Customer Development 101 — A Story of How We Got Our Hands Dirty.

Aaron Ejeme
13 min readJan 10, 2021

This is a story of how we sacrificed our salaries for 4 months, raised investment from family and friends, and got our hands dirty. We did all of this, just to really understand the major problems our target customers were facing.

Building a Tech Company is not easy anywhere in the world, but our situation here in Nigeria and across the African Tech Ecosystem is very much different from the rest of the world.

In developed markets especially in Silicon Valley, our colleagues there have access to very good funding opportunities, a very developed economy, and support from Investors who are willing to play the long-term game.

Our Market here in Africa is what you can call a “Frontier Market” (read this book by Alexandre Lazarow — Out-Innovate, How Global Entrepreneurs from Delhi to Detroit Are Rewriting the Rules of Silicon Valley).

In most cases, we need to practically build different parts or even an entire ecosystem for our Online Platforms or SAAS Product(s) to reach product-market fit, grow in revenue, and to expand our market share.

But to first reach product-market fit, a company must go through a strong customer development process to really understand what keeps their target customer awake at night and solve that problem with technology or sometimes, with a technology-enabled solution.

Our company is called Zuri Beauty Services Limited, we work closely with Salon owners and Beauty professionals to help them grow their business online.

Just like Airbnb, we built an online platform that helps them to manage their online bookings, marketing, and customers.

You can find us here — Zurihq.com

September 2019 —

The first step was building an MLVP(Minimum Lovable Viable Product) to test our initial hypothesis which was that — Beauty professionals and Salon owners in Nigeria need an online booking system to manage their online bookings, grow their brand online, and they will pay a monthly subscription fee for access to our Online Platform.

Unlike many tech startups in Nigeria who first open shop in Lagos, we Launched from the Federal Capital Territory— Abuja.

After signing up a few beauty professionals and salons for a few months, we realized we had no idea how the beauty industry in Nigeria really worked. What are these people really willing to pay for? What opportunities are really available?

It all boiled down to one major realization — to really understand what problems Salon owners and beauty professionals are really facing and how to explore these opportunities, we needed first-hand information on how things really work.

We needed to get our hands dirty.

This is How to Get your Hands Dirty

To begin this process, the first step is to completely understand who your target customer really is.

On the Supply side of our Online Platform, we have -

  1. Salon owners: This refers to owners of Salons, Spas, and Gyms. Salons are sometimes owned by Individual entrepreneurs or owned by Hospitality businesses like Hotels and Resorts.
  2. Freelance Beauty Professionals: This refers to individual beauty professionals who may sometimes, work as freelancers who do not have their own space, might rent space in a salon, or be looking for work as an employee in a salon.

We knew what we had to do, from the very first day. We knew that we needed to open our own Salon.

Mainly because of the first-hand experience we were going to gain, the revenue we could generate to remain sustainable, and the business opportunities we could explore.

It was too enticing for us to look the other way.

I am sincerely grateful to my Co-founders — Shepherd Yaw Morttey and Onyinye Nnedolisa for having my back, sticking with me, and making many sacrifices.

They made Sacrifices that not every entrepreneur out there is willing to make.

February 2020 —

To open our new Salon, we needed 3 key things:

1. Finding an Ideal Location for the Salon —

In Abuja, we have what we call a “Salon Village”, and it is located around Wuse 2 — Ademola Adetukubo Street in Abuja. But getting a space for a Salon in Wuse II is very expensive, imagine paying up to 3 million Naira every year as rent to set up a salon.

Don’t get me wrong, Wuse II is a very perfect location for a Salon, largely because of the number of businesses located around, and its proximity to some key Sattelite towns in Abuja like Gwarinpa, Kubwa, and Apo.

But we realized that for the majority of people who live in other satellite towns like Nyanya, Karu, Jikwoyi, Kurudu, Mararaba, and Masaka, going to Wuse II for their beauty needs makes no sense as it is too far for them.

We also knew that our target customers are a majority of women, and in many cases, these women are housewives who can not be traveling to the City Center every time they want to get their Hair or Nails done.

We found a Space for rent in Jikwoyi, our Salon is located in the biggest Plaza in Jikwoyi — Amada Plaza.

Amada Plaza, where our salon is located.

2. Raising Funds to set up the Salon —

To raise funds for our new Salon, we had one option, we knew what we had to do. We had to make sacrifices, but it was a small price to pay if it meant understanding what problems our target customers were really facing.

We also had a Goal in mind — we wanted to open a salon that would not cost us a lot of money or even spend too much on interior design and esthetics.

We raised funds from two sources:

  1. Our Salaries for 4 months(trust me, it wasn’t easy), and
  2. Money from Family and Friends

3. Buying Materials and Beauty Products to use in the Salon —

This meant we had to go into the market and meet with wholesalers and retailers of these beauty products.

Going to the market to buy products was an eye-opener, we got to learn about the direct correlation between the prices of beauty products, and the prices Salons and Beauty pros charge for their services.

We also created relationships with Wholesale Suppliers who love what we do at Zuri and are willing to partner with us to explore business opportunities.

Then the Covid-19 pandemic Happened

Our Industry, the Beauty Industry was hit with a very big blow. Imagine that all the Salons, Spas, and Gyms around the whole world were all locked down.

No one ever imagined that something like that could ever happen.

Our target customers were practically earning nothing. Salon owners couldn't even pay salaries because nobody was walking into the salon.

It was even worst for Beauty professionals who couldn’t receive salaries or earn any money as freelancers.

It even got to a point that we had to send some money to a few beauty professionals as palliatives so that they could at least take care of their feeding during the lockdown — we did this from part of our funds raised to open our salon.

This meant our plans to open our Salon had to be suspended.

June 2020 —

Welcome to our Salon — SAO Beauty Bar

Once the Lockdown was first relaxed, we went into action, paid for the rent of the space, and went to work.

We had an interior design concept in mind and we were very fortunate to work with an Interior designer who was willing to work hard to make our vision a reality.

We had this dream of opening a salon that had a “touch of Africa”, we also had a very tight budget and didn’t want to spend a lot of money on interior design. Most likely because we still had beauty products to buy.

We agreed on a name — SAO Beauty Bar (@saobeautybar on Instagram, Facebook, and on the Zuri Platform)

See the video below, as my Co-founder — Shepherd Yaw Morttey showcases our Salon after Painting was completed.

A few days after the painting was just completed.

We offer the following services in our Salon:

  • A Nail Bar (Nails, Manicure, and Pedicure)
  • Barbing Salon
  • Hair and Braiding services, and
  • A Beauty Photo studio for Makeup artists — it also came with a changing room.

The Salon also doubles as our Offical Zurihq Abuja Hq, and our in-house developers are in the salon 3 times every week for our CTO to monitor their progress.

We have the vision to Launch a Salon (SAO Beauty Bar), in every major City where we launch our online platform Zurihq.com in Africa, and around the World.

Check out pictures of our Salon after it was completed:

A view of the studio, changing room, and nail bar

Salon Launch August 2020 —

What we have learned so far about our target customers

We have had our own share of good and bad experiences since we launched our salon, but it has taught us life-long lessons.

Running our own Salon has put us directly in the shoes of our target customers. That way, we can build Tailor-Made Solutions that scratch our own Itch.

Our plan in the next 3 to 5 years, is to launch our Online platform in the KINGS (Kenya, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Ghana, and South Africa), and to make that happen, the first-hand experience and lessons we are learning from opening our own salon are PRICELESS.

Here are a few problems facing Salon owners that we have identified:

1. Finding a Beauty professional to work in your Salon was harder than we thought —

Finding a beauty professional who is skilled at their work, has good customer relationships, and understands the basics of social media marketing is very Hard.

We found out that in most cases, a Salon owner has to pay a Salon Agent some money (on average 10,000 Naira) to get referrals of beauty pros looking for work.

The Opportunity — We will create a job board on our platform at Zuri for the Freelance Beauty professionals on our platform, train beginners, retrain professionals, by teaching them the basics of social media, and charge Salon owners for access to that Job board on our platform.

2. It is very hard to get a constant flow of clients every month —

Running a salon is not cheap, they are monthly operating costs, like paying Salaries, Electricity, Fuelling for the Generator, etc.

This means it is very important to have:

  • A constant flow of new clients every month(the ability to get new clients to the salon), and
  • A constant flow of clients who return to the salon every month(the ability to retain existing clients)

With our experience in running SAO Beauty Bar, we built an Online Salon Marketing System, which we sell to these Salons (right now, we charge them 20,000 Naira monthly for this service).

The Opportunity — Our Salon Online Marketing system is designed to help Salons increase their bookings every month and we do that in the following steps

Step one — Craft a promo offer (this can either be for walk-ins or home service)

Step two — Create marketing content for the offer (pictures, promo videos, and flyers)

Step three — Promote the offer with Facebook ads, Instagram ads, and on the Zuri Online Platform(we have a promo page and a featured list)

Step four — Generate leads and use the Zuri booking system to confirm bookings and manage their clients.

3. Training Programs are a good way to make money, but only a few Salons take advantage of this opportunity —

Around September 2020, we organized a Professional Nail Training program in partnership with a Professional Nail Technician who is active on the Zuri platform, our training was unlike any other training out there, and this is because we added Social Media marketing as one of the core skills we teach beginner and advanced beauty professionals.

Check out the flyer for our first training program:

Flyer for our first Training Program.

The Opportunity — We can put together a special training package, in partnership with Salons and Freelance Beauty Professionals. For this training package, we will do the following:

  • Organize and promote the training program on social media and on our platform,
  • Handle the social media marketing module in the training program. It covers (social media marketing, how to use the Zuri platform to promote your salon or your service, and how to use our booking system to keep track of the growth of your salon), and
  • We will Collect a Percentage of the training fee as payment. (right now, Zuri earns 20% of the Training Fee)

4. Most Salon owners find it hard to track bookings, sales, and revenue records every month.—

In Abuja and many other cities around the world, the owners of Salons in most cases are not Beauty Professionals, do not spend enough time in their Salons, and therefore have little or no knowledge on what actually happens when they are not around.

Presently, many salon owners still use a Notebook to record their bookings, sales records, and rely on that information at the end of each month to track their monthly revenue growth.

Check this Sales record book from one of our partner salons:

The Notebook many Salons in Abuja and around Nigeria use to record their daily, weekly, and monthly bookings and sales records.

The Opportunity — With the current way bookings and sales records are been kept in a physical notebook is utterly flawed, this means it can be manipulated at any given time.

On the Zuri Online Platform, we are building, “a salon management system”, and it covers the following key features:

  1. Make it easy for Salon owners to manage all appointments and bookings with our online booking system
  2. Make it easy for the Salon owner to keep track of daily, weekly, and monthly sales records right from their phone, in realtime, and from anywhere in the world.
  3. Make it easy for Salon owners to manage and retain their existing clients.
  4. A review system for them to keep track of customer feedback.

This way, owners of Salons, Spas, and Gyms and manage their salon easily and keep track of every single Kobo that comes in and out of the Salon.

5. Some Salons have space for rent, but finding a Freelancer to rent the Space is Hard —

For most Salon owners, instead of employing beauty professionals, look for Freelance Beauty professionals to rent their space.

But it is hard getting the word out about available space for rent and getting Freelance Beauty professionals to rent the space on time.

Right now, they rely on Agents who charge on average between 5,000 Naira to 10,000 Naira depending on the Salon.

The Opportunity — On the Zuri platform, in addition to the Job board, we will also have a special Listing for Salons that have space for rent. We will connect them to Beauty professionals looking for space to rent and charge them for that service.

How can you do this for your own Business?

To make this happen, you need to strongly believe that things work differently here in Nigeria and Africa as a whole. The goal is to reach a product-market fit and to reach that goal, we all need to approach customer development differently.

You need to get your hands dirty by getting first-hand information on how things really work in your industry. You need to understand everything that really goes on in your Industry.

When you do this, it opens your eyes to a lot of opportunities that you can explore, which turns your business into a Journey of discovering opportunities, building tailor-made solutions, increasing your revenue, and setting yourself up for massive expansion in the future.

What does the future look like for Zuri?

Even though the beauty industry is still trying to recover from the effects of the first lockdown, right now as we speak, some salons in Europe and America are currently under another total lockdown as we are in the second wave of the Covid-19 Virus.

Here in Nigeria, the Federal Government has threatened to declare another lockdown if the Covid-19 cases still increase at an alarming rate.

Trust me, another total lockdown is the last thing any Salon owner or Beauty professional will want to hear right now.

But from the way things are going, it is Inevitable.

At Zuri, we are focused on building solutions that will still keep Salon owners and Beauty professionals making money even though another lockdown is declared.

One major way to Navigate these waters is to launch a full-on Home Service System for Salon owners and Freelance Beauty professionals.

This is something we have already started test-running at our Salon (SAO Beauty Bar @saobeautybar )

In the Second Quarter of 2021 starting from April 2021, we are going to Launch our Home Service System with more Salons in Abuja.

We will start test running in Lagos at the same time.

The future for us is bright and our path is clear.

We are very open to discussions from Investors who are interested in what we do at ZuriHq and would like to be a part of our story.

Our Long Term plan to have at least 2000 active Salons, Spas, and Gyms paying us a monthly or quarterly fee in the KINGS (Kenya, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Ghana, and South Africa) by December 2024, and in the next 10 years cover all the Major Cities in Sub-Haran Africa.

Do you have any questions about what we do at Zuri? Are you interested in a Partnership with us, or are you looking for a Tech Company to Invest in for a long term plan?

Feel free to reach out via the comment section below or kindly shoot me an email at aaron@zurihq.com

In my next article, I am going to breakdown how we use the Zuri Online Marketing system to promote our Salon @saobeautybar and increase our monthly bookings.

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Aaron Ejeme

Data-Driven Lifecycle Marketer | Growth Marketer | Growth Lead at Engage.so | Alumni @Mestafrica