Founders Spotlight: Christopher Kaelo Benn (Founder & CEO, SkymartBW)

When he started SkymartBW, Christopher's goal was to do something that was new, exciting and different from what everyone else was doing in the country. Today, that goal has translated into an almost decade-old business that has set the path for eCommerce in Botswana. In this interview, Christopher takes us through his humble beginnings in business selling pirated CDs to running the country's biggest eCommerce platform, SkymartBW.

In your own words, tell us who Christopher Kaelo Benn is

I am a typical Gaborone raised lad having been blessed early on in life with access to a Computer. Computers have always been my thing and more so during Form 4 and Form 5 when doing my Computer Studies project which was an order processing system for plate numbers. I also was keen on business and used to be that guy selling bootleg CDs in the neighbourhood. I also did JAB for a while selling cakes at Marulamantsi. College years in Malaysia saw me selling hair food, hair extensions, braids at 300% markup to Batswana girls keen on looking good in boleh. I sent out 10 containers of student belongings during my final years in college pocketing a P30-50k profit each time. All this lead to me moving into the eCommerce space where I am now. Ten years later I have built Skymart to become the number one eCommerce marketplace in Botswana. Having said all this, I believe I am a dreamer and executer, patient with our slow Botswana ways, never gives up and keep on fighting.

What inspired you to pursue a career in tech entrepreneurship?

It started off in college. During my days sending out containers, I had family and friends ask me to buy them stuff from Malaysia. The prices were good and I was making a little extra change for myself in the process. I then asked my brother Jeff who was in Botswana at the time if this could become a business in Botswana. We came up with eCommerce as the solution to showcase what was available in Botswana. And things started off then, with me doing the tech and procurement and my brother doing customer service and delivery.

Please tell us more about your eCommerce platform, SkymartBW

Skymart is a marketplace. This means that we help businesses of all sizes to access and sell online. Our customers benefit from having a wide variety of products from different merchants which they can buy at lower prices and experience the convenience of having the goods delivered to their doorstep.

What was the motivation for starting SkymartBW?

Apart from the obvious making a living motivation, it was the desire to do something new and exciting and different from what everyone else in the country was doing. It was about building something that someone like me personally would want to use.  For someone who enjoys staying home, enjoys comforts and convenience, eCommerce was simply the answer. It played to my strengths of business and tech perfectly while allowing me to be my own boss and work at my own pace.

How receptive have Batswana been to SkymartBW?

In the initial days back in 2012, during the blackberry days, Batswana were sceptical at first but keen at the same time as the pricing offered by online shopping were very enticing. Fast forward to today and Batswana are have grown to trust and use Skymart as part of their daily lives.

You started SkymartBW almost a decade ago. In your experience, how has the eCommerce landscape in Botswana changed in the period between when you started in 2012 and now?

Some may not know but there have been many attempts at eCommerce before Skymart. Skymart is not the first but we are the longest-running and most successful eCommerce business in the county. We entered the market when the internet was very pricey and only seen at workplaces and electricity cuts were a common thing. Prominent businessmen use to laugh at us saying eCommerce would never work in Botswana. But we knew this is where things were heading; it was inevitable as they say in the Matrix. Lol. Now today we see that every single business knows if they don't have some form of online presence or eCommerce function, they will be left behind.

As an eCommerce platform, what challenges have you come across operating in a low internet penetration having and logistically challenging place like Botswana?

Yes, as you have said, internet penetration is not as proficient as we would want. We have had challenges of slow adoption by businesses, customer lack of confidence in moving away from using Skymart as a window-shopping tool to actually using it as a purchasing centre, to disappointments with various organisations and business leaders not believing in our business models, to inefficient delivery systems, to general lack of knowledge in eCommerce. We have spent the decade educating more than anything.

How have you been approaching these challenges?

We meet these challenges head-on by adjusting our strategies, embracing the way Batswana do business through localisation and most importantly making strategies and goals for the long term while the market matures.

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the growth of e-commerce platforms like marketplaces. As SkymartBW, how have you been leveraging this fact for the growth of your platform?

Covid-19 has left fear in the economy. The business community now understands that in order to survive the current climate of lockdowns and movement restrictions being implemented at any time, they have to embrace tech and eCommerce in providing business continuity. Playing on these facts and also to satisfy our customers' needs for access to goods and services even while at home, Skymart has positioned its self as the go-to place.

Last week, the Ministry of Investment, Trade & Industry launched the National E-Commerce Strategy. What impact would you like to see this strategy having on facilitating the growth of eCommerce in Botswana so that platforms like SkymartBW become the norm?

Our hope is that the National E-commerce Strategy will pave the way in ironing out the hurdles of eCommerce including the implementation of the right legislature and policies that do not hinder the sector but enhance it while protecting the consumers. Improving payments settling, escrow services, delivery hurdles especially in places with no addresses etc. Most importantly, the move educated Batswana at large that eCommerce is a very serious thing that will benefit everyone's lives no matter what their social status. 

What advice would you give to local entrepreneurs who are still slow and hesitant to move their businesses online by availing their products on eCommerce platforms like SkymartBW?

My advice to Batswana wishing to venture into eCommerce is to research well, plan well, put structures in place ensuring that when you get into eCommerce you have your stock ready, your packaging ready, pricing and delivery mechanisms in place. Having these structures in place will allow a smooth process for a customer.

What else is in the pipeline for SkymartBW in the near future in your quest to increase your market share in the increasingly competitive eCommerce space?

Our next move as Skymart is to go big and bold by making a national rollout plan that will bring eCommerce to the masses including in rural communities, this will involve key partnerships with other stakeholders in the industry.

You have been in the eCommerce business for almost a decade now. From your experiences, what advice can you give to local entrepreneurs who would like to have the same longevity in this business as you have

Really is about being persistent and persevering through the hard times, ignoring all the negativity and bad-mouthing and just believing in the dream.

Lastly, please share with our readers where you can be reached if they are interested in getting in touch

Reach us through our social media channels:

Instagram -- @realskymarbw 

Twitter -- @skymartbw

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