Rajah Saparapa is both a student and the CEO/founder of Sawaree. From Togo, Rajah lives in the US where she saw an opportunity in launching a business that could easily make people in Togo access goods and products from abroad.
Rajah has always wanted to be a leader, especially in Africa. She is able to balance her studies and business as Sawaree is an online store, enabling her to work remotely. She was able to launch and run Sawaree using her own money that she saved up enough to invest. Now Rajah’s looking for new investment and opportunities to grow her brand.
Take us through the first 6 months after launching Sawaree.
The first 6 months were intense. I am going to be honest with you, it is still intense. After Sawaree was launched, we had no sale for a month and half. A friend volunteered some hours to help me with the online advertisement; we tried to maximize our social media ads on Facebook, Instagram and so on.
Since it is a new venture in Togo, many people were skeptical about using our website; unless someone they know had given it a good review and could vouch that it is safe and reliable. It is all about trusting Sawaree and trusting us. I literally harassed my family members to talk about Sawaree and to order from Sawaree. I wanted them to share their experience not only with us but also their communities.Sawaree is a new venture in Togo, many people were skeptical about using it - Rajah Saparapa Click To Tweet
Our first customer was a family member, then his friend ordered. It was exciting. However, Sawaree is still struggling to get its name out there, and to earn the trust of the Togolese diaspora. We listen to comments that people leave and try to bring them what they want and need.
At first, Sawaree did not have a currency exchanger on the website. The prices were posted in US Dollars and some clients from Europe complained that it makes them feel like they were not our target audience so we installed a currency exchanger to facilitate prices our clients.
We have also learned that our clients like sales and so we use sales to attract new clients. Feedback is very important to me, it is how I know that what we are doing right and what we can improve. As a CEO, it is very important to be open to criticism and make room for improvement.
When I started Sawaree I knew it was not going to be easy. I have learned how to work twice as hard and to manage my frustration by tackling issues head on.
Why was it important to have a platform that allows the Togolese diaspora to deliver groceries to their family in Togo?
I always heard stories in the Togolese communities here in the USA or in Europe about an individual sending money back home. This was money to be used to buy groceries, but the money ended up being used in another way. This is a problem not only among the Togolese diaspora but others too.
When my best friend from Cameroon told me about a platform like Sawaree that was available in her country, I thought to myself that Togo needed something like that. Something to make it easier on its diaspora, something convenient where people will not need to get out of their home and drive to a store to send money.
A platform where family members back home in Togo will be receive packages without having to make any effort. Most of the platforms that are available in other countries do not guarantee delivery. The customers have to usually come and pick up their packages in the store but with Sawaree, we do delivery.
How do you manage to keep your promise of delivery within 24 hours from anywhere in the world?
The idea of having something delivered to your home is a new concept in Togo. After doing my research, I found that there isn’t any other store that does delivery in Togo. That is what makes Sawaree different, we literally come to you.
As stated on the website, all orders that are made before 6PM are delivered the next day, within 24 hours. We have a partnership with our providers that we send orders to as soon as we get them; our provides have it ready for us for pick up and we deliver.
The delivery process involves a lot of phone calling. In Togo, knowing or having a physical address number and street name is a hassle so Sawaree does it the old fashion way. We call the recipient of the package and ask him to identify to us where he or she lives.
It has been a challenge but after we have a client order to the same home twice, it is much easier for the delivery man to know where he is going. I am proud myself in knowing that Sawaree has never missed its delivery window.Rajah Saparapa: Sawaree promises global delivery within 24 hours and it has never missed Click To Tweet
Is there a story behind the name “Sawaree”?
I was figuring out name for the company with my mother and my sister and it took days. Any name I came up with was already taken, then I thought, why name it in French or English? I decided to name it in Tchokossi which is a dialect in the North of Togo, where I come from.
I speak Tchokossi and it is part of me, so I thought it was good to go back to the root. Then Sawaree came to me, it means “patience”. I knew that the journey for building and establishing Sawaree was not going to be an easy road. I wanted to remind myself that any time I read up Sawaree, I will not give up on it.
Sawaree has become my baby that I care for everyday and I want to see him grow and be healthy.
Would you say African cultures don’t see women as leaders? Why do you think so?
Even though today, we see more and more women at leadership positions, they always have to work 2 to 3 times as hard as their male colleagues. They always have to run the extra mile to prove themselves and it is unfair.
And honestly, it is not only an African culture but it is a worldwide issue. For so long, women have always been seen as homemakers and nothing more that it has engrained in our way of living. When there were opportunities men were always favoured.
However, women have proven that they are more than housewives and that they can contribute to the development of our society. Luckily today, there are women we can look up to, black strong African women.
What do you say to people who are surprised to see a young face behind the Sawaree brand?
There is no minimum age to start a business.
I honestly think that we all have the entrepreneurial spirit in of us. In the right situation and the right idea, we can make it happen. There was an opportunity and I grabbed it. Age does not determine our ability to run a successful business either.
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