As the local business sector moves further to e-commerce, many Ugandans are creating innovative ways to tap into the future of business. For one, enterprising 26-year-old VAOLAH AMUMPAIRE is defying odds to step into the world of hardware business with a determination of creating a one-stop online centre for buyers, writes Nicholas Bamulanzeki.
On the recommendation of a friend, I got in touch with the young, joyous Amumpaire at her office in Ntinda. Knowing I had gone to a hardware dealer, I found there hardly anything special apart from a group of people banging around their computer keyboards as they spoke on phone endlessly. It seemed like a call centre or sorts but as I later learnt, there is more to it than meets the eye.
There are several tech start-ups cropping up and Amumpaire is touted as one of the most innovative young businesspeople of late. In a hardware sector dominated by a cartel of powerful players who control the market, I was eager to understand more about her unique online initiative for buying and delivering construction materials and whether it cuts the grade.
“Hey, I’m the founder and CEO of wenahardware.com. We sell and deliver construction materials to one’s site anywhere in Uganda,” she told me with a beaming smile.
How? Amumpaire is just a bubbling twenty-something lady with hands very soft like those of a baby, a testament that she has perhaps never carried a bag of cement. Yet here she is, convincing me how she can deliver construction materials in every corner of Uganda…I wondered.
Besides, people who operate hardware facilities are renowned for wearing safety gear and for moving up and about to serve customers but there was no such stuff here.
“You may not believe it but I also get dirty, even if it means lifting iron bars but most of my work is taking orders and coordinating the process until the product reaches the client. Our customers are largely got online and we get most of our orders through referral,” she told me.
How does she do it?
I wondered. Amumpaire told me honesty is her most important virtue. She intimated that she does not own any hardware shop but helps clients to purchase for them hardware material and charges 10 per cent of every transaction.
Indeed, she has a database of more than 5,000 hardware shops and contacts around the country, which she can liaise with depending on the needs and location of the client. She says the hardware business is quite complex because prices of products keep on changing every day and she has to be alert to know who has the best deal for a product.
She also admitted that to be ahead of the game, she does constant research for the latest products, the most durable ones and their availability in different parts of the country. “I put my reputation on the line because I cannot afford to buy a substandard product for a client. I only list top products online and when he/she makes an order, it has to meet the exact specifications. No shortcuts.”
Interestingly, Amumpaire’s story was inspired by outcry.
“After stories of Ugandans in the diaspora that work tirelessly, send their money home to friends and or family to help them buy construction materials for their projects back home, only for it to be used for their personal gains,” she says.
“These endless stories of Ugandans in the diaspora working away from their sites bore an idea to enable people buy directly, leave a drop-off address, and pay without involving third parties. We are unique in a sense that we let people buy building materials on the go from wherever and whenever, pay online and get them delivered to their construction sites anywhere in Uganda.”
I also wondered how she got the idea to join this male-dominated sector. “It was largely my personal initiative. I have not received any donations or grants. It is, however, important to note that our clients have been extremely supportive and we are grateful. Serving a client and see them return means a lot to our growth.”
Indeed, Amumpaire intimated that her initiative is an inspiration from Ugandans in the diaspora that were always cheated by friends or family back home when it came to buying building materials for their projects back.
In 2018 when she was starting out, Amumpaire says, she noted a gap in communication between sellers and buyers and it triggered the entrepreneurship in her to seize the opportunity. “Most manufacturers did not provide us with product description. Many did not also have their product description available to make reference to; so, I set out to provide all this information through a website.”
However, it was not an easy start.
“I started at the time when mobile money transaction fees and OTT had been introduced. This affected how we engaged with clients. Some of my peers even thought I was crazy and needed to take it slow otherwise I would have no survival. They advised me to keep my job as a marketer but I was determined to become my own boss. Luckily, some of the people I had worked with were supportive. I believe it was the reason they believed this would be a good challenge,” she says.
“I contacted a couple of web developers, got different rates and finally settled with one I thought I could afford. We reserved a domain, months later, I had some content.”
She adds that other challenges emerged from transactions. “Locally, people were accustomed to carrying cash to make a payment. So was the case with buying construction materials. With Wena, they had to buy and pay online. It was not easily understood since most people called us asking for directions to our store. They mistook is for a hardware store with on online presence.”
With time, Amumpaire says, different people started to share the experience of working with her and recommended to her different relevant opportunities along the way.
Admittedly, Amumpaire says she doesn’t have a constant daily routine. “I am either coordinating with a supplier or negotiating or in meetings. One constant is that I have to oversee general activities of the business in no particular laid-out order. Strange as it may sound, I almost work anywhere, anytime as long as I have my phone and laptop.”
Amumpaire remains cagey about how much she earns a month but is content to say it is beyond her wildest dreams. She is also content with what she has achieved so far.
“We have served various clients, most of whom are pleased with our services. In areas where we didn’t meet their expectations, we have been notified and rectified whatever was not right,” she says. “One average, we work on at least five orders. The order volumes may vary from time to time. We also get hundreds of inquiries, a sign that people need our services. Some of these turn into clients in the long run.”
Last year, she was selected among four Ugandan tech start-ups that were sponsored by NTF IV, a support program for start-ups, under International Trade Centre (ITC), and attend the Afrolynk conference in Berlin where she won a prize in a pitching contest competed for by 10 highly innovative African enterprises.
“Afrolynk was amazing and opened my eyes. I got first-hand information from people who are practising all that they facilitated us through. As a start-up, a reputable organisation gives you a platform that you would not ordinarily get to singlehandedly. NTF IVI enabled me to get training that helped me focus and fully understand my business’ value proposition, among other benefits of the various trainings.
With a workforce team of six people, Amumpaire is confident she is going to become a leading player in the hardware sector. “Our business growth is promising. From no orders in months to daily orders, we are optimistic. We are working towards becoming a household brand, synonymous with building materials and to be a pan-African business in the near future.”
Indeed, anything is possible if you believe in yourself the way Amumpaire did. “My messages to all the youth out there is that start with whatever you have. All that matters is starting.”
Who is Amumpaire?
She attended International Window School in Mbarara for primary school, Maryhill High School for O-level and Bweranyangi Girls School for A-level.
She attained a bachelor’s degree in International Business from Makerere University Business School, a postgraduate diploma in Digital Marketing and Sales Psychology from Shaw Academy and Level Six from Chartered Institute of Marketing.