Opening Up An Online Electronics Store And Scaling It To $30K/Month

Published: June 9th, 2023
Mark Bii
Smartbuy Kenya Li...
from Nairobi, Kenya
started May 2021
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Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

Hi there! My name is Mark and I am the co-founder of Smartbuy Kenya, an e-commerce website that specializes in electronics. I started the business together with my friend Abdirizak at the beginning of 2021.

Our two-main flagship products are Laptops and Printers, which we sell to both consumers and businesses. Our target customers are mainly here in Kenya, but in the year, we plan on serving new customers outside Kenya due to the growing inquiries.

When we started the business our revenue on average was about $8,000 per month which mainly came from advertising our products online through Google and Facebook Ads.

Today our business generates an average of $30,000 per month which is something we are proud of because we invested heavily in SEO during the whole of 2021 not knowing if it would work or not. Not only has SEO helped us increase our revenue but we’ve also cut down on ad-marketing costs.


What's your backstory, and how did you come up with the idea?

Abdirizak and I met the same year we started Smartbuy Kenya. We knew each other from a mutual friend whom I studied with in high school. Abdirizak at that time used to work for a B2B company that dealt with the sale of computers and printers, while I was a marketing student at a local university in my 3-rd year.

Back to our mutual friend again….so at that time Abdirizak’s company where he was the head of marketing needed an e-commerce site. He was wondering where he would get somebody to do it, even on a freelance basis. Then one day when the two met since our mutual friend used to buy products from his company and knew he had an e-commerce site (which I had built btw) requested my number.

The following day I got a call from Abdirizak where we met over for coffee and he briefed me on the needs of his company that they wanted an online platform to boost their sales and the rest is history. I joined the company 1-week later and started working on their website, which to my luck utilized the same technologies (WooCommerce) which I had used on our mutual friend’s website. The job was on a freelance basis as I was still a student.

At the beginning of this relationship, everything wasn’t all smooth sailing. I was just a marketing student with little knowledge and experience in how to sell. My first e-commerce website (our mutual friend’s) had barely got any sales, the design was impeccable though and most people loved its UI. So a week later, I decided to learn Google Ads through their online certification programs and some YouTube videos.

I later implemented the strategies I had learned, which brought in a few sales. Our online revenue grew from then on and after 4 months when the two of us saw the opportunity to start our own business we decided to quit with the little money we had saved we rented out a small office space to start our e-commerce venture at the end of February 2021. Smartbuy Kenya was then born.

Thanks to my experience with woo-commerce, I was able to quickly build the online platform in just two weeks and got it up and running. We invested in Google and Facebook ads to bring in sales, which luckily worked in our favor but seemed very costly in the long run.

At the time, businesses similar to ours had also ventured into online selling and competition became stiff. Bidding for top-searched keywords in our industry was becoming hard. We had to figure out another way.

That’s when the idea of SEO came in. Optimizing our products for search seemed like a better investment in the long run, although none of us didn’t have any idea of how to do it. We had a catalog of almost 200 items, and each day I would optimize three to five products.

As months went by, we couldn’t see any results (traffic) on our search console. None of our products or pages got ranked, although Google had started indexing them. To be honest, we almost gave up, 8 months since we started investing in SEO. Although we knew ranking takes time according to Google’s principles, we never lost the determination. Fast-forward 3 months later, as the year closed, we started noticing a small spike in traffic. That was our “Aha moment”.

After all these months of hard work, finally, our site started appearing for searches related to our products.

Take us through the process of building the first version of your product.

When we began, we focused on providing a diverse range of laptops and printers that catered to the needs of various customers. Abdirizak had good knowledge thanks to his prior experience, while I devoted myself to harnessing my digital marketing skills.

We partnered with an authorized local reseller to ensure that we were offering genuine, high-quality products. The process of selecting the best products to market was based on our target market and their preferences. We also had to ensure that we offered the right mix of products to cater to different types of customers based on their budgets.

Our startup costs were mainly composed of licensing and setting up the shop, which amounted to roughly $2,000. This covered the necessary permits, company registration fees, setting up display units, and other necessary infrastructure. Initially, we didn’t buy any high-value inventory as we weren’t in a position to do so. We only procured an item from our supplier once we had confirmed a sale.

During the initial stages, our biggest challenge was building credibility with our supplier. We had to make sure that all items procured were paid for within their applicable credit terms. A trustworthy relationship with the authorized reseller ensured that we received genuine products but most importantly at a competitive price.

Despite these challenges, our commitment to offering high-quality products and exceptional customer service has been key to the growth of our business.

Describe the process of launching the business.

Launching our business was an exciting and challenging journey. But I would say the small leaps in traffic gave us hope each day. Our launch strategy involved a two-pronged approach: branding the physical store and creating a strong online presence to reach a broader audience.

We had to double our efforts on building awareness about our brand, especially on social media and Google searches. To do this, we had to create better product descriptions than our competitors and build online trust by soliciting reviews from customers who had bought from us. It took around three months before we started seeing a significant increase in foot traffic at our store and a steady stream of online customers.

Creating a user-friendly website that is also well-informed is what we believe has been the greatest contributor to our success. I’ve always believed that crafting something beautiful and aesthetically appealing automatically sold itself. We would even get good compliments from clients about the website.

To finance the business, our savings were enough as the set-up costs as mentioned earlier weren’t that much. We were lucky that our savings enabled us to bootstrap.

The biggest lesson learned from the process of starting our business and launching it was the importance of effective competitor research. By identifying our competitor’s weaknesses, we were able to understand our customer's pain points. Another aspect would be adapting to the needs of each customer, such as those who preferred to “Pay on Delivery”.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

To increase traffic and sales, we have relied on and tested a mix of marketing tools for our social media and SEO campaigns. Today there are a lot of tools that can help you with that. For us, it was always and still has been about cost.

Tools like Ahrefs and Semrush are quite costly, but one can argue that they have some certain advantage over the rest in terms of the amount of data you can collect. In our case, tools like Keywords Everywhere and UberSuggest have always delivered, which you can get from as little as $10.

My recommendation to other entrepreneurs is that they shouldn’t focus on getting the best tool. Start with a tool you can afford, but always check its credibility (author). For instance, UberSuggest is a tool made by Neil Patel, a person who is so credible and well-known in the SEO industry.


As an entrepreneur also develop a big appetite for learning. Learn new tactics which you can employ in your own business. When I started crafting websites, I never had any knowledge of SEO. But in 1 year I was able to grasp many concepts.

You can learn for free on platforms such as YouTube. Also, invest in courses related to your field from trusted platforms such as Udemy. Another tactic I use is following SEO industry experts on Twitter and subscribing to online magazines such as Search Engine Journal.

Our social media strategy mainly involves creating engaging posts. We usually try to make the posts engaging by bundling our products with free giveaways. To increase our followers, and boost engagement and impressions, advertising on both Facebook and Instagram has been fruitful for us.

For corporates and large businesses, we prefer employing email marketing efforts. It’s also important to have a working business e-mail, as we’ve learned many corporates prefer inquiring about a product via e-mail to calling.

Currently, we don’t employ any retargeting efforts. Most returning customers are businesses and corporates. If you have corporate customers, always make sure to build a good relationship with them from the get-go. A positive experience for high-value clients in our experience has a positive impact on the business. Focus on value, not sales.

Another essential aspect is always delivering beyond the customer's expectations. For example, if you sell a physical product that may need set-up, offer yourself and do it for the client. Remember, a happy customer will in turn give you a positive review, building trust for other potential customers)

How are you doing today, and what does the future look like?

As of today, our business is profitable. We have managed to establish a solid customer base and have seen consistent monthly sales since we started ($30,000 on average monthly).

Currently, our main expenses are on our marketing tools and social media advertising with overheads like rent taking a big chunk. We don’t spend a penny on Google Ads. The majority of our sales come from our online store, thanks to the good work we put towards our SEO efforts. Our physical store also contributes significantly to our overall sales, serving local customers who prefer to see and try the products before purchasing.

Operational-wise, our 2-man effort enables us to be efficient when it comes to costs. We can handle everything from customer service to inventory management and marketing by ourselves.

In terms of expansion, we are continually exploring new products that we can add to our line. We aim to diversify our offerings to cater to a broader range of customer needs and preferences. While our current focus is on the domestic market, we are also considering expanding to international markets as times we get inquiries from customers outside Kenya.

Our short-term goals include enhancing our online presence, increasing our product range, and improving our customer service. In the long term, we aim to become a leading provider of laptops and printers, known for our quality products and exceptional customer service here in Nairobi, Kenya.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

However, we have quickly learned from these challenges and slowly we are working to overcome them. We now research more before acquiring any asset that can be beneficial for the company, for example, marketing tools. Another big failure is not properly branding ourselves. We should have properly branded our retailing packaging materials like shopping bags

The best decision we made was to partner with a reliable supplier. We usually have minimal product returns or issues such as defects. They also assist us when it comes to warranty, whenever a product has an issue they can sort it out for us.

In terms of external forces, the trend towards remote work and online learning due to the global pandemic has increased the demand for laptops and printers. Students in Kenya are also shifting to a new curriculum that requires them to have electronic gadgets to aid them in learning. This, combined with our timely decision to focus on online sales, has significantly contributed to our success.

The most valuable lesson we've learned is the importance of adaptability. The market is continually changing, and being able to quickly adjust our strategies has been crucial. We've also learned the value of customer feedback. It has guided many of our decisions and helped us continuously improve our offerings and service.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

We utilize a range of tools and platforms to manage our business operations efficiently. For our online store, we use WooCommerce, a flexible and customizable eCommerce platform built on WordPress. It allows us to manage our inventory, handle transactions, and provide a seamless shopping experience for our customers.

For our SEO efforts, we rely heavily on tools like Keywords Everywhere, Keyword Surfer, and SEO Minion Chrome extension tools. These tools help us identify relevant keywords, analyze our website's SEO performance, and optimize our content to rank higher in search engine results. They have been invaluable in driving organic traffic to our website and improving our online visibility.

To manage our email marketing efforts, we use MailChimp. It's a powerful tool that allows us to segment our email lists, create personalized email campaigns, and track their performance. It has been instrumental in nurturing relationships with our customers and driving repeat purchases.

For shipping and fulfillment, we rely on G4S, but mainly for orders outside Nairobi. Their reliable and efficient services ensure our products reach our customers on time and in perfect condition, contributing to a positive customer experience.

In terms of social media management, Hashtag Expert has been a great help. It allows us to identify trending hashtags relevant to our products and increase the reach of our social media posts.

For productivity, we rely on Google Sheets for tracking sales (daily and monthly) and monitoring inventory. Adobe Photoshop comes in handy for designing visual content for our website and social media platforms.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

There have been several influential books that have guided our business journey, but 3 stood out. “Hustle Harder, Hustle Smarter” by Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson provided valuable insights on how to adapt and thrive in a competitive business environment. Its emphasis on the importance of strategic thinking, personal growth, and resilience resonated deeply with us and has influenced our approach to running the business.

“The 5 AM Club” by Robin Sharma introduced us to the benefits of rising early and dedicating the first hours of the day to personal development and strategic thinking. It taught us the importance of discipline and consistency, and we've seen how this practice can enhance productivity and focus throughout the day.

Finally, “Atomic Habits” by James Clear has significantly shaped our understanding of habit formation and its impact on success. Clear's practical strategies for developing positive habits and breaking negative ones have not only been valuable on a personal level but also in shaping the culture and work ethics within our business. It reinforced the idea that small, consistent changes can result in significant improvements over time.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

Starting a business is an exciting journey that requires hard work, resilience, and a growth mindset. When we started Smartbuy we honestly didn’t expect the feedback we have so far received.

Invest time in planning and researching your product offering. Understand your target market, competitors, and industry trends. While it's impossible to predict everything and know all your competitor tactics, the more you understand your business environment, the better equipped you'll be to navigate challenges.

Secondly, keep an eye on your cash flow from the very beginning. It's not just about making sales; it's about managing your expenses, understanding your profit margins, and ensuring you have enough cash to keep the business running. Keep unnecessary expenses away. We also don’t give out products on credit. We work on a strict CASH-ONLY model.

Another common mistake is trying to do everything yourself. As a business owner, your time is valuable, and it's essential to focus on what you do best. Don't hesitate to delegate tasks, outsource certain operations, or hire experts when necessary.

We usually hire an external accountant who ensures our bookkeeping records are in order. Hire people who have more expertise in your field. They will advise you on the best practices, and pinpoint weaknesses because they are good at it

Lastly, remember that setbacks are a part of the journey. Don't be disheartened by failures or mistakes; instead, use them as opportunities to learn and grow. Stay adaptable and open-minded, and always be ready to move on

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

At this moment, we're not actively looking to fill any specific positions. However, we are always interested in connecting with talented individuals who share our passion for technology and customer service. If that sounds like you, feel free to reach out to us with your resume and a brief introduction about yourself at [email protected]. We'll certainly keep you in mind for future opportunities. Thank you for your interest in our company!

Where can we go to learn more:

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!