Meet Nathaniel Wade is a serial entrepreneur based in the London Borough of Lewisham. He joined the OneTech Pre-Accelerator with Foundervine to develop his e-commerce business, Wakuda. In this OneTech Story, Nathaniel shares the origin story of Wakuda and how he navigates the tech world as a non-technical founder.
Tell us about your business
Wakuda is an online marketplace that connects shoppers with a goal of discovering and amplifying Black and diverse UK talent. As a platform that connects buyers to sellers, it provides everyone with the opportunity to access amazing Black-owned brands. But more than that, we are working towards an equitable sustainable eco-system where supporting independent Black-owned businesses isn’t a reactive act that’s done in surges but one that is just as instinctive as purchasing from any other mainstream brand.
Where did the business idea come from?
My Co-Founder and I have always discussed the lack of representation and support for Black businesses in the UK. Last year, after George Floyd’s death and the worldwide protests, we noticed a shift in awareness of the challenges faced by the Black community and wondered how we could translate that shift to meaningful impact. Because we are business focussed we created the marketplace as a way to see diverse talent widely celebrated and empower our community.
What stage is your business at now?
We launched in September 2020 and are now at traction stage. We have nearly 300 businesses on the platform and are gaining new users daily. We are building awareness and making technical improvements.
We create partner relationships with vendors and have quite a few different channels of marketing to customers through social media, blogs and features in the press. We see innovative partnerships as the best way to build the brand into a robust model, before seeking further investment.
How has your background and your community and influenced your business journey?
I’ll definitely say my background is a driving force for me. There is a lack of representation in terms of Black entrepreneurs to aspire to. You have to search quite hard to find someone who looks like you. That’s definitely a problem we want to solve. We want members of our community and our children to see people that are doing things for themselves and give the inspiration that we were missing. There is so much talent that just hasn’t received the right exposure to go mainstream.
Historically, the more typical successful entrepreneur is a white man. They often have access to certain circles where they are able to absorb information or see how family businesses run. When you don’t have that background or have certain people in your circle you are starting off at a deficit. We need more education, upskilling and awareness. Information about how to get to market, brand positioning, how to make a profitable business.
What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?
There have been a lot of challenges. One of them was the fact that we were both non-tech founders. My co-founder’s background is in digital marketing and my background is electrical and mechanical engineering. So we needed a lot of external input to make the platform fit for purpose with the customisations we required. We had problems with our first developer being inflexible but we moved on and have secured a better tech collaboration.
Another challenge for me was marketing. Coming from a property investment business to running the e-commerce marketplace required a lot of adaptation. I like to learn a lot so it’s literally been a case of just doing the research, getting on programmes like OneTech, and talking to other founders. My experience is that everyone’s willing to take time just to talk and share tips.
We launched during the pandemic so we didn’t get the opportunity to go out and meet brands face to face. We’ve had to do a lot of relationship-building on social media.
What did you get out of the programme?
It helped us to redefine our focus in terms of value proposition and brand positioning, to break things down and to know we are going in the right direction. Initiatives like OneTech and Stride are important to support innovation in South London. We need to improve awareness, nurture communities and create spaces where collaborations and partnerships can be sparked. More signposting is needed to the tools out there to help individuals grow businesses.
I think community is a massive thing. One of the initiatives we plan is to host monthly drop-in sessions as an opportunity for the vendors on our platform to share wins, losses, strategies, problems and of course to celebrate working together. We understand that it is a long, tough journey, and want to provide support from an authentic place. We don’t just want to be a stand-alone platform for product listing, but more of a hub. Our ethos is very much to challenge the status quo. Our bottom line is that we want all the businesses on Wakuda to be successful.
What are your dreams and plans for the future?
Our mission is twofold. 1 is to bring Black-owned businesses to the mainstream. 2 is to address the large disparity in income between entrepreneurs of Black and other ethnicities. Recent British Business Bank research showed that Black entrepreneurs experience far worse outcomes, on average and have significantly lower median turnover. Through empowering individuals, we aim to narrow that gap.
What is your message to inspire other underrepresented founders?
Just get started. I find a lot of people developing ideas for years and years and then look back and think ‘Oh, if only we had done this’. There’s nothing worse than looking back and not knowing if you could have succeeded. Even if it fails you at least know you tried.