Brimore connects emerging brand owners with a network of individual sellers, who market their products on social media. This helps suppliers get market access and gives sellers a decent income. More than nine out of ten sellers are women: often mothers who have few other options to earn money without violating cultural norms.
To start, can you briefly introduce yourselves?
Ahmed: I am Ahmed Sheikha, the Chief Business Officer of Brimore. In late 2017, I co-founded the company with Mohamed Abdulaziz. I have a background in engineering and hold a Master’s degree in Entrepreneurship and Innovation Management.
Nada: I am Nada Samy, the newest member of the Brimore team. I work on impact investment and business development.
What is Brimore all about?
Ahmed: Brimore is a social commerce and parallel distribution platform. We connect emerging brand owners with a network of individual sellers, who market their products on social media. This helps suppliers get market access and gives sellers a decent income.
How does your model work in practice?
Ahmed: 92 per cent of our sellers are women. They get access to an app and choose between 8,000 different products. Then, they collect orders through their social media networks and place them on the app. Our shipping company delivers the products to their doorsteps, and the women sell them to the end consumers.
Which problems does your model solve?
Ahmed: Established marketing channels do not work for emerging brands in Egypt, but technology enables them to enter local markets through informal networks. We get their products out of the big cities: 70 per cent of our sales happen in rural areas, including ten per cent in borderline desert areas. These communities are underserved. Through Brimore, they gain easy access to everyday goods like personal care products and electric appliances.
What is the special value you create for sellers?
Ahmed: Egyptian women have few opportunities for work. It is culturally unacceptable that they leave their children, and there are few day care facilities. With Brimore, they can make an income at home without any prior experience. All they need is reach and persistence. They do not even need initial capital; many of them make end consumers pay in advance. We provide them with marketing materials and teach them the basics.
Nada: We also team up with other organisations to create additional value for the women. Last month, we partnered up with INJAZ in their initiative “Saving for Good” with HSBC to provide a training program for our women sellers on financial literacy. We are currently in the process of signing the Women’s Empowerment Principles by UN Women.
How much do sellers earn?
Ahmed: Most of them just want to help sustain their families. These women earn between one and two hundred US dollars a month. About ten per cent, however, deal with a different mindset. They specialise in certain products, buy in bulk, and connect with traders around the country. Some of them earn 20,000 US dollars per month. Laila, a single mother of nine, even supported her sister-in-law to open a shop in another city.
How can women grow as sellers?
Ahmed: We onboard them and provide them with digital marketing training. There are targeted courses for new, mid-level and experienced sellers.
Nada: We launched a full partners development program targeting different aspects of their learning progress and daily lives. We provide them with internal training through a website prepared with relevant content, and they get to a certificate once they complete a course. We also provide those development programs in partnership with other organizations, like the INJAZ program mentioned before. Additionally, we try to optimize the internal operations to help them profit more and have a better work experience.
Ahmed: Experienced sellers can also set up physical stores through our franchise model. We provide them with branding, a standardized system, and financial solutions. This is a great way to increase our coverage and get women’s families on board. Right now, we are piloting the model with ten stores. Our goal is to establish 1,000 of them in 2022.
How many people do you reach?
Ahmed: In our first year, we worked with about 500 sellers. Now 70,000 have registered through the app, and twenty to twenty-five per cent of them are active each month. On the supply side, we work with 3,000 enterprises.
How have suppliers benefited?
Ahmed: Suppliers that used to work one shift per week now produce 24/7 and have employed more people. Some have multiplied their production by a factor of twenty. For example, we conducted an interview with the CEO of Al-Ahram Cookware, one of our suppliers. He told us that „the firm was founded in 1963 and our usual growth accounted to around ten to twenty per cent a year since; however, since Al-Ahram Cookware joined Brimore, we saw a one hundred per cent growth rate.”
How do you measure the impact you create?
Nada: We partnered with 60 Decibels, an end-to-end impact measurement company that produced an impact report evaluating our work with the women sellers. The report shows that 88 per cent of our sellers say that their quality of life has changed by working with Brimore. We also use the BCtA impact tool to identify the SDGs we work on and set SDG indicators on our projects. Additionally, we partnered with an Egyptian impact consulting firm to work on our theory of change model and set our own tools to constantly measure and evaluate our impact.
What makes your business model financially viable?
Ahmed: We are profitable by transaction. Suppliers give us a discount on the consumer price, which we divide between the sellers, the operating costs, and our margins. Over the last years, we have also raised about 30 million USD in investments to finance our growth. In addition, we serve a huge market of 20 to 30 billion USD.
Can you tell us your annual revenue?
Ahmed: We expect an annual revenue of 100 million USD this year. Even during the Covid-19 pandemic, our business has grown: Most sellers stay at home anyway and people use social media more often.
Do you receive any support from outside the company?
Nada: We have received support and funding from a number of investors, including the IFC. In addition, we have strong partnerships. We are a member of Business Call to Action (BCtA), for example.
How will your reach expand within the next few years?
Ahmed: We want to reach 500,000 sellers by 2023 and expand into East and North Africa. Our goal is to reach 40 million consumers through a first or second degree of separation. To do so, we will become more focused in who we want to onboard. We want to attract younger women and expand more strategically into underserved areas. In addition, we will expand our product range and target new market segments, like university students.
What else are you planning to do?
Ahmed: We are also working on a supplier development programme. To help our suppliers grow, we will train them on business development, financing, and digitalisation. Right now, we are piloting the programme with about 300 suppliers. If the results are good, we will scale it to all of them.
What do you need to realise these plans?
Ahmed: Finding talent is a real bottleneck. In addition, we need to raise more finance. Grants and impact investment would help us keep the same level of aggressiveness in impact measurement that we have in business.
What struggles has Brimore already overcome?
Ahmed: Initially, we wanted to manufacture products. But our investors left, and we had to start again from scratch. We let all our staff go and recruited them again a few months later. This was our biggest challenge. Now, we are still grappling with some regulations, supplier inconsistencies, fundraising, and a shortage of talent.
What inspires you to keep going?
Ahmed: We have a hands-on team. It is also inspiring for us to see the creative ways in which the sellers do their business.
Nada: I have always wanted to work somewhere I could make an impact. Talking to the sellers and suppliers and seeing how Brimore has helped them is more inspiring for me than just reading the numbers.
What recommendations do you have for other inclusive business companies?
Ahmed: Social impact is almost always a by-product of any business. Still, management needs to design for it and consciously optimise it. At the same time, many inclusive businesses focus too much on development and lack aggressiveness. I believe that the best development tool is to create win-win business relationships with people. To be inclusive, be a successful business.
The Impact Stories are produced by the Inclusive Business Action Network (iBAN). They are created in close collaboration with the highlighted entrepreneurs and teams. The production of this Impact Story has been led by Susann Tischendorf (concept), Sara Karnas (video), Katharina Münster (text), Christopher Malapitan (illustrations), Alexandra Harris (editing) and Olachi Opara (info graphics). The music is royalty free. All photographs are courtesy of Brimore.