‘At Etisalat, We Understand What It Means to Grow a Business from Scratch to a Global Conglomerate’

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Nigeria during the year unveiled an innovative and bespoke e-commerce and social networking platform, SME Arena in partnership with Singapore’s YuuZoo Corp, a renowned leader in e-commerce operations, to re-tool SME operations in Nigeria through technology and reach and help them fulfil their socio-economic potentials. In this interview with Chukwuemeka Okezie, Eric Uwaoma, Director, Enterprise Segment, Etisalat Nigeria, speaks on the innovative product and its intended impacts on the sector. Excerpts

Etisalat Nigeria has clearly associated itself with SMEs and growing businesses in Nigeria. What led to this path?

As the fastest growing telecommunication operator in Nigeria, Etisalat Nigeria can relate easily with the challenges and aspirations of SMEs and growing businesses in Nigeria. This is because when Etisalat started its operation in Nigeria in 2008, a lot of telecom experts felt it would be a big struggle for us to compete in a Nigerian market considered saturated.

But within eight years of competing in the market, we’ve acquired 22 plus million customers and became the preferred operator for data and high net worth individuals, mainly due to the quality of our network and the premium or superior customer experience our customers are delighted with every day.

So, at Etisalat, we understand what it means to grow a business from scratch to a global conglomerate. Our experience has therefore given us a soft spot for SMEs who are also challenged with growing their business in the Nigerian environment. We are therefore investing substantial capital and resources to support SMEs and growing businesses through various means and formats. At Etisalat, we believe the SMEs will bring about positive growth and development to Nigeria and therefore need to be supported.

Etisalat Nigeria recently launched the “SME Arena” in partnership with YuuZoo, tell us more about this platform?

SME Arena is a one-of-its-kind e-commerce and social networking portal that allows businesses interact, learn and sell effortlessly via its online portal at www.smearena.com.ng. The portal hosts a Community Section where customers and businesses can interact, share information and learn. There is also a Directory Section where businesses can list their business contacts for easy discovery, and a Marketplace Section where buyers and sellers meet to exchange value. In line with our brand promise, we intend to build the largest growing network for MSME businesses with real business solutions using the SME Arena. The platform will soon have a business support section, where support services like business registration, business branding and legal services can be provided by vetted partners at a very affordable rate. This platform will host the riches of entrepreneurial ecosystem for SMEs.

What informed the development of the SME Arena?

Well, we recognised the need for small businesses to have special platforms where they can expose their services at the most minimal cost. A virtual shop is one way to quickly achieve that.

Also, they have the need to connect to various value chains to facilitate and enhance their businesses. The SME Arena offers them all that and more.

In 2013, SMEDAN reported that the number of Micro, Small and Medium businesses in Nigeria are about 37 million. That is a huge potential for Nigeria, out there. But over 90 per cent of these businesses are un-structured and poorly exposed to markets and opportunities. This is where SME Arena comes in, to offer services that will get them structured formally and put them on a worldwide market, via our web platform.

Why the decision to partner with YuuZoo in the development of this portal?

Etisalat is a global brand and prides itself with working with reputable brands across the globe in delivering positively disrupting innovative product and services that have become our hallmark today. In partnering with Yuuzoo, Etisalat chose a partner that is globally renowned for its strength in deploying and managing interactive consumer engagement platforms.

What does Etisalat intend to achieve with this?

All we aim to do is provide a level playing field for businesses to thrive in Nigeria; whether the business is a sole proprietorship, unstructured family business or an enterprise. Etisalat is all about connecting people to their opportunities and their passions, in a way that gives them fulfilment.

You added a social experience on the SME Arena. What informed this?

Businesses are entities. They have need to interact with different suppliers and customers as it is typical with humans. Also, customer Feedback is now an essential ingredient for growing business. Infact, the ability to interact and have customer insights is often the differentiator for successful businesses.This is the primary reason for our success in Etisalat. We are therefore also enabling businesses to interact with their publics. This is the reason we have the marketplace environment and the community portal.

There has been a recent focus towards helping SMEs in the country to grow, how is Etisalat’s approach different?

Unlike a lot of other organisations and platforms, we engage with SMEs almost at every stage of their life cycle.

Through our Easybusiness millionaire hunt we identify, reward and empower young businesses and take them through a month of business mentorship programme. We do this in partnership with EDC, an Enterprise development unit of Lagos Business School.

We get involved also in the next chain of creating platforms for SMEs to showcase their products to a wider market. And shortly, we would be adding a third integration of offering business supports to help take small businesses to their next level.

How do you hope to provide solutions to the challenges of logistics and payment plaguing other e-commerce sites in Nigeria?

First of all, let me to clarify here that SME Arena is not an e-commerce site. It is a business network site that also happens to have an e-commerce section called The Marketplace. The ecommerce section is but a small part of the platform. That being said, our logistics was built on the learnings and failings of older entrants. Our logistics is largely automated with different checks and balances, to minimize margins of error.

How can one register on the SME Arena?

Simply go to www.smearena.com.ng to sign-up and create a profile for yourbusiness on our Community or Business Directory page. Register your store on the platform, and start uploading your products and service today.

Are there any special requirements to register on the portal?

To protect both buyers and sellers on SME Arena, we ensure that some basic checks are done and specific documents tendered. These are everyday statutory documents.