and even purchase their needs online. The enhancement of the value offering to businesses was the purpose of the company’s re-branding project as it sought to give customers a holistic view of their potential clients. It also aids promoting the business and services by updating their web presence with updated and relevant information, simplifying their businesses which paved way for VConnect’s new pay-off line.

The founder of VConnect, Mr. Deepankar Rustagi, recently, in a tete-a-tete with MARKETING EDGE, where he discussed the Nigerian business environment, the reason for venturing into this laudable business initiative and his plans for the internet marketplace in Nigeria. Deepankar, has lived in Nigeria for over 17 years and bagged an Engineering degree from India and a diploma in entrepreneurship from Haas School of Business, Berkeley.

Excerpts:

As a business, where lies your focus? Which model do you adopt in attracting your target audience?

At the beginning, we made it clear that we wanted to help grow the economy by ensuring that we support business owners in any way possible. We have not lost sight of that and we are working towards adding value to thousands of Businesses. As for the business model, we are here to support small and medium scale enterprises by bringing them online, and empowering them to utilize these tools for their products and services. In a nutshell, we help them sell their products. So, our business model is basically focused on connecting buyers and sellers. That is why our pay-off has evolved from information whenever, wherever to “Find. Buy. Sell.”

You have been in this market for a while, what are the key constraints of the Small and Medium Scale Enterprises which your business has been contending with?

First of all, I must state that it is not easy for first time Entrepreneurs / SMEs to do business in Nigeria considering the diverse challenges. Some of these challenges constitute serious threats to the survival of small and medium scale enterprises in Nigeria. As you know, small scale businesses hold the key to the survival and growth of any economy. Nigeria, being a large economy, must begin to see small and medium scale enterprises through the same prism by ensuring that necessary investments are channelled towards that direction. But unfortunately, the small and medium scale enterprises in Nigeria have been on the receiving end. Key constraints of the SMEs in this market include lack of awareness or knowledge about the different schemes and tools available in the market for their financial and marketing needs and the lack of know-how on how to promote their businesses to reach a wider audience at the right price.

What is the vision and mission of VConnect?

The vision and mission of VConnect is to connect buyers and suppliers, to make it convenient for buyers to find products and services in the market and make it convenient for businesses to sell their products and services online. We look at a situation where down the line, every business will be able to sell their product and services online at convenience and every consumer will be able to buy from a virtual market online.

Every business in this market has its unique selling point. What differentiates VConnect from other e-commerce sites?

The difference between VConnect and other e-commerce sites is that VConnect does not sell any products that is owned / warehoused by it, VConnect only acts as an agent that helps sell and promote Seller’s products and services. In this manner, we don’t buy product or stock them, we help small and medium scale businesses to sell their Products online. That is the major difference. We are not competing with the sellers in the market but we are enhancing the capabilities of the sellers in the market by helping them sell online and enhance their reach.

What has been the attraction of investors into the Nigerian market?
Nigeria is the largest economy in Africa, a population of 170 million people and a country with an economy of over half a trillion dollars in GDP. It is the largest country in Africa in terms of consumer base. The growth of the GDP is also very good. We believe investors from abroad are looking at the fast growth rate of the Nigerian economy and the potential Nigeria would offer by 2020.

Recently, the naira was devalued. What is the implication of this policy decision?

Of course, there are going to be serious implications. At least, two things would have serious effect on the Naira going forward. One is the devaluation of the Naira and the after effects of the recently concluded elections. A lot of small and medium scale businesses are skeptical about how things are going to be in the next couple of months. We are hoping that the outcome of elections will be an era which ushers growth and harmony, an age of non-violence and expedite business in this country. We are also hoping that Naira gets stabilized so that those who are trading in imported goods or companies dependent on imported raw materials can run their businesses successfully.

How is VConnect positioned in the market?

We feel that one sector that is going to show a skyrocket growth in the Nigeria economy is the service industry. It is about time that the government and private sector supported the SMEs. For them to record growth, we are positioned to empower SMEs. We are oriented in a way that we work directly with the SMEs helping them reach where they are today and grow to where they want to be.

How prepared are you for competition?

We are prepared for competition because we have a very good team. We have been in the market for a couple of years and have good relationship with small and medium scale enterprises. They know us and have delivered value to them. We are more than happy, feel the more competition we have, the better the external forces will be to help us achieve our objective.

As a business, you must have gone through some highs and lows. Tell us about some of the success stories since four years that the business has been in existence?

One of the things we had on our side when we started was the first over advantage.  We started at an opportune time, there was no one who or which was providing information about businesses. Four years back then when we started; we were the first to capture information about all the local businesses and structured local businesses available in the market. We did a lot of hard work in the beginning which is one of our success factors. We went from one business to another and gathered their particular details which have helped us reach where we are today. As we speak, we have millions of users coming to our site on monthly basis to search for products and services that they need.

You just re-branded, what led to this initiative and what do you intend to achieve with the re-branding process?

The re-branding exercise is driven by the shift in the value offerings of the company from information wherever, whenever to find, buy and sell, where other buyers and sellers can do their online on our portal. We have re-branded to give a new feel to the brand, from a red and green colour to orange colour. It is a simplified logo. I think for a young brand like us, it is good to be young and innovative.

Don’t you think doing this on behalf of buyers and sellers will be at great cost to your business?

We are a company that is innovative and know Nigeria well because we have a strong Nigeria team working on ground giving us the information. So, we have actually developed partnerships which help us deliver better value at a convenient price. That is why we are delivering convenience not just to the buyers but also the businesses. Buyers can buy at the convenience of their house while businesses do theirs at the convenience of their stores.

Do you do a background check to know if those businesses truly exist?

What we do is that every business that is listed on our site, we call them, verify their details provided. Every business that is recommended on our platform, we physically visit that business and ensure that it is a good business, and that all the products and services are genuine. They are open and offer good quality services. That is when we recommend the business. We try and inform our users about it with the updated content

What is your growth projection in the next five years?

In the next five years, what we have in mind is that if we can bring every organised business in Nigeria, to help them fulfil their dream of growth, to help them double their sales online.