This guy’s online store started as a Facebook page


Soko Huru means free market in KiSwahili. Soko Huru is also an online store that connects buyers and sellers in Kenya. Founded in 2015 by Sammy Subu and Raphael Kinoti, Soko Huru wants to become the next Ali Baba, an e-commerce company with interests in Asia, Africa, Europe, South and North America.

Starting out

“I left my job in 2013 to open a business selling juices and smoothies but it didn’t work out. When the business closed down I made ends meet by selling different products on Facebook,” says Sammy, adding that to his surprise, the response was good. “I had about 2,000 friends who were ready to market their products, which included products, household items and fashion, through the page.” Looking for more people to reach, he opened started a Facebook group. The group had more than 30 000 members and 1.3 million likes by the end of 2014. But Soko Huru also experienced two significant problems: Sammy managed the Facebook page but didn’t get a cut of the profits made by people who sold their products through the page and his business became too big to function as a Facebook group. “You have pay to use Facebook for marketing and items that were on sale often got lost in the numerous posts. People needed to be able to find an item for sale whether they wanted to buy it immediately or months later.”

 From Facebook to being a dot com

The idea to turn the page into a website started taking shape when he met Raphael Kinoti, a computer scientist who had a similar idea. They each contributed Sh24,000 to get off the ground. Among other things, the shop sells clothes, gadgets, furniture and groceries. “Sellers register, add their business and upload products onto their shop. It’s a free-to-post platform but sellers who want more visibility can pay for services like a monthly subscription or premium listings. We also offer three marketing packages priced at Sh2,000 shillings, Sh5,500 shilling and Sh60,000 per month. The packages determine how we push vendors’ items on social media. We have a system that automatically shares products on our social media pages when they’re uploaded. When we launched the site, 2000 people registered but we only had 100 active monthly users. We now have 500 vendors and 3000 visitors daily.”

Overcoming challenges

“We want to upgrade to a better hosting service. Another thing that we have a problem with is building trust within the marketplace. Converting views, especially on social media, to a sale has been inhibited by this lack of trust, which we are solving by introducing ratings and reviews of vendors and products. We see Soko Huru going the way of online stores like Ali Baba,” he concludes.