BfE Case Studies: ShopZed, Zambia

February 18, 2018 | Christos-Stavros Konstantopoulos

ShopZed is a promising Zambian social enterprise founded in 2013, with the aim of connecting Zambian expatriates to the Zambian market and providing female farmers with a platform for their products. One of the first Zambian online grocery stores, it sells local products, many of which are supplied by women farmers, and delivers them to the customer’s door. In 2015, ShopZed won 4th place in the Nyamuka Zambia Business Plan competition. Victoria Muzumara, one of Shopzed’s founders, and Vinay Popat, our project manager on ShopZed, provide us with more information on this bold enterprise. 

Victoria, can you tell us what the vision behind ShopZed is?

We wanted to create a convenient way for Zambians living abroad to shop for their families the same way they shop on eBay or Amazon. So, just like buying a cell phone online and entering a shipping address, they could do the same with groceries and enter a shipping address in Zambia or other countries instead.

What inspired you to start this project?

The realisation of how difficult and expensive it is for expatriates to send money back home. Sometimes, sending money has limits if you are supporting more than one person. ShopZed offers an alternative way of sending back money to help the Zambian economy.

Was finding financial support in the early stages of your enterprise difficult? How did you overcome this?

It was very difficult. Actually, such support was non-existent. So, we decided to work from home to avoid the costs of opening an office, and we tried to keep spending at sustainable levels by shopping as each order came through.

How did you become aware of Bridges for Enterprise, and why did you choose to connect with us?

We heard about BfE from the Director of Entrepreneurship at the BongoHive innovation hub in Lusaka.

In what ways do you think Bridges for Enterprise has helped you achieve your vision?

The network’s really dedicated mentorship has helped us with accountability (sticking to what we say we will do). The marketing report was instrumental in convincing us to shift to a more profitable model of delivery, after seeing that demand was low locally. The phone sessions were also very helpful; they made us think outside the box and provided feedback for certain ideas we had in mind but were unsure of implementing.

Which two tips would you give to someone thinking of becoming a social entrepreneur?

Make do with what you have, and draw up an action plan!

Vinay, what did your role as project manager for ShopZed entail?

I was heading the Consulting team appointed to help ShopZed create a marketing strategy, and so I had various tasks. Among my most important duties was being in charge of communicating with ShopZed and James Rothwell, the assigned mentor. I ensured that the mentor’s feedback and ShopZed’s direction were communicated back to the whole team and incorporated into our work. Other responsibilities I had as the leader of the Consulting team included delegating work and being in charge of the final report. Eventually, with help from the team, we managed to produce the report – 114 pages – before the deadline.

What was the biggest challenge you faced?

The biggest challenge was attempting to place ourselves in ShopZed’s position. As someone who had previous experience of “project managing”, and given my awareness of multiple projects and their progress as the Consulting Director, I think that the typical problem in such engagements is the lack of pragmatism. Often, consulting societies conduct thorough research and arrive at recommendations, however, these are not always practical. Start-ups like ShopZed often have a very small management team, or even just one person who is in charge of all daily activities, and a limited budget. Whilst the reports produced are generally of interest to start-ups, they do not always have a tangible enough effect. The challenge we faced, and which our partner consulting societies commonly face, is to outline recommendations which are easily implemented and understood.

In what ways do you think this role has helped you develop as a person?

In a country like the UK where so many students go on to become investment bankers, consultants, lawyers, or go into other high-flying professions, the perspective we have of the world is sometimes misleading. At the very least, it doesn’t reflect what the majority of people go through. Speaking regularly with Victoria, a woman who effectively gave up the chance of an easier life in the United States in favour of setting up a start-up in Zambia, is an experience that will stay with me. Instead of choosing an easier path, she has worked hard to solve a problem for the Zambian diaspora, focusing on the potential social impact while initially having very small revenues which barely cover costs. In a university where we are surrounded by some of the smartest people of our generation, many of whom harbor ambitions of going into corporations and earning a significant amount of money, there is clearly something to be learnt from the experiences of the start-ups we work with. In particular, we can learn from the social entrepreneurs who have given up an easier life, and dedicated themselves to the challenge of fitting into the business world whilst improving the lives of the communities in which they live.

We thank Victoria and Vinay for their insights, and we wish ShopZed the best of luck!A huge thanks to the Singapore team, the mentors and the representatives of the start-ups who made this dream come true!