Ian Arunga wears many hats: he is an art director; fine artist; blogger; children’s books author; and an undeniably dapper guy. And one year ago, the Kenyan citizen founded Dapper Monkey, an online store that caters exclusively for men’s clothing. He speaks to Footprint to Africa about his experience running the start-up and his views on the regional e-commerce space in general.
What motivated you to venture into business, the fashion business at that?
For as long as I can remember, I have always loved fashion. My mother was a fashion designer and I think that rubbed off on me from a very tender age. As I grew older, a lot of people would often ask where I purchase my clothes. These questions were so frequent, that my partner and I decided to make a business out of it.
For us, we noticed there was a huge customer need for good quality and affordable men’s apparel. With that in mind, we crafted our strategy and idea execution around it.
Why an online enterprise?
We chose online because according to InternetWorldStats there about 4 billion people who use the Internet globally. And having an online business would give us an unimaginable audience. With the right marketing of course!
Do you have any professional qualifications that back you in running the business aspect of Dapper Monkey’s operations?
Yes, both my partner Cheryl and I do. Cheryl works in the financial space and as a result, is able to work closely with our accountant to ensure our expenses and income are well accounted for. She is the money expert, without her, we would have gone broke by now.
I am an art director by profession. I work at an advertising agency in Nairobi which helps a lot when it comes to maintaining our brand identity and digital marketing.
How do you and your partner complement each other in running your enterprise?
Cheryl is more the Director of Finance and Operations. She is very good at ensuring things get done and on time. Making sure our customers receive the products they ordered for whilst providing stellar customer service. Being an online business, part of the time, we are convincing our customers that we are a legit business, which is what she does. It is also for this reason that we only accept payment on delivery.
I’m more the Director of Marketing, Strategy and Business Development devising new ways to ensure our products are reaching the masses and we are on track towards customer retention.
I think all businesses have challenges like team cohesion, strategy alignment, and others. However, there are ways to overcome these. At Dapper Monkey we have constant team meetings so we are always in communication. Secondly, we have business mentors who constantly provide us with advice and guidance.
Dapper Monkey is quite a unique monicker. How did it come about?
We get this question a lot! Haha! Well, Dapper means neat and trim in appearance. Monkey, on the other hand, has a story behind it! In nursery school, one of my teachers called me a monkey and it tore me apart- haunted me for years. So I decided to use that negative energy and make good out of it! That is how the name came about! Do you like it?
Very catchy! How would you distinguish Dapper Monkey from e-commerce platforms such as Jumia Market offering similar services and how is it holding its own against bigger players in the same space?
For starters, at Dapper Monkey, we do not end at just selling men’s apparel. We endeavour to sell an experience. We do our best to ensure that once you shop at Dapper Monkey, you will never forget the experience. From the customer service, to how we package our products to how we deliver. The biggest part of our business is making our customer and future customers happy which is what I believe gives us that competitive edge.
You have a presence in at least three social media platforms, what role has social media played in growing the brand’s awareness?
The possibility that users and potential customers can be better conversant with our product offering… Also, people typically tend to turn to social media when they want to compliment or complain about a product or service. For us, the more people talk about the Dapper Monkey brand the more new users/potential customers we gain.
How else does Dapper Monkey market itself?
Referrals! This has been a true testament of our success so far. We also set up pop up shops every now and then when the opportunity arises which has also worked really well for us.
As a homegrown enterprise, do you source some of your products locally?
Yes, we do! All of our leather products encompassing bags, wallets, and belts are made in Kenya. Some of our ties, pocket squares and bowties are also locally made. We hope that within the next year or so we can have all our Dapper Monkey products made here in Kenya, thus pushing the ‘Buy Kenya, Build Kenya’ initiative.
Kenya and East Africa are being touted as the African hub for tech startups and innovations. What do you think makes the economic bloc stand out from the rest of Africa in tech businesses flourishing?
I think it is because the start-ups and innovations that stream out of Kenya and East Africa are solutions to everyday problems/needs. We are a vibrant economy with an infrastructure that works in place. In addition to that, Kenyans are always looking for the next big thing, new ways to make life more convenient.
Do the governments have particular policies that are enabling this segment to grow rapidly?
Yes, the Kenyan government, in particular, has e-commerce industry legislation and regulations that protect both retailers and consumers thereby ensuring that the sector sustains its vibrancy.
How do you think other regions can emulate the exploits of East Africa in this aspect?
Borrow from us! We have made mistakes to get us to where we are now, we are not perfect but we are striving and constantly challenging the status quo. A great example is when Uber joined the Kenyan market, it did not take too long before our own Little Cab was launched. East Africa is a very competitive market and while Uber is internationally acclaimed, Little Cab challenged them with more affordable prices.
What is your vision for Dapper Monkey into the future?
We would like for Dapper Monkey to grow into a household name not only supplying to Kenya but to the whole of Africa.