28-year old Ndianabasi Udonkang studied Mechanical Engineering at the Federal University of Technology, Owerri and specialised in Automotive Engineering. He is also a design engineer by profession, and an IT enthusiast and practitioner. Over the past 10 years, he has worked as a mechanical design instructor, building architect, interior design architect, Linux system administrator, front end web developer, and Amazon Web Services solution architect. He founded and launched furnish.ng under Donkan Designs Technologies on the 3rd of April 2016. In this interview, he discusses his motivation to launch, passion, challenges and aspirations. Enjoy!
Furnish.ng is an online marketplace which provides customers with easy access to a large online catalogue of unlimited choices of furniture designs, homeware, and interior décor items. We integrate engineering, manufacturing, technology, and commerce for the provision of quality and affordable furniture and homeware items. We are slowly disrupting the furniture market by manufacturing furniture at low cost and at excellent quality. Currently, we sell all types and styles of bedroom, living room, dining room, and kitchen furniture. We will reveal our homeware categories such as rugs, home accents, bedsheets, etc. very soon. Our major target audience are the very busy professionals who need affordable and large options of furniture items and who do not have the time to go around hunting for furniture from physical shops. In the conventional furniture shopping workflow, a potential customer will visit a physical showroom and will be presented with a physical catalogue or booklet to look through. With furnish.ng, no need for that anymore, that stress has been catered for.
I worked as a structural design engineer with Global Oceon Engineers Ltd between 2013 and 2014, then resigned from the company to launch Donkan Designs Technologies, an Architectural, Engineering, and Construction Design Company. My extensive skills in architectural designs came to bear as I was engaged by a particular company based in Ikoyi, Lagos who regularly outsourced their interior architectural design jobs to my company. My experiences on various interior design projects for numerous clients lead me to discovering the need for an easily accessible catalogue of affordable furniture, homeware and interior décor items. This was because most of our clients preferred to have an online catalogue which they can easily have access to on the go and choose their choice of home accents, furniture, and other homeware items for their interior décor projects. So I nurtured the idea for a while, before beginning to execute the idea which became furnish.ng.
I also launched the site as a result of several bad experiences with local carpenters who were contracted to make some furniture items for my home. They did not stick to the quality of materials agreed upon, quality of finishing was poor, and they couldn’t keep to the time of delivery. My neighbour also had similar experiences. So I established the site to provide customers with peace of mind by guaranteeing customers with wide range of designs, quality of material and finishing, and timely delivery.
In addition, quality furniture at showrooms are ridiculously expensive and out of reach for the average work-class Nigerian. The site was also established to provide affordable quality furniture and homeware items to Nigerians. By focusing on low margins on our items at larger turnovers, we believe we can break the myth that quality furniture must necessary be expensive.
For now, our marketing strategy is anchored on word of mouth marketing and referrals. My friends and mentors have been actively recommending customers and our customers, in turn, recommend more customers. The website is search-engine optimised, so we are benefiting from organic search engine results which bring leads to the site. We recently launch a blog where we share articles about furnishing and decorations, and even have a diary section for sharing the activities of the company. We believe the blog will be a major driver of our search-engine leads in the nearest future. We are also hoping to launch email marketing soon. The future of this brand is to encompass so many sectors including furniture, homeware, home improvement, building materials, electronics, and interior decoration. The site is currently self-funded by me. We are yet to get any external funding.
I’m majorly driven by the mission of changing the narratives in Nigeria. Nigeria is known to be a hyper-consumer nation which imports over 80% of her domestic needs. This mission is not restricted to the furniture and homeware sector alone. I am building the foundation for a future conglomerate which will contribute to local manufacturing, employment generation, conservation and earning of foreign exchange. Foremost African businessman and industrialist, Aliko Dangote, is my role model. He has already proved that African industrialisation is possible and has led the charge for future industrialists.
Our biggest challenge before and after starting is power costs. We are spending an excruciating amount fuelling generator for our daily operations. The other challenge is infrastructural and manpower challenges which can definitely be solved with adequate funding.
My advice to young entrepreneurs is that they should be knowledge lovers, addicts for self-improvement and suckers for skill acquisition. With sufficient knowledge and skills, an entrepreneur can weather any storm through creative ways such as lean-startup methodology. A quick example of myself will give more insight. Since I launched the site, I have not paid any consultant to create or maintain any of our digital assets. Due to limited funding, I personally designed the current logo, setup the dedicated server which the site runs on, designed the e-commerce site, created all graphics materials needed before and after launch including PR materials and so on. I also actively maintain all these digital assets for the company. If I had relied on third-party professionals or consultants, I wouldn’t have launched the company because I would not have been able to afford their bills. So basically, by being multi-talented in web development, graphics designs, and Linux Server administration, I was able to save the company tremendous cost. A startup founder who lacks some basic skills and wholly relies on third-party professionals might not go far unless the person has tremendous backup funds.