The late 2000s and early 2010, when Africa’s eCommerce boom began, are the roots of Africa’s current e-commerce boom. There were many opportunities for innovation in intra- and inter-national logistics, thanks to rapid internet penetration across Africa.
Heroshe is one of the Nigerian companies that can achieve this goal. Heroshe, a cross-border eCommerce, logistics and payments startup, solves the problem of global commerce access beyond Nigeria for individuals and businesses who need to access products not available locally. This means that Nigerians can access a low-cost service that allows them to ship, buy, and deliver goods to the US in a short time. Heroshe, a Japanese word meaning generous, is the name of the company. It embodies the vision of the team.
Heroshe was not created to be the B2B2C platform that it is today. Chinyere Ukomadu, a woman who was just starting to help her family and friends shop and ship products from the US-based stores to Nigeria through third-party couriers, started the business in October 2012. While FedEx, UPS and DHL were all available, Chinyere Ukomadu quickly discovered that these services had many problems. Some charged over $100 to ship items under 1 pound, while others required customs duties to be paid when they arrived in Nigeria. She created a solution that didn’t depend on the major carriers and would work for small businesses or individuals who cannot afford them.
She decided to formalize the order structure after word spread through family and friends. It became clear that this was an interesting idea to pursue. They came up with the idea that people would live anywhere, shop anywhere, as long as the prices were right, the quality was right, and that their items would arrive within a reasonable amount of time. They began to test this thesis by looking at various business models and pivoting as the information became available. They plotted the models on their business model canvas as they went to work validating/invalidating each model.
They knew that they were in the early stages of the market, but they remained determined to pursue their vision. Their first business model was created at a time when there were no solutions to infrastructural issues like digital payments and last-mile logistics. These problems are now being addressed by fintechs such as Flutterwave and logistics services such as GIG. These solutions were not available in Heroshe’s early days. These problems were not solved by Heroshe, so they had to create workarounds and delight customers. Sometimes the solutions didn’t scale.
Heroshe used Blackberry Messenger to communicate directly with potential customers and third-party courier companies to ship to Nigeria. They created a landing page using SquareSpace and placed orders using Formstack. The invoices were sent to Freshbooks and the payment was received through direct deposit to their Nigerian bank accounts. A company representative would handle the last-mile delivery, which would take place when goods arrive in Lagos. He would load all the items into a taxi and call customers to confirm orders. Then, he would drive around Lagos delivering to customers.
After speaking with customers, and compiling a list from them of the most in-demand items, the company tried a payment-on delivery business model. The company filled a 40-foot container and shipped it to Nigeria, where customers who had expressed interest would pay for the items. However, the model proved to be a disaster after those who ordered it failed to fulfill their orders. The team ended up with a 40-foot container full of perishable goods that they had to dispose of within two weeks. Chinyere Ukomadu was the team’s leader and they quickly found buyers to get rid of the goods as fast as possible.
Heroshe received a major upgrade in 2016 with the adoption of Nigeria’s cashless policies. Customers realized that they could shop for and pay for goods with their Mastercards or Visa debit cards. Heroshe was able to handle the logistics. The team initially was skeptical about this business model. They were concerned that someone would misuse it by purchasing goods with stolen credit cards. Only trusted customers were allowed to access this service. However, the secret spread quickly and more customers – both old and new – demanded access to Heroshe’s Ship For Mefeature. The company agreed. Customers could shop online for goods and ship the items to Heroshe’s Texas address. Heroshe would then ship the goods to Nigeria with Ship For Me.
Heroshe served over 200,000 orders per week between 2012 and 2019. This model, which was shipping only, was easily scaleable and the team set about to implement it. Next came the task of creating a platform that would allow potential customers to easily find out about Heroshe’s pricing and track orders. This platform would allow the team to manage all their product offerings from one central tool. Joseph Cobhams was appointed CTO at this point and helped to build the technology team. They also launched the logistics platform to optimize service delivery and power growth. This was the result of many years of learnings and failures. It also reflects sheer determination.
Heroshe.com, which offers shipping services from the US and Nigeria to individuals and businesses, was officially relaunched on January 2019. Heroshe has been able to continuously learn and improve the product to suit potential customers through the platform. The current platform offers a Send Mefeature for US$5 per pound to ship from the US to Nigeria and an additional US$10 to last-mile delivery to Lagos or any other region of Nigeria. Heroshe customers receive their packages within 14 days of payment. Customers who are unable to pay immediately can opt for a 30-day preshipping storage option. Customers can shop at all US stores, including Amazon, Nike and ASOS, and have their packages delivered directly to Heroshe’s home address.
The company was launched in 2019 and has processed over 200,000 orders. It has grown to more than 40,000 users, acquired customers organically, and scaled through bootstrapping. Osinachi says that this is just the beginning. Heroshe is improving people’s lives through global commerce access. This has many dimensions. We want people to be able to shop and live wherever they like.”
Heroshe will expand its product range to better serve business users who need to access more global suppliers. They also provide logistics support for their customers. Heroshe intends to expand its product offerings to other African countries, including intra-African transactions, in the coming two years.
Osinachi stated that “Our desire to make an impression” is his goal. We want to see more businesses thrive on our platform, which will provide opportunities for millions of people looking to start or scale their businesses. We spent a lot of time and money to create a reliable logistics platform that can serve thousands. This platform will be available to both existing and new businesses to allow them to have access to customers, products and logistics capabilities that can deliver goods and services to their e-commerce or social commerce business.
The company has also launched its logistics platform to allow more businesses to use its platform to manage their business. Heroshe has over 40% of its customers who use it to shop for and ship their customers. The company is expanding its tools and services to help business owners establish and grow their business on its platform. Heroshe will empower them by giving them access to customers and global inventory, enabling cross border payments and powering the last-mile logistics and first leg to their customers.