- Etop Ikpe is a successful Nigerian entrepreneur who has founded several companies including Cars45 and Autochek Africa.
- Etop’s business ventures have focused on using technology to solve problems and improve industries such as e-commerce and car sales.
- Through his companies, Etop has expanded his presence across Africa, including in countries such as Egypt, Ghana, and Kenya.
One of the major headlines in the Nigerian tech ecosystem earlier this week is about Autochek Africa’s acquisition of a majority stake in its Egyptian counterpart, AutoTager. Even more exciting is that this is the sixth acquisition by Autochek, in less than 3 years since it was co-founded by Etop Ikpe and Olajide Adamolekun.
Does the name, Etop Ikpe ring a bell?
Sure, it most definitely does. He is also the founder of Cars45 and had previously worked for other major brands like DealDey and Konga.
Here’s the story of this auto-guru who is fast establishing a presence in different countries across East, West, and North Africa.
Education & early career moves
Etop hails from Akwa Ibom State and is the third of four children. As a child, Etop was good with Mathematics and had high hopes of becoming an engineer. However, when the time came he ended up studying Actuarial Science – a course that he would later describe as “a combination of mathematics and business” – at the University of Lagos and graduated in 2004.
As a student, he had his first taste of entrepreneurship when he co-founded Clickmobile, an IT solution for companies building HTML-based business apps. ClickMobile was intended to aid field users to access critical information, view their tasks and shifts, report their attendance, and access customer information among others.
Etop’s lecture schedules left him free on weekends. So, he would spend his weekends working as the manager of a cinema in Benin City. While trying to get the cinema to function seamlessly, he came up with the idea of Clickmobile.
- “For me, it has always been about using technology to solve problems,” he said in an interview.
Next venture – 3stitches
This is a business Etop considered fortuitous as it led him to meet his wife who was then a clothing dealer and always had a problem with debtors almost crippling her business. 3Stitches was an online platform that would allow people to shop for clothes and pay for them almost immediately. Even though this was a cheaper option instead of getting a physical store, it was not easy for the duo. They could not even get a dispatch rider in the initial months.
“I spoke with about 50 people before one man agreed to work with us. Nobody understood what we wanted to do. So, starting was tough.”
Over the next two years, the business expanded gradually, but by the third year, they decided to sell out when it appeared the e-commerce industry was experiencing an influx.
“Life is a learning curve. I saw that the online store business was becoming highly competitive and I wanted to learn too. Serious money was being invested in it and I was running a small business; so, I decided to do what I believed was right.”
He also started Tinker and Bell Media Limited at about the same time and independently produced several programmes including “We Run the Game”, a syndicated sports show that was broadcast across 12 terrestrial broadcast networks.
After 3Stitches, Etop joined Dealdey.com as the Vice President of Operations. The online platform offered juicy deals at discounted prices, and Etop grew through the ranks to become MD in less than two years. When Dealdey was acquired by Konga, Etop Ikpe was made the Director of Marketplace Operations.
The Cars45 era
After eight months in Konga, Etop left to start Cars45. His personal experiences while trying to sell or buy a car exposed him to two of the biggest problems of car dealers. Not only was it difficult to sell a car at a good price, the car sometimes developed more problems just sitting in the garage and waiting for a buyer. “Time na money” is a song we all grew up singing, but no one understands the importance of time like a businessman.
Etop Ikpe and his co-founders, Iyamu Mohammed, Sujay Tyle, and Peter Lindholm, set up Cars45 in 2016 to close car deals in 45 minutes or less. Cars45 would also be solving the problem of integrity and trust in the Nigerian car dealership business with its 200-point inspection unit where the vehicle is assessed and valued before offering a deal to the seller. The adoption of online auctions has helped to digitize the process so that all transactions could be concluded online.
“The number 45 first came because we wanted something catchy, something that would be easy to remember. But then we also intend to sell the car within 45 minutes, from the point inspection is done” he explained.
There were many challenges in the first year, from verifying the source of vehicles, and identifying serious buyers and sellers, to even getting an inspection location, but the co-founders would not be ruffled.
“Our goal was transparency and trust. The market was a lucrative one, but we needed to gain trust, so we set up a customer-focused strategy”.
One step in this strategy was the “refer 5 used cars to us and get N100,000” which shot up sales and revenue almost immediately. Cars45 earned millions of dollars in profit in its first year and also raised a $5 million Series A round in funding from Frontier Cars Group within one year of its establishment. Cars45 also expanded to other countries including Ghana & Kenya in 2019 and achieved so much within 4 years of operation.
How he founded Autochek Africa
Eager for more challenges, in August 2020 Etop left Cars45 to start Autochek Africa – an Automotive Technology development company that focused on solutions that improve access to Auto loans, quality maintenance / aftersales services, warranty solutions, and transactional marketplaces. The company raised the largest pre-seed round in Nigeria in 2020, despite being in an industry where funds seemed hard to come by.
In less than three years of operations, Autochek Africa has had 6 acquisitions and has a presence in nine countries. The most recent acquisition of a controlling stake in AutoTager gives AUtochek Africa access to the Egyptian market, which is Africa’s second-largest automotive market and one of the largest recipients of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the continent. AutoTager was founded by Amr Rezk in 2021 and offers services similar to Autochek, so one may rightly expect to see the company continue in its speedy growth journey
Speaking on the Nairametrics Business Half Hour, Senior Vice President, West Africa Mayokun Fadeyibi stated that Autochek was out to bring auto-financing closer to all Africans.
About how long he would be at Autochek before moving on to start another business, Etop said:
- “Honestly I never thought of anything I’m doing in a time box. For Autochek, I believe the company’s value begins to make sense ten years down the line when we’re present in 20 to 25 African countries with 10k dealerships and maybe 20k workshops. Hopefully, we have all the major banks across the continent on our platform lending to customers, among others.”
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