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  On Friday, April 2, Connect Nigeria hosted Ikwu Onyeka, founder and CEO of Carmart Nigeria, on its weekly Business Connect program. The interview was an Instagram Live session broadcast on the Connect Nigeria Instagram page.
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Ikwu Onyeka is a man of many interests. He’s a frontend developer, has some experience as a social media manager, and has engaged car dealerships. Onyeka has successfully brought these aspects of his professional life together at Carmart Nigeria, which he launched in 2019. Carmart is an online marketplace for motor vehicles (specifically cars and motorcycles). Individual and corporate dealers put vehicles up for sale on the site, and potential buyers log on to make a purchase. At the moment, it’s Nigeria’s top-ranked website in this niche, with over 500,000 monthly visits.

The Early Days

In his interview with Connect Nigeria’s Emeka Ebeniro, Onyeka revealed that he didn’t originally intend for the startup to be a connector for buyers and sellers. He started with a different model—sourcing car parts from his own vendors and having those parts supplied to buyers located close to them. But matching both ends proved difficult. So he pivoted to running an open market. This wasn’t an easy space either. Several competitors already existed there. But Onyeka says he wasn’t troubled by this fact. “I looked at them before launching…” he recalled. “I was never discouraged by any of those competitors.” His confidence stemmed partly from his knowledge of web architecture, and what it took to build an online meeting place for buyers and sellers. His background as a front-end web developer was an advantage he was going to use. But Onyeka did face some challenges. One of these was a shortage of funding. It was late in December 2018, and he had initially planned to spend Christmas in his hometown, away from Lagos. When the idea of starting Carmart arose, he jettisoned the trip and spent his travel budget on building the Carmart website.
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“I used that money to buy a WordPress theme for $50,” he explained. “I also bought the domain name for ₦4,000, because it was cheaper than a .ng domain.  I was wary about spending a lot of money, because of the possibility that the idea might not work out well.”
Onyeka burnt through weeks of building and tweaking. He launched the website in mid-January. At first, there was very little activity on it. Onyeka remembers collecting car listings from social media and placing them on the site, where, he hoped, prospective buyers would stop by to check the vehicles listed.

The Spark That Spurred Growth

Things changed a few months later.
“Before April, I got up to a hundred registered users on the site,” he recalled. “Then in April, I received a call from a dealer, who wanted to sell his cars regularly on the website. He also wanted to how much I charged for that, per month.”
Onyeka didn’t even have a price plan; he hadn’t intended Carmart to earn from dealer listings. So he blurted out a fee of ₦30,000 per month. To his surprise, the dealer settled for the offer. That dealer was Carmart’s first paying user. After the call, Onyeka decided to revise his business model again, albeit slightly. He moved the site to a new platform and launched it again. This would give Carmart the degree of uniqueness it needed to operate as a competitive, revenue-generating player in the online motor vehicle trading niche. Carmart has recorded impressive growth in less than two years. Buyers and sellers alike have flocked to the website in large numbers. The startup says it receives at least 20,000 auto shoppers daily. This growth continued during the pandemic. Demand didn’t slow down; not even for the more expensive cars listed on the platform.

The Future, And Some Useful Advice

Onyeka intends for Carmart to set up in other parts of Africa, beginning in the West African sub-region. For now, he’s focused on strengthening the company’s grip on the online market for cars in Nigeria. When asked about his advice for entrepreneurs just starting, he shared this tip:
“You should understand the business you want to get involved with. Acquire the skills needed. This lets you manage the business better. If you can, spend months trying to understand the business before going into it.”
If you would like to hear more success stories from entrepreneurs in Nigeria, tune in to Business Connect. It goes live every Friday on the Connect Nigeria Instagram page. There, you’ll see Nigeria’s top startup founders and leading businesspeople share lessons from their entrepreneurial journeys—lessons you can use. Featured Image Source: TechEconomy NG
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This article was first published on 3rd April 2021


Ikenna Nwachukwu holds a bachelor's degree in Economics from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He loves to look at the world through multiple lenses- economic, political, religious and philosophical- and to write about what he observes in a witty, yet reflective style.

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