Fabrice Alomo (22) is the Cameroonian entrepreneur behind an innovative business that aims to solve many of the challenges surrounding online shopping in his country.
The company, founded in 2013, is called MyAConnect and it is digitising trade through various applications that work together to change the way consumers buy, sell and pay online.
Its online marketplace, called AMarket, lists a variety of products and services offered by SMEs. These listed offerings can easily be purchased with the company’s own digital currency called AMoney. To up their digital wallets, consumers purchase vouchers from a variety of vendors. AMoney vouchers can be paid for in cash, meaning that no debit and credit cards – which have an extremely low penetration in Cameroon – are needed to shop online.
“People who are unbanked need this financial service because it is very cheap to access and it’s a full solution. We are providing small businesses with a payment solution and, for people who are unbanked, we are also providing them with a system where they can both store their money and pay digitally,” explained Alomo.
MyAConnect currently allows SMEs to list their products for free, although it takes a commission on sales. Close to 600 SMEs have listed their products and services on AMarket, while around 40 vendors in Cameroon’s capital Yaoundé sell the AMoney vouchers. Small-scale farmers are also increasingly using the service to sell their fresh produce.
In addition, the company has developed its own solution to e-commerce delivery challenges. With the rapid expansion of urban centres in Cameroon, very few places have formal addresses. And with no street names or numbers, delivering goods can be difficult. However, Alomo and his team have built their own address system app, called MyHome, which makes use of GPS coordinates – alongside well-known local sites such as a church, school or even a mango tree – to locate people. The company’s ADelivery unit then picks up the product from the SME, and delivers it to the consumer.
Alomo recently won $15,000 and second place in this year’s Anzisha Prize, Africa’s premier award for its youngest entrepreneurs.
Seeing solutions where others see problems
Alomo’s inspiration for starting the platform came a few years ago, when his mom was suffering from high blood pressure and he struggled to find her the right medication. After visiting six stores, he eventually managed to locate it, but the ordeal got him thinking if there couldn’t be an easier way to find products.
After exploring the various solutions and challenges, he and a classmate co-founded MyAConnect.
Alomo believes entrepreneurship is the right career path for him because it allows him to be free in his thinking and choices.
“I have a mind for innovation and this mind makes me think I can create value for others and help them… I like to move and do things and I cannot do this if I am working for someone else – this would be difficult for me.”
“And before my life ends I want to have created something that helps people and creates value for them. I want to walk down the street and see how they are actually using the product I created for them.”
His advice to other aspiring entrepreneurs is to have a long-term vision and focus on solving problems.
“We have enough problems in our communities… Just sit down and ask how you can help others – find a solution. For me, I am a technology guy, with technology solutions. But you can bring your own solutions, maybe using health, education, this or that. But for me it is in technology.”
Overcoming personal challenges
Alomo was born with autism spectrum disorder, a lifelong developmental condition that affects an individual’s ability to interact socially and communicate with others.
“One of the difficulties is that autistic people are unique students at school, with the way they behave and think. It is different,” he explained.
“They can be very smart people, but it is difficult to show that smartness in school, and that discourages them.”
He was able to overcome many of the social challenges because his parents made sure he participated in activities that would help him interact with others and improve his social skills. He is also one of 12 siblings, and became use to interacting with many people from a young age.
“I am lucky that I have many brothers and sisters, because they got me talking and discussing things. And my father taught me how to debate and communicate with people. For example, I love reading and he would always ensure that when I finished reading, I would go and discuss with him what I have read.”
He always had an affinity for computers, and started programming from age 14. “For me computers are just like a normal thing. The internet, computers, programming – it just comes naturally to me. I don’t know why. It is just the way I am.”