Evidently, agriculture has been the prime mover of the Nigerian economy, before the focus shifted to petroleum in 1958. However, in recent times, there appears to be a gradual return to this ancient pathway. Several entities — both individuals and the government — now tap into the limitless opportunities the Nigerian agricultural sector presents. But in all, the highly promising sector hasn’t been without drawbacks. Chief among them is trust.
This was what spurred the brilliant minds of Isaiah Udotong (CEO), Ikenna Nzewi (COO) and Uzoma Ayogu (CTO) to proffer a solution — Releaf.
Releaf is an online marketplace that connects buyers and sellers of agribusinesses to trustworthy customers. Just as the name hints, the Nigerian-American founders seek to relieve and wade off incessant uncertainties amongst players (especially sellers) in the agricultural sector.
Ironically, the internet hasn’t made finding a trusted business easier. Existing B2B portals are full of fake businesses trying to deceive people. Because of this 419, many businesses don’t trust B2B internet portals. I’ve spoken with tens of agribusiness entrepreneurs and they’ve told me their businesses are struggling to grow because of a lack of trust and reliability with other businesses. They don’t need another portal with thousands of random businesses. They need a short-list of the ones they can trust. We have created a free solution to this problem. | Ikenna Nzewi (COO/ co-founder)Advertisement
Prior to their launch on Tuesday, August 1, 2017, the founders have been familiarising themselves with the Nigerian agricultural terrain and working on the best strategies to deliver on their value proposition. During this period, they achieved several milestones.
According to the founders, Releaf now has about 300 active users, 100 connections and 600 companies on the platform. The peak of their achievement is their recently secured $120,000 from Y Combinator (YC) program they started in June 2017. In excitement, Ikenna explained that the fund will be used to pilot their model in the Nigerian agricultural space.
In the bid to guarantee safety and make the platform of mutual benefits to trade parties — farmers, processors, exporters, and off-takers — the agro-startup subjects its users to a thorough verification process. Users must be registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) and have two references. According to Uzo, a user who is incorporated with the CAC will find it tough to involve in any fraudulent or nefarious activity. Isaiah further explains: “If we have your verified references, then you have nowhere to run”.
How Releaf works
Sellers have to register and indicate which commodities they are looking to sell. They are then presented with a list of verified buyers to contact for those commodities. Releaf proceeds to verify the seller and allows the buyer to decide if they would like to discuss the contract further. An added advantage to using releaf is that, instead of sending cold inquiries to buyers, contacting is directly facilitated by Releaf to ensure a 90% response rate from clients.
Unlike conventional B2B models where sellers post what they sell and wait for buyers, Releaf’s platform allows sellers to bid for active buyer contracts.
One of the team members, Emmanuel Udotong (business development ), further emphasied: “Releaf caters mostly for sellers”.
When asked how Releaf could be beneficial to local farmers — who might not see the need to go all corporate with the CAC –, Uzo said: “ they can deal under another registered organisation that has a profile on Releaf already. These registered organisations could liaise with farmers, get their crops and sell on their behalf”.
Unlike most businesses, Releaf has a silent revenue model. Rather than go the usual way of charging commission per transaction, the startup anchors its income on investments, data-gathering, partnership with multinationals, and providing premium features (profiles, access to more details, contents, information) to users on the platform.
Upon rounding off their program with YC, the team will return in October to scale the business on-ground.
Following the counsel of Y Combinator to concentrate on solving the biggest problem, Isaiah stressed that the team intends to staunchly focus on their customers and building of product, at least within the next 12 months after their arrival in Nigeria.
Needless to say, the founders of Releaf have demonstrated innovation in solving a crucial challenge that exists with agribusinesses. Should they deliver on their proposition, there is no telling how this could birth a remarkable turnaround in the Nigerian agricultural space.
Do you have challenges getting credible buyers for your agribusiness? Let Releaf take care of it. Sign up on the website immediately.
Nigerian startups raised $377m in 2019, more than twice what they did in 2018. Find out more when you download the full report.
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