Yele Oyekola first saw problems that retail distributors face in Nigeria when he was seven years old. His grandmother is a big distributor there and would send out sales reps to deliver goods and collect cash, but there would be theft in transit, or claims that the money was lost or stolen.
Years later, during the COVID pandemic, when Oyekola went to visit his grandmother, she would speak of the problems she faced as sales reps couldn’t go out to deliver goods or collect cash. Oyekola saw this as a big opportunity. A company like Duplo was needed.
Oyekola is chief executive officer and co-founder of Duplo. The payments company is on a mission to digitise payments in the B2B market and simplify accounting procedures, allowing African businesses to optimise and scale.
The Lagos-based firm plans to dominate the B2B payments market in the country and then expand elsewhere on the continent.
Fintech Intel spoke with Yele Oyekola to discuss Duplo, problems that businesses face in Africa and the enormous opportunities available for entrepreneurs to solve them.
Can you tell us about Duplo and the problems that it solves for businesses?
Duplo is the simplest way for businesses to pay each other in Nigeria. We allow businesses to transact easily with their suppliers and vendors. We launched in January of 2022 within the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) industry.
Our first use case was digitising payments between wholesalers and retailers and between distributors and wholesalers. This digitised process enabled FMCG distributors in Nigeria to onboard retailers within their network on Duplo, making it easier for them to collect payments digitally and access real-time insights into their business performance as well.
In terms of the problems, there has been a lot of advancement with consumer payments and B2C payments. But B2B is still very archaic. It’s highly manual, pen and paper, and the industry has been kind of left behind.
We are trying to simplify and modernise how businesses transact. Beyond that, we are also trying to simplify how businesses automate, track and reconcile payment flows, which saves them immense time and costs. It is a massive opportunity.
How important is digitising payments to businesses in Africa and their prosperity?
It is very important. When we launched Duplo, we had businesses claim they were losing a significant part of their revenue to payment operation errors and processes.
When you have businesses transacting in cash or manual payment methods, you also have issues with errors. Digitising payments can save time and money and allow them to scale.
Tell us about Duplo’s initial growth in the FMCG industry—how did this come about?
The reason we went with the FMCG industry in Nigeria is that this is a problem I had seen first-hand with my grandmother, who is a big retail distributor.
When I was seven, I remember vividly how she would have her sales reps deliver goods and collect cash. There would be theft in transit, or claims of ‘I Iost the money’ or ‘I was robbed’. So, we were trying initially to allow distributors to digitise payments to avoid these issues.
In the last few months, we have also expanded into other industries in Nigeria. B2B logistics, medical supplies and anything that has that dynamic, where a distributor is selling goods to a retailer or a wholesaler.
When did you first realise there was an opportunity for a company such as Duplo?
The idea came up during the COVID pandemic, but it is a problem I had seen growing up and a problem that was still occurring when I went to see my grandmother during pandemic. I saw how big the opportunity was and decided to work on it full-time.
I remember my grandmother said during lockdown that there wasn’t a way for her sales reps to go and deliver goods or collect cash—that would have been a perfect time for a solution such as Duplo. It also made a lot of sense because when you think of how the industry is evolving, the next step is actually going digital.
The pandemic contributed to accelerating the digitisation of the industry. Companies such as Coca-Cola and Heineken just couldn’t operate because they weren’t used to their distributors having to go digital. It brought about a massive shift in behaviour.
A lot of businesses have become receptive to Duplo because of how much they suffered during the pandemic.
Duplo has expanded quickly. What’s next?
Our plan is to improve our products and scale across other industries within Nigeria. To be the premier B2B payments network. Then to use that knowledge to scale to other parts of the continent.
We are very bullish on Egypt and Ivory Coast over the next nine months or so. They have massive economies. Cash is still king in a lot of the industries there and the space is still so green for a solution such as Duplo’s.
We are looking to expand our product suite to international payments across Nigeria. Then potentially exploring buy now pay later, because a lot of these businesses want to sell more and I think there is a massive gap to fill there.