With a background in Physiotherapy, Kariba is helping to build and develop the next generation of E-commerce businesses in Nigeria. Her passion for cards and design inspired her to set up an online greeting cards company, an idea still in its infancy in Nigeria. Read on to find out about her journey, what led her to move back at the time she did, challenges she has faced running her business, and her advice to Nigerians abroad thinking about moving back. Enjoy!
Thanks for speaking to us. Can you please introduce yourself?
My name is Kariba Sasegbon, and I own an online greeting cards company called ‘Paper and String’, which I set up after my move back to Nigeria, following a stint in the UK.
Could you kindly walk us through you educational background?
I went to Grange Primary School in Ikeja, and from there, I went on to Grange Secondary School for a couple of years, before I moved to England in 2001. I went to Oundle School to finish off my secondary education, and then went to Keele University to study Physiotherapy. I chose to study Physiotherapy because at the time I wanted to go into the medical field, but I did not want to become a doctor. So I looked at Allied Health courses, and Physiotherapy interested me.
What was it like studying Physiotherapy at Keele University?
Keele was interesting. It’s a small University compared to others in the UK, and it’s in a campus setting with a nice chilled lifestyle. It was kind of in the middle of nowhere, so everyone bonded like one big family. I graduated from my Undergraduate Degree in 2009, and I stayed on at Keele to do a Postgraduate Certificate in Physiotherapy, which I graduated from in 2010.
Do they teach you the same thing in an Undergraduate/ Postgraduate Degree in Physiotherapy?
The Postgraduate program was very theory based. It was different. At Undergraduate level, we did a lot of hands on stuff, clinical placements, working in hospitals and so on, but the Postgraduate Certificate was pretty much all theory and it was quite intense.
Once you wrapped that up, what came for you next?
I did an International Business Management Diploma at the London College of International Business (LCIBS). I did that because I knew eventually I wanted to be self employed, even though I didn’t know what I was going to go into yet.
For someone who had spent 4 years at University in the Sciences, how did you then find studying business?
It was like a breath of fresh air because I had been doing sciences since my A-Levels, so doing something different was like going to secondary school again. I found it interesting and fun and was certainly happy to be away from the sciences for that period of time. The course was for 1 year and I graduated towards the end of 2011.
Ok so with your Diploma in International Business, what was your next step?
First I did a short course in massage training; to go along side my Physiotherapy skills, and then afterwards I began my career as a Physiotherapist, initially as a Community Physiotherapist, where I would see patients in their homes. The job was ok, although not exactly what I wanted to do because I did not enjoy the fact that I was doing so much driving and keeping to a fixed schedule. Personally I would have preferred to be in a hospital setting working in a multi disciplinary team with doctors, nurses and so on. After this job, I moved on to work in a private physiotherapy clinic. The clinic I worked for was quite tiring and there were a lot of patients to see. With the patients we did manual therapy – massages, manipulation; basically very hands on and physically tiring but it was also a good eye opener and means to gain experience. I did the job for about 7 months before I then moved back to Nigeria.
Thanks. How come you decided to move back at the time you did?
I always knew I would move back at some point, as it was always part of my plan. I decided to move back slightly earlier than planned for family reasons but in all was well prepped. I moved back in mid-2013 and started my NYSC later the same year.
How was the NYSC experience for you?
I started the NYSC experience in October 2013. I was posted to Lagos, and I worked in General Hospital, Lagos Island for my primary assignment. Camp was good but the registration process was long, tedious and quite interesting. The conditions in camp weren’t as bad as I thought they would be as I had heard some horror stories but it wasn’t too bad. At the general hospital, things were very different, having come from working in the UK. It was an eye opening experience because I realised how much more work needs to be done here in terms of standards and infrastructure in hospitals. For example there wasn’t a strong culture of maintenance, so once a piece of equipment became faulty, it was almost never fixed. Funding was also an issue. Processes moved very slowly in terms of supplying the physiotherapy staff with what they needed to treat patients, which is not the case in England. In terms of infection control, there wasn’t much awareness on the need to use gloves in some cases, and the importance of always washing your hands and/or using sanitiser; practices that were embedded in the hospital culture in the UK. On the positive side, we had pretty much constant electricity (from NEPA). During my 11 months there, I think they only took light 3 times for 2 – 3 hours.
And after NYSC what did you do next?
Before the NYSC year was up, I started working on my current business, ‘Paper and String Cards’. By the end of NYSC, I went off to face the business full time.
Please tell us about Paper & String Cards, what was the motivation behind it?
I have always been quite passionate about greeting cards, because I collect them. I look for funny, quirky, interesting unique cards and love the culture of giving cards to people on whatever the occasion may be. To me, the card could be more important than the actual present. I love cards and the idea of designing and creating my own really fuelled me on to go in to the E-Card business, and that’s how it really started.
Online Greeting Card Store sounds quite new. How did you go about getting it set up?
Coming from abroad, I knew I wanted to make things convenient in the greeting card market in Nigeria, a lot of things are done online in the UK. What I wanted to achieve with my store was to give the customer the convenience of doing things online, personalising a card, making it unique and taking away the hassle of sending your cards to the intended recipient. The market was relatively new, so not many players at all, with the right mix of healthy competition and so I went for it. I work closely with one of my partners, the Design Angel team which has made the general experience fantastic.
Ok so how does it work? How do I use your service to order a greeting card for my mum on mother’s day?
First of all, you would log onto the website: www.paperandstring.cards. Once on the platform, we have a range of cards you can choose from, and once you have made your selection, you are taken to the customisation page, where you fill in whatever you want to say on the card. You can change the font styles etc, upload an image; everything you need to customise the card to your own taste. From there you go on to the payment page and fill in the payment and delivery information, and that’s it. You could be done in as little as 5 minutes to place an order. The actual delivery of the cards takes anything up to 3 days from the moment your order is complete. And we notify you on the morning of your delivery date to help you plan in terms of having someone at home to receive the order. There is no minimum order however we do apply a small delivery charge with each order. We also do gifts such as personalised mugs, alcoholic & non-alcoholic drinks and cupcakes (from one of our partners, The cupcake bakehouse) to accompany your card. We are also expanding our gift range very soon.
Nigeria has its problems in terms of transportation and logistics. How do you ensure your cards get to the intended recipients on time?
I would have loved to have all orders delivered in 24hrs but I had to incorporate the “Nigerian factor”. This required us to deliver in 3 working days to focus on being efficient and pay attention to details which was more important to me. We have an amazing delivery and logistic company O’Brien deliveries which makes everything seamless. The fact that we are also a start-up and quite young, we do not have back breaking order volumes, which allows us to focus on being efficient and paying attention to the details for each of our customers.
The Ecommerce industry in Nigeria is obviously growing rapidly, helped by the likes of Jumia. How are you positioning yourself to tap into this growth in the market?
We do a lot of publicity work and make people aware of what we are doing and that way we have been able to grow our market share. A big part of our growth comes from word of mouth from satisfied customers, so as long as we continue to do a good job for our customers, we are confident that we will continue to grow. Our unique selling point is that our cards are different. We have a unique range of designs that you wouldn’t find anywhere else. We also infuse the African vibe into what we do, so you get the best of both worlds. As I mentioned previously, we also do gifts along with our personalised cards, and you won’t get that anywhere else. We are active on social media and that has also helped us.
All the best with it. In other matters, how have you found life in Nigeria in general?
It hasn’t been the smoothest process; things could be difficult in Nigeria. The light issue, traffic, driving in general, the mentality of people is different to what one might have been used to abroad. Luckily I live with my parents, so I do not have to think about paying for diesel, so the situation is not bad most of the time, provided there is diesel.
You are more or less settled back into the country now. Where do you see yourself in the next 3 – 5 years?
In the next 5 years I would love to have expanded my business into the major cities in Nigeria: Abuja, Port Harcourt and the others. I also want to be able to maintain the efficiency that we are building in Lagos. As well as tapping into the corporate market, I want Paper and String Cards to be a household name in Nigeria, so if you have a birthday or occasion coming up, you think of Paper and String Cards automatically and it’s your first port of call.
Finally, what advice would you give those thinking about moving back?
I would say be patient as it could take up to a year to adjust. You should have a rough plan on what you want to do before you move back. Don’t move back blind because it can be frustrating and difficult not being able to keep busy here.