Episode 33 Transcript

welcome to episode 33 of the Business
in Morocco podcast today we're going to
be talking with the CEO and founder of
Click Apporter Harjeet Grewal why don't we
start by you just introducing yourself
telling us a little bit about your
background where you're from how long
have you been in Morocco certainly.so my
name is Harjeet, been in Morocco now a little bit over 8 years I grew up in Tanzania
sort of east coast of Africa studied
there finished high school there and
then went to the States for a little
while in Boston and in Arkansas so I
graduated with my bachelor's from the US
I worked for a while back in Tanzania
and then I did my MBA in Switzerland and
following that I started working for a
global multinational in the tobacco
industry and that's actually what
brought me to to Morocco eight years ago
in 2011 I left that company in 2016
basically because I wanted to start my
own businesses and that's really the
genesis of how I got here and what I'm doing today.Click Apporter is
really essentially a platform that
allows you to purchase from
international websites and pay in local
currency okay and the whole idea behind
is essentially to allow you number one
to pay in local currency number two to
make sure that you're getting a genuine
product and we also take care you know
as frictionless manner as possible all
the logistics so you don't have to go to
the customs office to clear or to pay we
take care of everything we deliver it to
your doorstep
so it's an A to Z service integrating a
multitude of of international ecommerce
so originally you were sent here as an
expat through your multinational but you
wanted to go out on your own you'd lived
in East Africa Europe, the States why did
you choose to stay in Morocco well there
was a whole host of reasons you know I'd
moved around a lot you know when you work for
a multinational as an expat they tend to move
you on a regular basis I had two
daughters and you know we lived
here at the time I'd made my decision to
leave the company they'd been here
over five almost six years so this was
all they really knew from my point of
view so I'd gotten tired of having to
say goodbye to friends every couple of
years and I didn't want my children to
have that experience - to have to say
goodbye to you know to their
friends and people they'd grown very
close to in addition to that the reason
I chose Morocco as opposed to somewhere
else was simply the feeling I have of
being here you know I've always felt
very welcomed people have been very
hospitable very friendly people take the
time to show me around to introduce me
to things to make sure that I'm actually
comfortable and happy living in that
country so I really appreciated the
warmth and the generosity of the people
here the weather yeah clearly it's
it's beautiful it's sunny and finally
really its the human touch more than
anything I think you know it in some
parts of the world everything is online
everything is done with computers or
policies or procedures or
processes over here you still have the
human element and that's very important
so it's a wonderful place to live
you were at home here you were settled
but going from being an employee at a
multinational to an entrepreneur were
there any concerns you had about the
business climate in Morocco look I
think when you make a decision to start
a business in any country you know you
have to weigh up a whole range of issues
or other things so it's not only a
question of you know the market size,
consumers it's also what can you add
what problems can you solve that will
add value
that's really the first thing I tend to
think about the second thing obviously
you have to accept the whole package
that comes with it be it regulatory the
legal framework the infrastructure
that's in place transport links language
restrictions so you know you have to
make the assessment in a holistic way
and say you know number one can I
compete in this environment number two
is it an environment that was that is
conducive to business and on a whole the
answer for me was yes so when it
comes to starting Click Apporter what
were some of the thoughts you had going
through that process related to this
industry Ok the idea I think is
not you know I'm not the first person in
the world to have come up with this
platform in fact there are
companies in other countries who
were doing something similar you know
some often to a lesser extent you know
people will provide a shipping address
in another country you'll have your
products delivered there and then
they'll just they'll forward it to you
but what I found really was that there
was a number of issues that I saw as opportunities okay one of those
of course was the fact that a lot of
these online platforms weren't
delivering to Morocco.so already that's
your first 'in'.you can
fulfill a need by providing logistics
last mile delivery or products that
people buy from international websites
the second was payment you know
everybody has a limited amount of
foreign currency allocated to them to
use every year and people tend to be
careful with that because they want to
use it either to travel or to pay you
know expenses that they need to pay so
this is a restriction that's based on
individuals but as a company I
have the right as long as I'm declaring
the products with the invoice I'm paying
the import duties on the VAT I have the
right to pay my international suppliers
so I thought you know if I could do that
and fulfill the logistics aspect of it
we have a business yeah so that was
really the seed of the idea and then
it grew from there.and what led up to you
wanting to start this application to
start this business was it a personal
experience you had ordering from an
international website essentially you
know I had very often had whenever
I was traveling had people
saying look please can you get me this
book can you get me something from this
country and I thought you know
there's a need here and I said to myself
if I can do that and provide that
service to people in a manner that's
easy frictionless as far as possible
with minimum hassle now there's
something I can actually achieve
and I didn't have any background in
e-commerce you know I knew nothing about
it so it was also a very good
opportunity for me to learn something
entirely different from what I was doing
in the past which was you know
fast-moving consumer goods in a company
that was very well established with very
well known brands great processes good
people and you know I wanted to be
able to go from that and say can I build
and create something on my own from zero
ya know so that was really what pushed
me to do it in the beginning wow
that's great I love that entrepreneurial
spirit to say this is a an area this is
an industry I don't have experience in
but I want to give it a shot I want to
be a learner, to keep challenging myself, just try.In terms of starting the company do
you have any partners how did you go
about financing the start of the company
so the company is entirely self financed
so I have done this all from my savings I
have not got any partners in this
business so you own a hundred percent Correct.so
it will last as long as you can fund it
do you see a date in the future where
you'll be cashflow positive is that the
situation today that's the intention I
do see a day when I will be cashflow
positive now it's not to say I'm not
looking for investment okay you know at
some point any startup that wants to
scale needs sufficient financing to
actually achieve that scale be it you
know for investment in communication and
marketing in technology in people in
processes all of this takes money and
all of this takes bodies who are
actually going to be solving the
problems that arise with any business so
to answer the question I think there's
implicit in there is yes I will be
looking to raise money at some point
clearly but I didn't want to do that
until I had a product
that was ready that worked and that I
could prove was actually able to deliver
can you talk a little bit about your
supply chain about your operations in Europe and if I order something on
the Click Apporter app can you walk me
through that process
sure so when you place an order what
happens is you would have found a
product that interests you on one of the
sites that we're going to be you know
that they're integrated or going to be
integrated into our platform so
the moment we're currently just working
with Amazon but we are going to be
integrating additional sites in the very
very near future and I think we're
planning to have one site every month to
six weeks
once we actually stabilize the application we'll make
sure it's working properly we're going
to be introducing a new site every six
weeks that's really our goal.What are the some of the other sites you're hoping for or targeting?until I have something, so Amazon, for now we are
actually in negotiations with several
other platforms to introduce them onto
the site so the process to come back to
your question the process is very simple
you will like you'll have chosen a
product on the site you'll see the price
you will add it to your basket you'll
click checkout at that point I will take
the price that was shown on the site and
I will add to that the international
transportation the insurance the customs
clearance my service fees which are
clearly displayed in a very transparent
manner on the site the import duty and
the VAT okay so all of those are clearly
displayed there if you make the decision
to purchase you click pay you can pay by
a credit card you can pay by cheque you
can pay by bank transfer and very soon
we're going to be
integrating cash payments meaning you
can go to one of the like a cash plus
agencies or you know any of these
cash payment points make a payment there
and they will notify us that your
payment has been made at that point it
counts as a validated order
we then programmatically place that
order on the platform that you have
purchased it from that item is delivered
to one of our logistics centers so
either in France or the US where the
receipt of the package is verified the
contents are verified and then it's
grouped and sent once a week to
Morocco we do try and economize and
reduce the cost of the transportation by
having a weekly shipment okay so that
gets grouped shipped to Morocco customs
cleared here and then we will do the
final step which is the last
mile delivery either to your home or to
one of the pickup points across the
country and that's as simple as that
do you have your own fleet final mile
drivers and delivery people here are you
outsourcing that we outsource that for the moment, we work with chrono post primarily
so they actually do a very large part of
our logistics from the pickup
in France to the importation the customs
clearance the labeling and the last mile
delivery all of that is currently
handled by chrono post.What about through the
States initially we are going to be
starting with chrono post but we do have
other logistics partners over there so
for example the logistics center which
does the receiving and the package verification is a separate
company that's going to be doing that
for us can you talk a little bit about
your customer acquisition process what's
your plan to encourage people to
download the application and use Click Apporter to order things from overseas
We're still in the early stages so at the
moment our main customer acquisition
channels tend to be social media
marketing be it you know Facebook
Iinstagram we're going to be starting
Google Adwords fairly soon there is a
large number of customers who actually
come from referrals so somebody who's
tried the app who refers it to a friend
we have also
a paranice system basically you invite a
friend you get a percentage of
their first order as a thank you so
you know these are principal channels
that we're currently working on is
it enough no I think we still have a lot
of work to do in terms of customer
acquisition not only in terms of the
numbers of people we get on our platform
but also in the costs of acquisition
I think we're slightly on the high side
at the moment that does need to be
brought down but that's really a
learning process in terms of making sure
we're targeting our ads correctly that
we're delivering the messages that are
going to resonate with the consumers
now is it more the fact that they can
pay in local currency is it the fact
that they can be, they can have their
deliveries from you know whatever
country they order from at their
doorstep so we're still fine-tuning the
messages and sort of you know targeting
of our advertising but it's a work in progress and one where we're
happy to do what have been some of the
biggest challenges you've faced so far
creating the application partnering with
Amazon dealing with the douane, all three
no honestly surprisingly the biggest
challenge was the technology I did not
think it would be as complicated as it
did turn out to be in the end so it's my
number one challenge was technology my
number two challenge was really
understanding the regulatory landscape
now given a large number of different
product categories different product
types that we allow people to purchase
we have to familiarize ourselves with you know the
different processes which relate to
clothes which relates to foodstuff to
makeup you know to something as simple
as a kitchen knife you know every one of
these items has a different customs clearance and approval process a book for example
will have to be approved by the Ministry
of Communication a knife will have to go
to the surete nationale de la gendarme
because there are certain regulations
but the other aspect was really being
able to block
at the source any items that were
prohibited so drones for example you
can't import but there are you know
these toys children's toys for sale on
Amazon which are essentially classified
as drones so being able to filter out
those articles in advance before a
customer actually acquires one of them
was one of the big challenge that we had so
technology and really the learning
process of the regulatory landscape that
was the hardest part how long
has this process taken I mean how many
years have you been working on this almost two years now.two years
and where are things at?you know this
is September 2019 where are things at
right now the app is available on both
Android and on Android and on iOS so
we're actually on our second
version so we pushed the first version
and then we realized that it wasn't as
fast it wasn't as smooth and fluid as we
wanted to be and we pushed a further
update a couple of days later so yes it
is available on both those platforms I
would say that today I am satisfied that
we have stabilized the logistics aspects
of the business so when you order I am
able to deliver to you within two weeks
generally shorter and I can
tell you at the beginning there were
times it took us over a month to get the
products in today ten days to two weeks
I can have your product delivered to
your door from France so I'm comfortable
that we've managed to get that
stabilized and functioning as I wanted
it to as I want it to function yeah once
volume increases I think we can bring
that down even further I'm comfortable
that the technology is also stable doing
what I want it to do so I think we're at
the stage now where I can look at
scaling as a next step and integrating
additional platforms into the system one of my biggest fears and one
of the reasons I didn't you know I
didn't push for scale earlier on was I
didn't want to put a product out there
that was subpar that wasn't responding
to what people were looking for and
that would just essentially ruin
you know the reputation of the company
so for me the number one thing is really
the trust and dependability that people
have on it so when they place an order I
don't want them to worry you know I want
them to say I made my order
I can sleep soundly I know I'll get my
product when it comes to the development
of the applications did you hire
programmers locally did you outsource
that work it's a combination of things actually.so I have a programmer
here who's helping me with a lot of the
aspects of the development and I have a
team in India
so you know there's a multitude of
things that had to be taken into account
one was the programming languages the
second was the actual languages you know
being French this is the English so
obviously you know the team in India is
not conversant in French they would
get lost but I do need that
development to be done and made relevant
to the local market so it has to be in
French as well I think there's also
different technologies that went to do
what you know JavaScript or PHP or
whatever else had to be brought together
and made to work you know together in
a seamless fashion so it's mostly
out sourced but with a dedicated team in
the outsource firm.how did you find that
team did you have an existing
relationship or was it a referral it was
a referral it was a referral and you
know I interviewed several companies
when I was making the decision on who to
hire for the development.I then
interviewed them and I went through a
process it was called wire framing
basically putting the concept together
with each of them and looking at who
gave me the best impression of having
understood the concept and the most I
wouldn't say the cheapest but the most
robust approach to actually building
that platform and you've been happy so far
mostly mostly well there's
always challenges when you're doing
something new yes there's challenges and
I think you know if I told you that
I was one hundred percent happy then
I would probably not be trying as
hard as or expecting as much as I should
for my platform
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could you share your thoughts a bit on
the role of English and starting this
business I mean you mentioned the local
market primarily speaks French but
you've outsourced some of the technical
work to India and operated an English
there how do you think you would have
struggled if you didn't have English
because our listeners are all English
speakers now all our content is produced
in English but they're operating in a
primarily French market so any thoughts
on that I think the more languages you
speak you know it's always an asset to
be able to communicate in an additional
language but beyond that I think
nobody can deny the fact that English is
the number one international language in
which business is done today so being
able to communicate in English or the
role of English in building this
business was very important, let's say.
Be it from communicating with the
development team in India with the
partners with the logistic centers I
even had a small very small team in the
US at one point who was doing some
development work for me that was very
specific and the knowledge of the
expertise in that particular field
didn't exist anywhere else so yes I
would say you know without English I
probably wouldn't have been able to do
this I love...you're right that the more
languages you speak the better because
you're also operating with people in
France and so the ability to speak
fluently there yeah when you think about
the competition who is your competition
right now and how are you organizing
your company to defend against
competition in the future to essentially
make your business defensible your
business model defensible so my number
one competition I would say essentially
okay there's always the informal sector
but I think that's probably a response
you get from pretty much any established
business almost anywhere in the world
and then you know informal the informal
economy does hurt simply because people
don't pay taxes they're not competing on
the same playing field they
don't have the same costs they don't
have the same approach to business so
number one would be the informal the
informal economy beyond that you know
there's always a question not so much in
my view of of competition because I see
competition as a necessary thing if I
have a competitor who wants to enter
this field it means I've identified an
opportunity correctly and I've shown
that it can be done so the day that I
have competition coming in it's going to
be for me a very encouraging sign that
you know what you're on the right track
keep going and you've got quite a head
start with all the technology I mean you
put two years into designing this
process you've already negotiated with
Amazon you've begun with other websites
so you've got quite a head start I think
beyond that is the logistics when I
started this business I had no idea of
how important logistics was or how
difficult it is to get it right and how
easy it is to
make mistakes so more than anything
else because technology it's essentially
the application of money to a problem you know and I think if
you've got enough money you will find
the technology solution to it
logistics for me you know it's more complicated in that it's a
combination of knowledge of expertise
and also simply of time in the business
because the logistics partners that I've
worked with are very very experienced
and they often identify problems that I
hadn't even thought could be
problems you know very simple things
like the weight of a pallet workforce
regulations in terms of how much weight
an individual can is allowed to lift in
a certain country which then impacts the
manner in which I do the grouping and
the palletization on my products the
frequency of my shipping even the limits
in terms of what I can allow people to
buy so that really is the biggest
challenge in my view yeah one of your
value propositions is allowing Moroccans
to purchase international products in
local currency talk to us about what
might happen if Morocco does float
the dirham and there's more free flow
look I think the objective
eventually is to move towards a more
liberalized exchange rate so I don't see
that as something that's going to
be in place forever I think you know the
economy is opening up you know they're
the objectives at least what's been stated
it is to have a much more open and much
more free dirham so this is not the
primary reason for my existence I mean
it is definitely helping for now it
helps me in terms of communication and
customer acquisition as we're talking
because it is an advantage for the
moment beyond that is also the logistics
the ability to have something delivered
here the assurance that it is a genuine
product my ability to issue an invoice
especially when we come to to talk about
my corporate clients they want an
invoice issued in a certain format which
allows them to recover their VAT on
their purchases all of that are things
that I can offer that you know somebody
purchasing directly from an
international website wouldn't have so
this you know I think there's a
multitude of advantages secondly once
you have a large range of e-commerce
websites on one platform and you can
check out with one single account from a
multitude of platforms as opposed to
creating an account saving your credit
card on every different platform I mean at
some point you start losing track of
passwords where you paid what and the
fact that all of that can be centralized
in one account I think is a very
powerful thing okay so that's the
direction it'll go you'll be able to
price compare the same item across
multiple platforms eventually yes I
think that that exists already it's in
beta mode where we can actually again
the technology is something that's not
fully refined because that requires
quite a lot in terms of machine learning
and beyond that if we ever get to that
stage artificial intelligence to be
able to correctly identify a product and
find exactly the same SKU offered in
another country in another currency to
be able to calculate the shipping costs
the import duties and then give you a
final (price) so that is hard yes
but it is something that we're working
with yeah it's your long-term vision to
remain an importing company essentially
bringing the world to Morocco or does
your vision include also ecommerce that
originates here in Morocco very good
question so there are three different
avenues that I'm exploring today in
terms of expansion of the business first
was the integration of services ok and I
won't go into detail terms of what
particular services but I believe
services are definitely very much
a value-added and essentially transactions
that can be done with a lot lower
shall we say logistics related a
physical movement of goods related costs
so service is something that I want to
integrate on the platform the second one is
geographic expansion I think the concept
is one that would hold water in many
countries in northern Africa and the
rest of Africa so geographic expansion
is something that I'm very actively
looking at either through partnerships
with existing logistics companies or
people who are in similar fields that I
am or through direct investment
in carefully selected markets the third
avenue is is exactly what you said which
is export-related
you know I think there are a huge number
of moroccan companies with fantastic
products who unfortunately don't have
the scale or the knowledge sometimes you
need awareness that there is
potentially a huge demand for their
product in other countries and I think
you know ecommerce platform I mean just take
Amazon for example is a fantastic
vehicle for somebody to be able to test
the potential for their product at a very
low cost you know so if you were to
choose you know fulfilled by
Amazon for example you ship them 100 or
50 items put it on the website promote
it I think the results would be
surprising for a lot of the products that are produced here.
so yes export is definitely something
that I'm I'm going to be looking at and
be in the medium term what types of
products are people ordering with Click
Apporter?What what have you seen to be the most popular type of products
electronics so electronics is a very
very popular category and by
electronics I mean not only the
electronic devices themselves but the
accessories related to it. Be it
you know a phone a phone case a wireless
headset such technology you know
technology related products are huge
virtual reality stuff video games books
especially foreign language
books which you know, selection is
slightly less good here so foreign
language books school books have become fairly large clothing items
clothing items are actually increasingly
being sought initially those were very
small those have been growing quite
rapidly shoes you know sports shoes
sporting goods so you know a certain
model of badminton racket or tennis
balls or something that you know
somebody wants something that may not be
available easily here musical
so the ranges is enormous
the range is enormous I mean there
are days that you know orders will come
and I'm like I didn't even know that
existed you know I really didn't know
that existed but there you go so a lot of our
listeners are young people maybe
recent graduates of University do you
have advice that you would give
specifically for those looking to be
hired they want to start with a big
company and just be an employee and then
maybe others that are thinking there's a
lot of unemployment it's competitive to
find a job perhaps I should give
entrepreneurship a try any advice you
would offer these people okay if I would
put myself in the shoes of somebody who
was going to graduate the questions I
would ask myself were you know primarily
what do I want
do I want a stable nine-to-five job
which allows me then to do other things that I want to realize in
my life is my priority for example a
sport or something so I think first
question really is what do you want to
do with your life
and once you've answered that question I
think the path becomes a little bit
more clear enterpreneurship straight out
of university is hard because you don't
have experience you don't know
necessarily how things work in the real
world you may not have the financial
capability to actually invest an idea to
start up your own businessfrom what
I've heard most businesses fail not
due to a poor product it's really
cashflow related you know getting your
payments on time making sure that you're
able to pay your employees or pay your
suppliers so I say you know ask yourself
very very serious questions in terms of
what you want to do and what resources
you have at your disposal to actually do
that do you have the money the
experience the ability to bear pain I
mean I'd say you know as an entrepreneur
yeah you have to you know
everybody will tell you work
hard never give up this is a
baseline okay and I think that that
applies also if you're going to go into
nine-to-five job you better be working
hard or you're gonna be replaced at some
point but enterpreneurship I think is
your willingness to take risk your
ability to get up once you get knocked
down and you're gonna get knocked down a
hundred times and your ability to take
the pain when you are really sometimes
asking yourself what the hell is wrong
with me why the hell did I do that
you know how long can you take that pain
and if you can take that pain and you're
willing to keep taking it for an
extended period of time then you know
you have a good chance in
entrepreneurship if not don't start so
to sum up go to the Google Play Store
the App Store the Apple App Store to
search Click Apporter.C L I C K A P P O R T E R that's it to download the app and to buy
your products from e-commerce stores
in Europe or in the United States thank
you very much and I hope to see you all
on my platform give us a call if
there's anything we can do thanks so
much for your time
appreciate your advice and input and all
the best as Click Apporter continues to
grow you've been listening to the
Business in Morocco podcast my name is
Ryan Kirk here with my co-host Ryan
Maimone if you enjoyed this episode be
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