History, they say, belongs to dreamers. Men like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Michael Dell among others are dreamers; same as Apple founder, the late Steve Jobs. And a dream is not the surreal experience that occurs in your sleep; dream is that consuming passion to dare and break new frontiers, a passion to take the wings of an eagle and soar to uncommon heights. At the end, what was once an idea is turned to a reality.
For Prince Nnamdi Ekeh, the Vice President of Yudala Online, the dream of yesterday has crystallised to a huge reality; a successful going concern with manifest potentialities to becoming the most dominant player on the continent. Today, what started as a dream in the mind of a teenager has blossomed into a major employer of labour with staff strength of over 300 in just a space of months. At his young age, you would expect to encounter a coy, if timid, youth but never. He talks with self-assured confidence, and a clear perspicacity of the undercurrents in the marketplace. He is excited to talk about job-creation, wealth-creation, innovation and strategic thinking all of which conduce to give bite to the economies of Asian countries ahead of Africa. He is an unrepentant apostle of innovation as the best strategy to outsmart the competition and he brought that to bear on the operations of Yudala Online.
He remembers the beginning: “I was about 19 then and was still in school when the idea of Yudala came. I kept it in my head and was mentally nurturing it and even at that time I could see the limitless possibilities of e-commerce and on-line retailing.
“Yudala was a vision which I began nursing in my penultimate year in the University of Lancaster. I was quite familiar with the pioneering moves my father had made in e-commerce with Buyright Africa which was an idea ahead of its time as there was a glaring human capital deficiency at the time. I had always considered the need to expand access to the unreached, so to say; the millions in the hinterlands and without ready access to the internet to enable them take advantage of e-commerce. I was also motivated by the need to innovate and offer the consumer more options, hence the Yudala composite retail revolution which fuses a real-time e-commerce platform with mega Experience Stores located in major cities”, he recalls.
In recent months, Yudala has turned from the vision of a teenager to a national movement and the preferred channel for shoppers with eyes for quality, real time delivery and support. Yudala started with ICT products, it has since diversified into a one-stop online and offline retail outpost for a wide assortment of goods including consumables; from choice wine to staples.
Yudala currently boasts over 300 staff and this figure is expected to increase substantially with its growing network of Experience Stores all over the country. The long-term vision is to have a Yudala store in every local government headquarters in Nigeria. The direct implication of this is that staff strength is certainly going to witness a huge leap from the current figures.
At just 23, managing an enterprise with over 300 employees complete with their individual idiosyncrasies and in Nigeria, a nation variously rated as a difficult place to do business, can be an arduous task, but young Ekeh copes.
“It has been very interesting, I must confess. This is because the entire management and staff share in my vision for the company and they have reposed huge confidence in me. I also learn a lot from everyone in the organization: right from the man at the gate to the most senior person. I keep an open mind and always take away something new, a learning point from every encounter with every individual.
“We have a clear road-map which will see Yudala become the largest composite retail platform in Africa in the next five to ten years. This is in line with the vision of the investors and the footprints are already visible from the bold entry and huge impact we have had in Nigeria”.
And truly, bold is the word. In a brave new world of geeks, gizmos and gadgets, you have to be brave to dare, brave to take on the competition and even more so to succeed and maintain the momentum of success. The Yudala brand entered the market with a grand strategy of class, colour and peerless service delivery and customer care. It is therefore no surprise that it has surpassed the competition in Nigeria and already setting sight at conquering the continent.
At just 23, Ekeh exudes a rare self-confidence and self-belief. He refused to walk in anyone’s shadow, insisting he is out to break new frontiers and better existing paradigms. The son of Leo Stan Ekeh, a man who has built a successful ICT conglomerate, Zinox Group, from a one-shop business centre, the young Ekeh says he was not compelled to venture into online business by his father but is driven by a passion that has come to define his existence. That passion has driven him to turn what was once a concept in the head into a job-creating, wealth-producing enterprise. He believes in the uniqueness of the Yudala brand compared to existing outposts in the same business.
He explains: “Yudala is unique in the sense that we are the first true composite retail platform in Africa. What the continent has seen prior to our entry was at best a window-dressing. We are the first to combine a world class e-commerce platform with an offline chain of retail stores. This model immediately sets us apart from competition. Furthermore, you are guaranteed peace of mind when you shop on any of our platforms. This is because we take responsibility for every item purchased from our website or Experience stores nationwide. Apart from the foregoing, we are also the first e-commerce company to take the relationship with the customer beyond the closure of a sale as we offer after-sales support and All Risks cover (except theft) on every product bought from us”.
Propelled by the need to leave behind a worthy legacy and to impact meaningfully on the lives of millions of people, Ekeh believes everyone has a higher purpose in life, a divine calling. He wants to put Nigeria on the global map of places where things can work; where e-commerce can bloom against a multiplicity of odds.
“I believe the e-commerce sector in Nigeria will become a multi-billion dollars industry in the near future. A few challenges are currently hampering the growth of the sector and these include access to the internet among Nigerians, lack of trust in e-payment channels and infrastructural issues which affect logistics and deliveries”.
In the face of these odds, Ekeh is working at making e-commerce a major public relations tool for Nigeria. In an e-world puckered by identity fraud and sundry cybercrime, trust is a valued asset. In Nigeria, a nation notorious for cybercrime perpetrated by a few disgruntled individuals, online retail and e-commerce suffer. Public trust is challenged and even impaired by drossy stories of scammers who undermined platforms and short-circuited operational processes of organisations just to defraud. For Ekeh, this is a challenge but in that challenge he spots opportunity. Yudala, he says, gives him the opportunity to demonstrate to the world that trust is natural with Nigerians; and much more to show the world that the Nigerian youth is innovative, intuitive, intelligent and can compete with his peers anywhere in the world.
So far, he says “we have enjoyed huge success with the various promotions we ran including the Black Friday sales which we launched with the first drone delivery. Yu-Jara was another resounding success as we were almost overwhelmed with the response from the customers, as was the case with Black Friday which saw queues forming at our Experience Stores even before we had opened for the day. We also saw a great degree of success with our other promotions including the Mid-Day Madness sales and Neighbour-to-Neighbour campaign”.
Ekeh is endowed with multiple talents and from early life he has worked to nurture these talents. He plays virtually all musical instruments but for his passion to build an online empire, he would have been the next big thing in the nation’s entertainment landscape
Recently, Ekeh was a resource person (the youngest) at the 2015 Access Bank Leadership conference where he dazzled the audience with his brilliance and knowledge of the dynamics of global economics..
He co-starred with global icons like Ben Bernanke (former Chairman of the US Federal Reserve, Central Bank of the USA), Hans Rosling (Professor of Global Health, Sweden’s Karolinka Institute), Mariana Mazzucato (Professor in Economics, University of Sussex), Chinedu Echeruo (Founder and CEO Gigameet.com), Narayana Murthy (Founder of Infosys) and many more.
He reflects on the event. “The Access Bank conference was a huge opportunity to rub minds with some of the biggest corporate executives and brightest brains in the country and the world. I was humbled by the opportunity. Feedback-wise, I think I did well especially considering the glowing words received from attendees and the media”.
An Economics graduate of the University of Lancaster, young Ekeh also holds a certificate in International Business and Economics from Harvard. A savvy entrepreneur and online enthusiast, Ekeh’s mission is to ensure that Africa is not ignored during conversations on technology and innovation. Also an alumnus of the prestigious Lagos Business School (LBS), he believes that the youth hold the key to unlock the full potentials of the Nigerian economy and the only industry that will provide them with this opportunity is IT and Technology,
Written by Ken Ugbechie