The Market Corner: Applying a Systems Approach to e-Business

January 13, 2022

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This month, the Market Corner takes a look at one e-business leader's experience applying a systems approach to grow her businesses.

What can more than a decade of experience implementing market systems development (MSD) programs in Nigeria and Bangladesh teach a rising e-business entrepreneur?  

Talking the talk and walking the walk.

In MSD, we talk a lot about "speaking the language" of the private sector. This month, I spoke with Iffat Mahmud, who talks the talk when advising business partners of MSD programs like Propcom Mai-karfii and  Katalyst. She also capably walks the walk of a business leader with a respected e-logistics firm, OyaNow, which operates in four Nigerian states, and a new e-commerce venture, EkoBangla, which provides Nigerian businesses with quality uniforms manufactured in Bangladesh. 

Learning on the go.

Iffat’s experience implementing MSD programs helps her apply a systems approach to her business ventures. It has given her a holistic framework for mapping and analysis, a deep understanding of the importance of understanding and playing to the incentives of different stakeholders, and a focus on fast and practical learning. 

“We didn't sit around just mapping everything... we wanted to learn on the go.”

Iffat noted that she didn't sit around mapping everything at first. Pre-launch, she and her cofounder only looked at who were the major players, the existing gaps, and how they could fill them. According to Iffat, “We realized that we’d learn more about the market if we got started, so we launched and learned on the go.  We rigorously monitored sales. We looked at sales by different customer segments and consumer profiles.  We did this for Abuja, Lagos, and Kano to improve our targeting. We also looked at sales patterns over the course of the day to see if we could allocate our resources more effectively to meet demand during peak times.”

“We knew we needed to provide superior customer service.”

According to Iffat, “after we launched and with the learning from the sales data in hand, we did a mapping of four States to better understand the market system and the prevailing dynamics. Identifying where to start, which partnerships we could leverage as well as the human resources available was critical for our success.  

Paying close attention to the underlying issues.

For example, according to Iffat, “to be competitive in the e-logistics we knew we needed to offer superior customer service so we mapped the human resources available and tried to understand underlying constraints in the availability and capacity of the customer service representatives and dispatch riders. We learned that one of the constraints is the high cost of transport between urban and suburban areas so we invested in providing dispatch riders with a place to stay.” Close attention to underlying constraints in the e-logistics industry is one of the ways they’ve been able to maintain fierce loyalty among their drivers and staff and in turn maintain their excellent customer service.

The skills and insights Iffat has honed as a MSD practitioner have helped her successfully navigate some of the common pitfalls of start-up businesses. Iffat has been able to prioritize where she invests her time and company resources because of her understanding of the importance of tackling underlying issues (rather than symptoms) and use of a lean research and learning agenda. In the next installment of the Market Corner, we’ll hear more from Iffat Mahmud about what her experience founding and managing an e-commerce and an e-logistics business in Nigeria has taught her to look out for in MSD programs.

Have practical experiences of your own applying systems thinking to your e-business? Post via your Marketlinks account, or send them to us at [email protected], and we will include these in the next installment of the blog.

About

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Iffat

Iffat Mahmud
Iffat Mahmud is an expert in private sector development, with more than 9 years of experience in Bangladesh and Nigeria. She has developed and implemented pro-poor business models in the agriculture and health sectors. Iffat is also an entrepreneur, and has launched successful e-commerce businesses in Nigeria. Iffat graduated from the Institute of Business Administration (IBA), University of Dhaka; after which she pursued a Masters in Development Studies from North South University, Dhaka. Her final post graduate degree was focused on poverty and social studies from Erasmus University of Rotterdam, Netherlands.

 

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photo of Holly

Holly Lard Krueger
Holly Lard Krueger is a managing partner at the Canopy Lab and a market systems development expert with over 15 years of experience providing technical advice in the field of private sector development/engagement with a specific focus on applying digital technology, gender equality and social inclusion (GESI), market systems, and Value for Money (VfM) principles to project and strategy design for agriculture, humanitarian aid, business enabling environment reform, trade, urban development, and women’s economic empowerment programs.

Holly is a proven strategic leader, having managed large market systems projects with diverse teams. She is also skilled as a strategic advisor, coach, and trainer in the practical application of systems approaches to market development, and she is currently an advisor to USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance, a World Bank-funded program in West Africa (TFWA), a DFAT-funded program in Indonesia (PRISMA), and a FCDO-funded program in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Essor). Holly is based in Morocco and has worked in over 15 countries in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East and has implemented projects and conducted evaluations for leading donors, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, DFAT, IFC, FCDO, USAID, and the World Bank. She has an M.A. from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a B.A. from Vanderbilt University.