Okolonkwo: We’re Transforming the Market Space with Technology


For many Nigerians, the talk of e-commerce brings to mind images of buying and selling among the wealthy. But in reality, no matter your social status, you can operate in the e-commerce ecosystem and reap huge benefits from conducting commercial transactions electronically. Gilead Okolonkwo, the managing director and chief executive officer of BeepMAGNET Group International, explains just how, in this interview. Okolonkwo’s firm, which clocked one year on September 29, is dedicated to wealth creation in the e-commerce ecosystem through discount services and mentoring programmes. He spoke on Tuesday in Lagos, on the sidelines of the launch of BeepMAGNET’s GOLDCITY Project, the third aspect of the company’s business model focussing on real estate development. Vincent Obia was there. Excerpts:

On the prospects of e-commerce in Nigeria.
Basically, if you look at Africa at large, there is a knowledge gap, and this has affected us so badly that sometimes when opportunities come with regard to the e-space, we tend to miss them. I have taken a close look at the young generation, especially, the youth. Many of these youths have spent quality time to go to the university and after graduation, they hope to see dream jobs that they desire. But what is the reality? The reality is that upon graduation, they start looking for blue and white collar jobs. Most times, they are not forthcoming. This is actually a challenge, because if you look at the statistical ratio in terms of the number of the people graduating from the universities, and more that are yet to go into the tertiary institutions, it is on the increase. What then is the statistics of those that after graduating are able to secure jobs? It affects the family because the parents spend so much to send their children to school and upon graduation, they are expected to give back. That, for us, is a major challenge.

We believe we should be able to contribute our quota and that particular aspect of the challenge is one of the driving forces of the solution that we are providing as an organisation.
E-commerce is an area I have passion for, and we have been able to put years of experience together to provide solution to some of the challenges that are affecting our society today.

On what BeepMAGNET is bringing to e-commerce.
We are bringing a first of its kind. I call it the e-commerce hub. We have been able to create a slogan, which has been a boost to us. We say, “Matching technology with innovation.” Technology is the key. The scope at which technology would provide the solution cannot be compared to when things are done in the traditional way. Let’s take for an example what is happening in our traditional market space. Sometime in the past, Main Market in Onitsha was very vibrant, the transaction there was crazy. And when you look at the cash flow in that market, it’s really interesting. But what has happened today? You cannot compare the transaction that happens in Amazon or eBay with what happens in Main Market. Amazon, eBay, or Alibaba don’t have physical structures. Have they provided solution to people? Yes. Individuals have gotten space that is virtual and they do their business there. That is electronic transaction, e-commerce.

On block chain technology.
When we look at what is happening in the digital space, too, I think it is another area that there is a gap. It has to do with crypto-currency. I am an advocate of crypto-education. What you do not know is bigger than you. Crypto-education is something that Africa needs to go back to the drawing board to acquire. When we talk about crypto-education, we are looking at how we can bring this technology to solve problems. That draws our attention to block chain. When you talk about block chain technology, one of the areas that are visible is crypto-currency. But block chain technology is not only powering crypto-currency. From our research, there are other areas where block chain technology can be used. Think about land registry, microcredit financing, or law. When you talk about the open-ledger system, you are talking about a system where manipulations cannot be done. Sometimes we hear cases whereby land is purchased and it cannot be verified. As somebody in the United States, how do I know that this title is yours? We are looking at the government considering block chain that has two keys – the public and the private keys. What that means is that from the public point of view, anywhere in the world, when it is keyed in, it will bring out the corresponding owner of the title. Crypto-education is key.

On whether Nigeria has the infrastructure, especially electricity, to drive the innovation.
The answer is, yes. E-commerce has taken another dimension. Virtually every one of us has a mobile phone. The mobile phone does not consume much power. In e-commerce, electricity is not the problem, but the ability to understand its usage. Your mobile phone can actually be your shop. With the application that has been designed today, all you need is an android app. So we do not see electricity as a challenge in e-commerce.

Another area we are looking at is knowledge. For example, eBay and Amazon are doing something that is very popular. We do it traditionally, but they have been able to put it in another dimension. And what is that? If you go to the East, they call it osoafia (taking buyers to sellers of desired goods and services). Do you know that you can do osoafia electronically on the internet? It is called drop-shipping. What that means is that eBay and Amazon are places where I can go and buy. I may not have the goods, but I could do research in Amazon, get merchants who sell at a lesser price, and refer them in eBay. If you buy, I get some commission. These are areas that we can take advantage of. Look at the time we spend on WhatsApp and Facebook. I ask people, you have WhatsApp and Facebook, those who invented this idea, what value does it bring to them? You sit back and relax; they take advantage of your data and make money. In fact, they profile you from day one. They use what is called the freemium model. Freemium model simply means, give free, lure them, and later, they will pay. Almost all the big corporations that are taking over the world use that model. Facebook registration is free, just like Gmail, twitter, Whatsapp, etc. But is it really free? It is not. During the time you are doing your registration, they ask you very tricky questions. Do you like long hair, you say, yes; do you like sports, you say, yes; do you like xyz, you say, yes. They would then package the choices that you have made for advertisers and say, if you need individuals who love football, we have their data, and so on. You answered those questions while you were getting into their package for free. And you did that honestly because you were neither paid nor compelled. For every account you create, it turns into tens of thousands of dollars for them.

On BeepMAGNET’s model.
We have decided to say to Nigerians that it is possible for us to solve the problems of unemployment and e-commerce knowledge gap, and provide financial freedom. We believe that information is power. But we must first build the community.
With your mobile phone, when you pass through some of our programmes, it is possible for you to package it electronically, do a broadcast and put online. One or two persons who may be interested in getting additional information can contact you and pay for the broadcast. Maybe I am an expert in bead making. All I need is spend time and put together a book on how bead is made and do a broadcast on it to say if you want to know how to make bead, pay me N500. If on my WhatsApp page I have 1, 000 friends, that is N500 times 1, 000.

We started by building a closed community. That closed community is called GOLDCLUB. It is a closed e-commerce community where our focus is to take our members from the dungeon of e-commerce lag to a place of knowledge and financial freedom. We started from a closed community. But we looked at it, how can individuals actually identify with our community? So we decided to monetise the e-commerce space to give them a sense of belonging. We created one of the best affiliate models for our community. We are saying to the government, come and look into our model. What is the model? We have looked at our society and discovered that there is a gap between those who have and those who do not. But there is something that both those who have and those who do not have are interested in: need. When a product is connected to need, it will stand the test of time. Our e-commerce solution is connected to need. What is that need? Provision of discount service. We would be the ones to negotiate for our closed community. You don’t need to bother; all you need to watch out for is our brand or tag in these merchant locations. We believe discount is appealing to those who are rich and those who are poor.

On the pillar of the BeepMAGNET.
The pillar of our organisation is connected to three principles. The first is provision of discount service. The second is mentorship, and the third is personal development in real estate. We negotiate discount on behalf of our members and provide them with our online and offline cards. With this, you can walk into locations where we have negotiated discount and use our online card to make payment.

There are locations where the POS may not be working, so with our offline system, which can turn any Android phone into a payment system, you can make payment.
Traditional marketing believes in spending so much money on advertising. But our own point of view is that instead of spending this money on advertising, let us convert it to commission for affiliate promotion. Based on this, we have created a unique affiliate and members take it upon themselves to let as many people as possible know about the service.

On the benefits.

All you need to do is let your friends get our discount card and we will pay you N132, 000. We have created a plan that makes it possible for you as an individual to earn as much as N550 million. Mentor 100 people, tell them where they can shop and get discount. Get them to do what you did, even though it is only 20 per cent that does. Under our model, if you get 100 people to become holders of our card, you have earned N660, 000. If these 100 people are able to share with 20 persons each, you earn N17 million. It’s something that young ones who don’t have anything doing, who are yet to get a job, can take advantage of and let others know about the discount service. We are telling merchants, do you want to increase sales, offer us a discount and our community would patronise you.

On the misgivings about crypto-currency and fears about cyber insecurity.

We are not saying come and invest in Bitcoin, we are only saying we are experts in crypto-education. We advocate that people should be in the know about that space so that they do not become vulnerable. We want people to know that crypto-currency is real, but you must have understanding about it. The technology that backs up crypto-currency is block chain. If you are someone who loves adventure, you need to identify with us so that you can be trained. After the training, you will now see the horizon, the opportunities, challenges, and risks. If you understand these risks properly, you will be in a better position to avoid them. You are insecure when you are spontaneous in your action. The greed in people often shut their eyes to the right questions.
Eight years ago when the first crypto-currency, Bitcoin, came into existence, many people did not believe it would stand the test of time. From $110, Bitcoin has moved to $4, 400 as of now.

On membership.

You need a referrer, a member who would extend the opportunity to you. It is a model that can be used anywhere in the world. All I need is to send a URL link: www.goldclub.ng/reg/my user name. When you click on that on the browser, it takes you to the registration page. Our card is a Verve card powered by Interswitch. There are special locations with Verve terminals where you can use the cards, and we have partnering shops. We have over 100, 000 members. The third aspect of our business model, which has to do with real estate development, is what we are unveiling today. We are bringing in crypto-currency to align with real estate.