In 2008 Abasiama Idaresit returned to Nigeria, after studying for a degree in Information Systems & Management at the London School of Economics. He had one thing in mind: to see how the Internet could help transform the business landscape in Nigeria. That, in fact, was the focus of his dissertation -- the impact of technology on small businesses.
"I've always loved the Internet; wanted to see it change a lot of things in Africa -- marketing, operations..." he tells me, at his office in Lagos.
He started peddling his dreams. Without success. "For the first eight months I didn't make a dime," he recalls. "People literally chased me out of their offices."
By Internet-age standards in Nigeria those were early days. Facebook was just picking up, and no one had heard of Twitter; Internet advertising was almost unheard of at that time.
But Abas kept at his proselytizing.
Until Baby M.
Baby M was a small business that catered to the needs of new mothers and their babies. It operated out of one store in Ikoyi, Lagos, near where Abas lived, and also had a network of sales agents who combed the streets of Lagos in search of customers. Monthly revenues were in the region of one thousand dollars.
Abas tried to convince Baby M's proprietor to give him a chance to show how the Internet could help her advertise cheaply and find new customers. At first she wasn't very keen. Until Abas offered a money-back guarantee in the event that he failed to fulfill his promise.
With nothing to lose, she gave him N40,000 (approx $250) -- his debut earning as an internet marketing consultant.
The results were phenomenal. Within three months, says Abas, Baby M's revenues grew from $1,000 a month to $100,000 a month, immediately overwhelming her capacity to fulfill orders.
That feat attracted the attention of Google, which has since developed it into an Internet marketing case study.
Shortly after, Abas incorporated Wild Fusion, to do for other businesses what he'd done with Baby M.
Wild Fusion has since grown remarkably, from its founder's first $250, to over a million dollars in revenue in 2012. It is now on course to double that, in 2013.
It was the first Nigerian company to become a Google Adwords partner, and today provides digital marketing and online media-buying services to a client list that includes names like Unilever, Pepsi and Diamond Bank in Nigeria, and Vodafone in Ghana.
The future is clearly very promising.
While global corporate spending on traditional mediums (TV, radio, print) has either declined or stagnated in the last few years, Internet advertising budgets have steadily grown, and will continue to, into the foreseeable future.
According to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), Africa's 27 percent average annual growth (2009 - 2013) in household Internet penetration is almost double that of the next fastest contender, Asia and the Pacific. Africa is also the world's fastest growing market for mobile broadband.
Wild Fusion has just opened a country office, in Nairobi, Kenya; its third, after Nigeria and Ghana.
It is also currently building its first proprietary technology, which it plans to license to small businesses and which will provide them with an easy-to-use interface for deploying online advertising.
In five years Abas envisions offices across Africa, and annual revenues of $100 million.
***Abasiama Idaresit's 5 Tips for small businesses seeking to use the Internet for marketing:
- Have a simple, mobile-friendly website with your products/services clearly, alongside contact details.
- Ensure you have social media presence for your business, and link all your social media platforms to one another (this will help your business visibility on search engines)
- Start small and test to see what kind of advertising works best for your business: Search, Display, Social Media, or Mobile
- Track and measure traffic using free web analytics tools such as Google Analytics
- Compare the results from the various advertising options to see which one delivers the greatest value for your business, and focus on that.