When Toyin Bajomo was pregnant, she did what many of her friends in Nigeria did: she saved up to have her baby abroad. Because it is difficult to source high-quality, safe baby gear in Nigeria, she ordered everything she needed online to be delivered to the UK, where she planned to give birth.
“I didn’t even try to find the things that I wanted to find locally. I just thought I would do it somewhere else,” she says. “But my baby didn’t agree.” She arrived ten weeks early, and Bajomo found herself scrambling to get what she needed at Lagos’s open-air markets.
Today, Bajomo is the CEO of BabyBliss in Nigeria, which sells certified, high-quality products for moms and babies. It is helping women get the products they want without the hassle and expense of importing them internationally. The company also offers a platform where users can seek advice. Last year, it merged with another strong brand–MumsVillage Kenya–focused on online communities. Because the merged company has a digital community of 300,000 moms, it has insights into the products they need and want.
BabyBliss is poised to grow and to take advantage of some key trends: the flourishing of digital technologies across Africa, growing middle-class populations, and an increasing adoption of e-commerce, accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now Prosper Africa, the U.S. initiative to increase trade and investment between the U.S. and Africa, is working with BabyBliss to find investors in the U.S. who see the same opportunities and want to be part of the company’s growth. You can find BabyBliss on Prosper Africa’s Virtual Deal Room, along with dozens of other investment-ready companies across the continent.
We interviewed Bajomo to learn more about BabyBliss’s growth, business trends in Nigeria, and why more investors should look to Africa.
This interview has been edited for length.
How do women usually shop for baby gear in Nigeria, and how is BabyBliss changing that?
Toyin Bajomo: Some women get their products abroad. So you buy something from Amazon, you have it shipped to someone you know overseas, and that person ships it to Lagos and then on to you. But you can imagine the hassle of doing that individually for each product you need.
The way most moms shop in Nigeria is in open-air markets. What you can imagine is being pregnant and walking through an open market in the hot sun, with basically no idea of what the product you’re shopping for looks like inside the box. You could get home and it’s completely different from what you thought you were buying.
We estimate that probably 60 percent of the goods are counterfeit. And if you’re buying something like a car seat, you want to know that it’s been tested. You want to know that it has impact protection. If you’re buying something made of plastic, you want to know the plastic is non-toxic. We see a huge opportunity to bring that trust to our customers – to vet products and make them available locally, at an affordable price.
You’re listed on the Prosper Africa Deal Room. Why did you decide that now is the right time to fundraise?
Bajomo: We’re really positioned for growth. We see that digital is growing and so is the adoption of e-commerce. A lot of people tried it out for the first time because of the pandemic, and now it’s hard to go back to the old way of doing things.
We had the merger with the Kenya entity last year, so that would have been the ideal time to fundraise, but last year was last year and we were just focused on surviving as a business, and I’m glad we did. The digital elements and e-commerce really helped us during the lockdowns and social distancing and everything that came with the pandemic.
The business has grown quite a bit. We have about 20,000 customers that are shopping with us actively in Nigeria and Kenya, and we also have a community of about 300,000 moms. We are really excited to be building out an app to serve as a container for those communities and for all the great things that we’re doing.
For me the ideal investor will be someone that really is patient and understands the local context, but also someone that is passionate about the cause. I think there needs to be that level of connection because this is a real problem that has a daily impact on the lives of millions of women.
What should businesses and investors know about opportunities in Africa?
Bajomo:I think it’s important for U.S. businesses to consider Africa as an investment route. Because the investment in Africa has much more of an opportunity to yield really exciting returns. We’re really early stage in a lot of the problems that we’re trying to fix. And with the really young, dynamic population, people are, hands-on, trying to fix the problems that affect their daily lives. So for U.S. companies, looking into Africa and Nigeria especially is great because there’s just so many opportunities for growth.
My advice for companies looking to trade or invest in Africa is just to understand the local context. It’s important not to expect it to be a replica of what you’re comfortable with in the U.S., but to see the opportunity as what it is, just specific to us.
It’s a very different market. We have different policies, different infrastructures—everything is different. But businesses in Africa are producing a lot of amazing goods and amazing services. There are opportunities across the media sector, the retail sector–everywhere really.
In Nigeria, we have a young population, with growing digital skills and internet penetration. There are opportunities for the U.S. market to tap into that, and to tap into the talent that is coming out of Africa. Nigeria is a great place to invest, especially at the early stage. There are a lot of synergies that can improve the state of business in both countries.
Visit Prosper Africa’s Virtual Deal Room to get connected to BabyBliss and other investment-ready companies across Africa.