The first time Raphael Afaedor was in Nigeria, he came in as a staff of Notore Chemical Industries, a fertilizer company. He might not have known what fate had for him at that time, but Raphael was definitely not the kind of man who would lie low in the face of obvious opportunities and a burning desire to fill the technological gap in the continent.
Raphael always had a passion for technology and knew he had to play a role in the African setting, the e-commerce sector to be precise. He is no doubt a trailblazer in the economic space that he has carved out for himself along with his friend, Gbolahan Fagbure.
In the beginning
Born in Ghana, he is the second of three children to parents who no doubt knew and appreciated the value of education.
“My parent took care of us, gave us the best education, we went to some of the best schools they could afford, I had a solid primary education which eventually prepared me for other stages,” he said. “My parents were very demanding from the perspective of academics, not overly demanding but very encouraging, both of my parents were professionals, both of them went to the university, and both had higher education, so they see that value in education.”
But it is one thing to have parents who valued education and are ready to get the best for their children and another for a child to grasp the opportunity and run with it. He acquired his university education in the Czech Republic where he bagged his bachelor’s and master’s degree in Computer Science, and later moved to Switzerland for another master’s in Marketing, then to the prestigious Harvard Business School for his MBA.
His passion for technology was encouraged by his parents who seem to have a general belief in acquiring professional skills. According to him, he developed an interest in computers when his mother returned from Cyprus.
“My parents encouraged me to acquire what my mum would call a professional skill, being an accountant, a doctor, lawyer, the kind of thing that you gain qualification for, not anyhow person can gain that so to say, something that has an organ which regulates its activities… I started having an interest in computer engineering when my mum came back from Cyprus where she had her MBA, she came back with some books on management and systems information, I read those books when I was a kid over and over again….. With this, I went to school, and chose computer and electrical engineering because of my interest.”
With his background, it was not too long before Raphael discovered his passion for technology but not only that, he was already thinking of creating and being in that intersection of business and technology. But even besides this was his passion for Africa.
“I realize I was passionate about Africa, I thought computing and technology were gonna play a part in that since I had an interest in her well-being…. My passion was Africa; hence I thought I wanted to build African businesses.”
Raphael realized when he was thirty that he wants to be in that intersection of business and technology and asked himself what that would be – definitely, it was going to be something that would make use of his technical abilities, merging his skills as a computer technologist with business to solve problems in his chosen space – and Africa would be the starting point.
That points to his innate entrepreneurial click which sees opportunities rather than challenges.
The choice of Nigeria
Before now, I thought Raphael was a Nigerian, perhaps it does not matter to him, but this e-commerce wizard is a Ghanaian who chose Nigeria to do business. Yes, his first time in Nigeria was in 2008 and since then, the country has become the situational context to operate his ideas alongside his friends. Raphael believes the opportunities are here in Nigeria given the enormous population which constitutes a market that can pay.
“I think Lagos is unique in the sense that it has this massive population that has the ability to pay… you have a market, and you can address the market, I like Lagos for that and Nigeria has the population.
“I think that is the reason you have Nigerian banks expanding across, it is really because of the market, though it is a difficult terrain because of the other factors which are too well documented such as infrastructure, it is still a blessing basically because you have a market that you can work with which informed what we do at Supermart where we deliver groceries, a service targeted at busy urban professionals.”
Jack of one trade
Raphael Afaedor had maintained his business influence in the e-commerce sector even after he left Jumia, the new company Supermart.ng had also leveraged that. One would have thought he’d venture into other areas of business, but this businessman does not believe in that, he believes in being a specialist at what you do.
“I think one has to acknowledge that he is only a human and one can only work so many hours in a day, really nothing happens in a short period of time, I had this massive opportunity to build an online supermarket, today we are the biggest online supermarket in Nigeria, I think rather than to start jumping into something that we don’t know as well as we do e-commerce, we should focus on the problem we are solving…”
The present economic situation in Nigeria
He thinks everyone has a duty to effect change in their circle of influence to feed the collective good while the government should be given an opportunity to make the best decisions and engender the right environment for businesses to grow.
“It is what it is, we have found ourselves in this situation that we are in, I don’t think it makes much sense to be dwelling on what could have been… so we acknowledge what we are in, trust the people who are in charge with making economic decisions and focus on what we influence. I don’t want to dwell much on the situation at hand… I still have a rapidly growing business, people need to buy food, people need to eat, recession or not, so we focus on how they can get their groceries seamlessly,” Raphael said.
Jumia and Supermart idea
“I always know that I would play a role, it was deliberate, I sat down and conceptualized, I and my business partner, Gbolahan, we were building Jumia then, we decided what we want to do with our lives next, then Jumia was still two years old and we thought the company has grown so much that it does not need us, Gbolahan and I were actually co-founders alongside Tunde. There were still many challenges to be dealt with, we were deliberate about Supermart and we took a lot of deliberate choices.”
For young people Raphael’s advice is very simple: “Go and learn a trade, I see too many people are too eager to start up a company, how can you build something that you have not learned. I think we tend to quickly look at the examples of the Zuckerbergs and what we keep forgetting is that there is a significant pool of mentors. It is important to actually go out there and learn, join a company as a starter, join a consulting firm, so you learn structure and presentation, join a bank, go and learn a trade… secondly, I don’t even buy into this issue of a side hustle, top athletes chose one sport. Too many people cheat themselves because they are not able to immerse themselves when they go into a place, they are not able to learn a trade, give them a job, they are busy trying to do something else on the side that is not smart, you are cheating yourself.
“Smart is to get there, learn, learn, learn as much as you can. Immerse yourself in learning, learn everything, operations, management, HR, if it is one year, two years that you are in the company, go deep, learn everything.”