Business mentor, dream nurturer, and goal grabber. Constantly dedicated to cultivating entrepreneurs, Joy Agbakoba is one of the most diverse business entrepreneurs to have emerged out of the tourism industry in Africa to date. Gaining notoriety as a travel expert, she has since propelled herself to a multi-business owner, philanthropist, business mentor, and international speaker.
Joy started by honing her business and management skills as the Personal Assistant to the General Manager of the Special Ranging Department at the British Home stores, London. The experience she gained propelled her to start her first journey into entrepreneurship.
Today, she is the Managing Director of Travellers Haven, a high-flying travel agency, which organizes tours to exotic destinations. And by combining the best in travel and commerce, Mrs. Agbakoba launched Women Business Arena in 2019, the first women centric e-commerce website in Nigeria. Women Business Arena (WBA) with over 1,500 registered members on the platforms.
Always full of energy and ideas, Joy shares with Pleasures magazine the making of the e-commerce platform and offers some advice to those who also have that bold entrepreneurial spirit.
“When the vision actually started, it wasn’t meant to be a business, it was a platform I set up for my friends to connect with vendors. Basically, all I do in the Women Business Arena is ensuring proper coordination.
I just discovered people called to ask for simple things like a contact for fashion designers, caterers, event planners, cleaners, etc. So I then decided to start a WhatsApp group to meet this need and put a few vendors I know. I am a travel agent by profession and with the nature of my job, I come across people from different works of life and I had a huge database of vendors.
From my phone contacts alone, I came up with 92 members. Those members told their friends who then requested to join.
That was how I found myself connecting people every time. I was like a mini Google map for a lot of my friends, both home and abroad, so in the end, I decided to create a WhatsApp group and add all these friends that are always asking me for these things. I also added all the tried and trusted vendors. So that was how I was connecting clients to vendors.
The platforms grew to other states and our Abuja platform as we speak actually has over 250 members while Lagos has three WhatsApp platforms with more than 700 members.
Then, someone came to me and said let’s do an Ibadan and then Ondo, Ekiti, Port-Harcourt, Benin, Jos, Bauchi, Kaduna. We are like in eight different cities already, and everyone is trading on our WhatsApp platforms.
We have different traders and even people who render services. We even have fishmongers, people who go to the market to buy fish and deliver it to their clients. Since I started the group, I have never bought anything outside the platform. I practice what I preach, so I try to encourage people to buy from the platform and I try to tell the women to try to keep their prices low and affordable to be competitive to avert clients looking elsewhere to compare prices. We give high discounts and that’s how it has been for WBA.
I kept listening to advice and in the cause of time, someone came to me and said let’s have a trade fair, so we started planning a trade fair. One of the members has a school, Standard Bearers School in Lekki, she said we can use her venue and pay for just diesel, and some other little things, but unfortunately the venue was not big enough for the number of vendors that we needed we had up to 117 vendors during the first exhibition, so we used the school, and we know that next time after COVID-19 we would be able to get a bigger venue because the response was impressive.
We had a very successful exhibition even Special Adviser to the President on Diaspora Abike Dabire-Erewa attended and gave a speech.”
On the rules and regulations:
Mrs. Agbakoba said “Rules governing membership are simple. There are membership fees of 3,000 naira ($8:00). The platform is strictly for marketing our businesses, collaboration, and networking. No jokes, prayers, birthday announcements, or materials unrelated to our allowed companies. Such a message we encourage the member to send to individuals and not to the platform. We remove violators after breaking the rules three times. Disputes arising are dealt with by Admin behind the scenes.”
Handling cases of substandard goods:
“Sometimes, it happens, we have a committee that investigates such issues. If the trader default we do refund or ask such goods to be replaced. Also, for our e-commerce website www.wbarena.com which was launched in August is very handy. We are connecting to other countries, although we haven’t done much with African countries, we have a group in the UK with about 400 members, and that only started on the 6th of August, 2020. We also have people from Kenya, Ghana, and Sierra Leone there. London has a vast cultural presence because people from different countries are there. Some of them have shared the link with their relatives and friends in Kenya, in Ghana, so we have people from Ghana, from Kenya so once that group grows, we are going to move all those people and create a group for their countries. We are looking at Kenya and Ghana specifically.
On measure in preventing scams:
“Yes, we have a directory (wbadirectory.com)and have everybody’s address there including their telephone number and business address, we also have their Instagram and their other social media handles, we have everything in our directory/database. We do proper scrutiny and research on our traders also we have never had any defaulters. And on our site, we have different payment platforms. The money goes to the WBA account at the moment, and the seller gets the money in seven days because we have a return policy except on things like food and jewelry or underwear and clothes because of hygienic reasons. We have a seven days return policy; we keep the money and after seven days it will be released to the vendors.”
On Checks and Balances:
The checks we have, when you make a payment it goes to Women Business Arena Account, and the vendor has five days to return the product. So, we keep that money for seven days, you get your money after seven days, then we are sure the customer has received the product and they are happy with the product and then you get paid. But food items are exempted from that, you don’t get a refund for food items. You can’t send underwear back, earrings and other personal items.
For WBA that is www.wbarena.com, I’m hoping and praying that it becomes a household name. I am hoping and praying that we are able to reach out to every family and that every family would be able to enjoy the services offered by our platform. And by God’s grace, once Covid-19 is out and done with, we would be able to resume having our annual trade fair, like we had in December last year and hopefully, in the end, we would do an international trade fair. We encourage trade between the countries, like on our London platform we have, probably like eight people who have businesses in Nigeria, but they deal on businesses that would be needed over there in the UK, so I’m very careful with my selection. I noticed that many women are new in business, many of them have become caterers as a result of Covid-19, some are women who have jobs and they lost their jobs, some are caterers, they are cooking or doing one thing or the other.
Giving back to society:
As a group WBA decided to raise funds within the group, when we were just about 600 to 700 we were not as big as we are now, so we decided to raise money to give raw food as well as cooked food packs, so our target was to feed 5,000 families, so we fed 5,120. We fed people in Ajah, Lekki phase 1 a suburb community inside Lekki phase 1, we fed people in Ajegunle, Shomolu, Ikeja, Ogba, some widows in Ajah, women with disability in Orile, we did like nine different areas we did Surulere as well, and each area we gave packs of 400 depending on how highly populated such area is but in total we fed Lagosian during the lockdown which was tagged: Operation Feed Lagos, we met our target and that was what we set out to do.
Advice to women who are just venturing into business
Stay focused, be determined and integrity is everything that is all I will say and never to give up regardless of what we see now, we should look beyond COVID-19. And never stop training yourself.