Co-founder and co-CEO, MallforAfrica
Five years ago, most Nigerian residents found it difficult — if not impossible — to shop online retailers based in America or Britain. Many of these retailers, whether because of challenges related to customs or fraud schemes, simply wouldn’t ship direct to Africa-based consumers.
Thanks to Tope Folayan ’01 and his brother Chris, there’s now a solution to that problem. MallforAfrica, an online ecommerce company launched by the siblings in 2013, serves as a safe passageway whereby retailers based in the U.S. and U.K. can make transactions with consumers based in Nigeria.
Serving as a virtual mall of sorts, MallforAfrica provides shoppers with access to more than 150 retailers, including Macy’s, J.Crew, Bloomingdale’s and Amazon. Consumers use pre-loaded MallforAfrica debit cards to pay for the goods, and then the company places orders with retailers on its customers’ behalf. Retailers send the goods to one of MallforAfrica’s warehouses in the U.S. or U.K.; from there, the company ships the products directly to its customers’ homes, offices or choice pickup location in Africa. In exchange for the service, MallforAfrica charges customers a small percentage (3 to 5 percent) of the merchandise cost.
With MallforAfrica, Folayan has effectively bridged a gap between two worlds — and fixed an issue that once brought him personal frustration. Years ago, after living and studying the United States for several years, the Nigerian native returned home with his American shopping habits still intact. After discovering that many merchants wouldn’t accept orders from his Nigerian address, Folayan arranged to have his packages sent to his brother Chris, who lived in California. Chris would then forward the packages to Folayan in Africa.
After receiving one too many packages on his brother’s behalf, Chris — whose background is in IT — made a simple app to streamline the purchasing and delivery process. A few months later, strangers started showing up at Folayan’s front door, asking about deliveries. Chris’ app, as it turned out, had been passed around.
Annoyed at the unwelcome intrusions, Folayan rented a space down the street from his house, and had people ship their deliveries there. "Someone should have hit me on the head," Folayan says. "I thought it was an inconvenience I was getting rid of."
Quite the opposite, as it turns out. MallforAfrica has more than 50,000 subscribers, 26 pickup centers in Nigeria, 8.5 billion items and plans for expansion across Africa. The incredible nature of that growth isn’t lost on Folayan. “There’s a little bit of euphoria,” he says.