An exclusive interview with OLX Kenya country manager Peter Ndiang’ui

Peter Ndiangui
Peter Ndiangui

Peter Ndiang’ui the country manager at OLX Kenya gave us an exclusive interview here at In this interview he tells us about his love of Arsenal and Gor Mahia, his wife cooking and the direction that retailin his headed to;

Where did you go to school?
I went to primary school in a small village in Tetu before joining Nyeri High school from where I proceeded to JKUAT. I then did a science masters specializing in Internet Technology in Australia which I later capped with an MBA.

You spend many years in Australia. What were you up to there? School or work?
I went to study, fell in love with the Aussie way of life and I ended up spending over 6 years on top of the 4 year study time working as a management consultant across different industries from banking, Telco to media. In total I spent 11 years in Australia.

So why did you return home?
I knew I was always going to come back. Partly because I was excited by the economic growth opportunities and the potential that this presented in making a huge difference in the continent as a whole. I remember when I did a leadership unit during my MBA and we had to layout our vision and mission, my goals crystallized around being part of a new movement of like minded Africans raised during the post-cold war narrative who new that the potential of the African continent lay within itself not from outside. And so when I was approached by the Naspers group about the opportunity to help establish and grow their online classifieds business, it was not such a hard decision to make even though my son was only 3 months old.

How was the transition back home? How has Kenya changed from when you left so long ago?
For me personally the transition was not hard because I had invested a lot of time in preparing my mind that this where I want to spend my most productive adult life. I was a frequent “summer burning” during my 11 year period in Aussie frequenting Nairobi at least every 2 years .
The fact that Kenya had changed drastically did not seem apparent to me in certain areas until I started to engage in the deep end work beyond the entertainment circus I experienced during my summer visit . The physical changes were crystal clear; I left during a period of subdued economic growth but as I looked around every area in Nairobi seemed like a construction site while internet broadband access was much cheaper than Australia.
However this was the “on the face value “ change that was noticeable; The most important change however was a little hidden and subtle to notice quickly. It was about the people; especially the young people who were may be decade younger than me. These guys had grown up in a more progressive, more democratic and with much more media freedom.
As I settled to work with them, I could sense their confidence, their ability to express themselves , their exposure and most of all the lack of historical baggage. I couldn’t fail to realize that this was the generation that was going to account for most of the economic growth in the next decade and they would be the early adopters of online services.

As the country manager of the leading online company where do you see the retail business headed to right now? What is OLX’s role in it?
If you look at the retail business globally today, you will notice that the development of the retail industry is at different stages depending on the levels of urbanization and the retail physical infrastructure that is in place. There is a common thread across all these markets however; that retail has always experienced change driven by new technologies. The most studied case is for example the development of departmental stores in the US around the rail infrastructure while discount stores took off with the development of the car industry and the road network. The mail order retail developed as the teledensity increased. And as the Internet penetration took root we saw the emergence of online retailers that started to challenge the discount retailers.
Since then, in the US, bricks and mortar retailing has been under disruption by online formats for the last 15 years. The question is how might this pan out in Kenya? Will it take the ful cycle where we see the mall culture develop first (what the popular press call formalized retail) or we will see a leapfrog where majority of retailing will happen online with less mall activity ?
I am not sure what this holds but for sure we can get some insights from the telecommunication industry development in the last 12 years in Kenya by looking at Internet access and Telephone communication
Many of us will never experience or even know how a land line phone looked like leave alone how it worked while others will never understand that there was dial-up Internet that was only accessible via a desktop computer.
So as Internet penetration grows in the country, we most likely will see the retail industry evolve a little differently from they way it evolved in the developed markets where the Omni channel culture will take root by default. Malls might develop but with a different use from the traditional malls where they will both be show rooms as well as pick up points for things ordered via the Internet. And because for a single retailer to have the depth and breadth of inventory will require massive investments, then online marketplaces will fill the gap for smaller niche retailers who might not able to develop their own stand-alone online and physical retail footprint.

You sponsor the Social Media Awards every year. Why do you feel the need to be associated with such an award ceremony?
Sponsoring SOMA awards is both out of self-interest by pampering the goose that lays the golden egg as well as a social responsibility. The users of our service are also heavy users of social media and the more we help grow a responsible Internet population the more we can drive trust in our country’s Internet economy.
Lastly, Most people learn how to use the Internet starting out from social media platforms. Encouraging usage of social media platforms where we have heavy presence helps us expand the future users of OLX.

We have seen a lot of advertising for OLX especially on TV and a lot of the people in the adverts look like actors. Do you have any real examples of people benefiting from selling OLX products?
A large number of our testimonials are real beneficiaries’ of OLX services. Today over 40 % of the people who list the items on our platform sell within the first 7 days. My family and I are voracious users of OLX for almost everyday and we get instant results. The other day I decided to sell my Camera to raise cash for my son’s birthday gift. I was selling two items; a travel bag and camcorder. Within 24 hours of putting these items up , I was inundated with e-mails and calls of people looking to purchase them. I have since sold one of the items while I decided to re-price the camcorder and get even a better deal.

Sell it!
Sell it!

On a lighter note I’ve seen many hilarious Internet memes featuring OLX selling every thing under the sun including footballers in the English Premier league. Which one has been your favourite?
There are two cases that stand out; The auctioning of the Inspector General and some cabinet ministers when Kenyans are trying to make an important statement.

So what are your allegiances? Arsenal Man United or Chelsea? Gor Mahia, AFC Leopards or Sofapaka? Real Madrid or Barcelona?

I have a deep love for soccer but unfortunately due to spending too much time down under , I never got to have a cult following in the EPL . However I am great admirer of Arsenal and Gor Mahia (from childhood) .

You have described yourself as a book lover. What are your favouite reads? Do you read any Africans?

I am addicted to books! My favourite is writer is the father od disruptive innovation, Clay Christensen, “The Innovators Dilemma” , I am a huge fan of history so am now reading “The Sourthern Kikuyu before 1903 “ by L.S.B Leakey, a fascinating account of the political, social and economic activities in Kikuyu community dating back a couple of hundred years. One key insight for me has been the fact that this community practised a capitalist economic model with clear laws in property ownership even before 18th century.

What would you say is a really good place to have a meal in Nairobi at under Kshs1,500?

Look I do not want to self-promote but my wife is such a great cook. She runs a restaurant in Kilimani known as the Urbanspoon and here I can get a sumptuous whole Tilapia for half the amount.

But to allay doubts of being selfish, there is only one place in Nairobi that I have enjoyed a pretty delicious Salmon and mashed (Orange) sweet potatoes or a really well done Pork belly, and that is at the Brew Bistro. I am not sure if the price points for these meals are within your range!

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