When he was still a 9th grader, Brice Nogou, from Cameroon, already knew that he wanted to create opportunities for others. He often jotted down his ideas in a notebook that he still keeps today.
A few years later, Brice embarked on a journey to China to pursue his studies in Computer engineering. He spent a total of five years in the Asian country, from 2015 to 2020. He first lived in Beijing for a year to complete his Chinese language program at Beihang University. Then he moved to southwest China’s Chongqing Municipality to join a bachelor of Computer Engineering program at Southwest University.
As he was immersed in his China experience, Brice started refining some of his early entrepreneurial ideas and brought them to life through AFeshop, the main project of his startup NogouTech.
The project aims at designing an electronic platform to support local manufacturers in promoting their products. It entails, on the one hand, helping them improve the visual presentation of their products through better packaging, marketing, and communication. And on the other hand, creating an e-commerce platform where they can easily carry out their various transactions.
Brice and his team worked on the AFeshop project part-time for the last three years and officially launched it this year on March 26 in Cameroon’s capital city Yaoundé.
In these edited excerpts from my conversation with Brice, we discuss how his experience in China has contributed to shaping the AFeshop project. He also tells me about the challenges he has faced and his plans for the future.
What is the story behind AFeshop?
Well. The story is a bit long, but I will try to summarize it.
So, I like to say that regardless of the challenges I encountered in China, it is a country that allowed me to discover myself.
Since I was a little kid, I have always loved traveling. It’s a passion passed on to me by my father. I knew the names of almost all the capitals of the countries in Asia, Europe, and others. However, I knew very little about African countries.
When I arrived in Beijing, I saw how important everything Chinese was. The people, the culture, the history, and so on. After my Chinese language year in Beijing, I moved to Chongqing. There, I enrolled in a Chinese-taught engineering course. However, in addition to courses relevant to my field, we also had to take Chinese culture and philosophy courses. And we had to pass those courses to graduate.
I could see that what makes the strength of the Chinese people is their interest in their own culture and their daily consumption of the products they manufacture themselves. I then wondered why we, as Africans, do not do the same. Why can’t we promote what we do locally? Why can’t we be the architects behind our daily tools, entertainment, and so on? And that’s how the idea for AFeshop came about.
Screenshot of the home page of AFeshop e-commerce platform.
We know that e-commerce in China is very advanced. Did Chinese e-commerce platforms influence you in any way as you developed the AFeshop project?
Definitively. When you have a dream, and you see that something similar is being implemented and having a significant impact on society already, a bit like in China with Alibaba and Taobao, it feels like you are taking a trip to the future.
Alibaba’s operational model for its platform inspired me significantly. However, Chinese society has its own reality and culture. So there are things that I have learned from them that I could not apply here in Cameroon.
What are the three main lessons you’ve learned from your time in China?
The first thing is working for the common good. When you work for the common good, it has a greater impact on each person. Working towards a shared vision is the first thing.
The second thing is to let the priority, the center, be ourselves. It’s crucial to design an educational system and a society that puts forward our culture and our way of seeing things. Then we can start thinking about including what comes from outside.
The third lesson is to try to build a stronger work ethic because I think the Chinese are people who value hard work and a job well done.
Soft launch of the AFeshop platform. Photo credit: AFeshop Facebook page
What challenges have you faced so far?
The technical challenges were related to the fact that I studied in China. So our program was more designed for Chinese engineers and to meet the challenges of Chinese society. As a result, I was more familiar with technologies and ways of doing things that did not necessarily correspond to those used by the engineers with whom I was going to work in Cameroon. For example, the backend of applications here [in Cameroon] is done in PHP, whereas there [in China], it is Node.js and other frameworks that we used. So, I had to adapt.
Another major challenge concerns human resources because some employees do not always have the appropriate professional attitude.
It has also been challenging to convince target users to put extra effort into using the platform. It is true that the penetration rate of smartphones in Africa is considerable and that more people are on social networks. However, people are not yet familiar with the electronic operations of e-commerce. They do not know, for example, how to create a delivery address, select an item and add it to their cart, check out, and so on. They are more familiar with the existing e-commerce model, which consists in posting photos on social media and receiving orders via messages.
The last challenge is a problem that is common to all entrepreneurs, which is the problem of funding. Things are not as quickly profitable as we would like.
AFeshop and PEJECIR Group signing a partnership. Photo credit: AFeshop Facebook page
Where do you see AFeshop in 5 years?
In 5 years, I see AFeshop ideally becoming the go-to platform for Made in Africa products. A platform that has supported African entrepreneurs to automate their production and move from artisanal to semi-industrial or downright industrial. A platform that has allowed Made in Africa products to reassess themselves and aspire to something better.
We hope to be a platform available in several countries, with millions of users who can easily choose to consume locally-made products. We want Africans to be proud about primarily using what they manufacture by themselves. And also, when they consume Made in Africa products, they must be confident that these are quality products.
Our first mission is to convince ourselves that we can be better and achieve something extraordinary. After that, we will be able to convince the world.
About the author:
Gaelle Ayamou is a journalist, a communications specialist, and a researcher. She writes about startups and Africa-China relations. She also enjoys creating visual content about communication, education, as well as women and youth empowerment in Africa. Her research has mainly focused on media representations of Africa, Africa-China media relations, as well as the use of AI in journalism and communication and its ethical implications.