Making of a Blockchain Rewards and eCommerce Platform: Journey of a Start Up — Part 1

UKasii is a cash-back rewards and loyalty eCommerce platform for Africa, built on blockchain.

At the end of the Prologue published last week, I mentioned that I was going to be paid to form and run a start-up. Well, that wasn’t strictly true. Remuneration would start once we obtained funding, which was being looked upon as a certainty, as it was a huge project being sponsored by influential local individuals. However, developing the proof of concept, building the business case, interviewing and building the team- both local and ex-pat -, writing the job descriptions, developing a marketing plan, developing the project and execution plan, the list goes on, was going to take 5–6 months. And during this period I would be working pro bono. No income for potentially half a year. My wife was obviously concerned — we have two young children, our son on the Autism spectrum — and said I should look for other roles in parallel. The problem with this was I couldn’t in all consciousness apply for permanent roles, knowing that I may have to resign within 6 months. I was excited by and committed to this project. So I’d have to look for short term consultancy assignments.

I don’t know about you but unless I can see the “end product”, I find it difficult to start working on anything. Rob had asked if he could see a high level POC (proof of concept) by the end of the month, which was 3 weeks away. It was doable. But I needed to see it first myself. Having been involved in numerous “Loyalty program” projects, I had a fairly good idea of the overall big picture. UKasii was going to be mobile. UKasii was going to be a “cash-back” program. And UKasii rewards and loyalty program was going to be very simple to use: Earn money, spend money, lend money. At the end of the day, that’s what “loyalty program” points / miles are; currency.

And I wanted to have a strong Corporate Social Responsibility focus, which was fundamental.

Revenue from the UKasii blockchain cash-back rewards and loyalty eCommerce platform will be invested in CSR projects.

Why do I keep putting the word loyalty program in speech marks and italics? Here’s the thing. I don’t believe loyalty programs drive “loyalty”. Without wishing to rehash our white paper, I believe consumers are loyal to two things and two things alone: Brand and Price. Moreover, the focus of the organisations that operate them are skewed towards revenues, rather than the customer.

A week or so and a few PowerPoint slides into writing up the POC, I was sent a standard template to use, which was apparently being used across the various business units of the larger project, with placeholders for each business unit. So, copy paste everything and waste valuable time re-formatting everything. However, much more alarming was it looked like the loyalty program already had a name…

Staring up at me from the placeholder for the loyalty program POC, were the words “Naija Moni”. While I hoped the words meant Loyalty Program in “Nigerian” — which by the way is not a language, Nigeria has many languages, English being the most widely used — the love heart shaped logo in the green and white colours of Nigeria, used across the board for every business unit, had me worried. I called Rob.

“Rob, what’s Naija Moni? Please tell me it’s only the project name…”

“No, that’s what they want to call it, it’s Pidgin, a language spoken across Nigeria. It means “Nigerian Money””.

“Tell me it’s not set in stone, we can change it right? Because this program isn’t going to be in just Nigeria. The plan is to grow across Africa and then potentially to other regions…”

“Unfortunately, it’s set in stone mate…”

Evidently, the group in Nigeria who were sponsoring the project had already decided on the name and branding. OK, so they had every right to do that, but I was annoyed. Not only because the branding and marketing aspect is fundamental to the success of any consumer program, but it meant I didn’t exactly have “carte blanche”, or any input into something that was this fundamental. As far as I had been aware and concerned, the name, branding and logo for the project would come much later once we had everything else in place. To me it felt like naming the baby before the baby was born.

Fine. A way would have to be found to make it work.

Once the initial POC was complete, an organisation chart was needed. A small core team of expats and local staff would form the initial team, growing as the program grew. At some point we were going to need to put together an RFP for the solution, so a strong IT team experienced in loyalty program operations was critical. It’s worth stating at this point that we hadn’t yet decided to use blockchain. It was considered as a possibility for a “phase 2”, but we’d make that decision in due course. We certainly hadn’t considered an ICO as we were going to be funded in the traditional way.

Countdown to UKasii blockchain rewards and cash-back loyalty eCommerce platform for Africa.

In any decision making situation, I believe it’s best to wait until the last possible moment. Even if you’re absolutely certain, wait until whatever your “deadline” may be. Anything could happen in the time in between, which could spring up better alternatives and sometimes leverage. Decisions made in haste can be costly.

Finding an expat team that was willing to relocate to Nigeria wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. Though not everyone I approached was available, the team that accepted were as excited as I was at the greater mission of giving back and the overall corporate social responsibility aspect.

For the local team candidates I scoured Linkedin for the respective positions. The first local candidate I spoke with, Chinelo Obidigbo, had done a bit of research into “Naija Moni” and obviously hadn’t been able to find anything online. I hadn’t revealed anything in my initial message via Linkedin and subsequent emails until an NDA had been signed. Just that it was an HR Manager role for a foreign start up. After the initial pleasantries she asked,

“So, what is the project, is it something like a casino or gambling project?”

I was taken aback.

“No, what made you think that?”

“Because I couldn’t find anything online and the word “moni” is usually used by gambling companies…”

I laughed it off and explained what it is we were going to do. She liked the project and was very keen to come on board. However, she did mention during the interview that she was a lawyer and preferred legal work but had HR experience.

I spoke with the second HR Manager candidate right after the call with Chinelo. After the initial pleasantries she asked,

“So, what is the project, is it something like a casino or gambling project?”

No, you’re not experiencing déja vu, though at the time I felt like I was…

I spoke to a third candidate.

“Are you opening a casino?”

Three out of three. That was it. There was no way the program was going to be called Naija Moni, not if I was going to continue being involved.

(To be continued 30 October 2018…)

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