Breaking into new markets isn’t easy, but in just four short years, this social entrepreneur has merged informal hawking with the online world, for good.
Growing up in Haiti, Christine Souffrant Ntim was surrounded by street vendors in her neighbourhood. Her grandmother and mom were part of the informal retail system and this sparked a flame that would later become Vendedy.
“My personal upbringing brought to the fore the legitimisation issues street vending faced,” she says. Vendedy took off while Souffrant Ntim was facing her own personal challenges. But the passing of her father in her arms, the day before she was set to present her idea to investors, built her character in ways she could have never imagined.
All she needed was an internet connection and travellers interested in connecting with street markets. Today Vendedy operates in over 51 countries across 500 street markets.
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“Many times when stakeholders ask hard questions about the practicality of the business model, my answers come from experience and not research,” says Vendedy founder Christine Souffrant Ntim, whose background in banking and international development makes it easier to on-board partners and scale her start-up intuitively.
Before Vendedy, Souffrant Ntim was just a young woman with an idea to make life for Haitian street vendors and their customers easier. Here’s what you can learn from her journey:
Building a brand
When a start-up enters a new market there’s a need for testimonials, photos, videos and partners to validate the value the business claims to bring.
“Entering new markets requires a reputation to precede you,” says Souffrant Ntim. “This is important that entrepreneurs know the essence of brand building because today people buy your reputation not your product. If people don’t believe in you and your authenticity, they will go to your competitor.”
In today’s digital age, your brand is in a sense more important than your product.
Customising for continuous adaptation
“You need to prove that you can customise your value for the new market culture. Brands that are able to show global scale have a blueprint for how they announce their pilot efforts in new markets and a strategy for gaining trust,” says Souffrant Ntim.
Mpesa for example, exploded in Kenya and has become a global case study for mobile payments, but when it entered South Africa, the concept failed. “They had the brand to enter strategically but they did not customise it for the local culture,” explains Souffrant Ntim.
Unlike Kenya, South Africa has an extensive banking ecosystem and did not have the same need for Mpesa as Kenya. Had Mpesa thought of this, it would have entered with a different strategy.
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For Souffrant Ntim, distribution networks are the most critical obstacle for entering new markets. “You can have a great product but if the marketing can distribute effectively within the local context, then the adoption rate will fail.”
So as a start-up founder you need to first know how news travels within a market so you can know how to announce your product.
“Second, find out buying patterns how do people buy your competitor’s products? How is it distributed? Find out and replicate that strategy,” Souffrant Ntim says.
Be different to attain and maintain a competitive edge. All Vendedy’s competitors were trying to get informal vendors off the street, while they were happy there, because of the connection they had with customers. Souffrant Ntim then enhanced the experience with digital technology instead of imposing a new system to an age-old market.