Serign B. Sanneh is one of the young Gambian entrepreneurs in the diaspora. In this interview, he tells What's On-Gambia about his current entrepreneurial endeavors, his involvement in the Gambian community, advice for young entrepreneurs, and more.
What's On-Gambia: Tell us a little bit about yourself?
Serign:The name is Serign Bamba Sanneh, 31, from Brikama and currently based in Glasgow, Scotland, where I've been living for the past seven years.
When did you move to the UK and why?
I moved to the UK in 2002 just after my high school to study computing. However, I didn't follow education through at the time because I was too busy looking for money which I never had anyway.
How often do you visit The Gambia?
I've only been to The Gambia once and that was back in 2010. It's not because I don't want to go often but I'm trying to get my priorities right. I've learnt so many lessons and they're keeping me in check to get my priorities right.
What inspired the creation of your online business, PalmAfrica.com?
PalmAfrica.com is an online community marketplace for buyers and sellers with African & Caribbean products. The idea came up during my time at the Peter Jones (from Dragons Den) Enterprise Academy in Scotland.
Prior to starting the academy, I was into music - doing events, and working with other promoters under my company, UR Kreativity. So at the start of the academy everyone had to come up with two different business ideas, do a presentation on them, choose one and defend it over the other.
My initial idea was to do something related to music, but I was unable to come up with something concrete. I started researching some random African things on google and quickly realized there's no up to date information about the African and Caribbean communities in the UK and even majority of their businesses don't have an online presence.
To cut the story short, I chose to do an online directory of all African and Caribbean services but I soon realized when I went to Entrepreneurial Spark (ESpark) that actually I didnâ€™t have a viable and sustainable business idea. With the help of my enabler and mentors at ESpark, over the past 7months I have been able to re-shape the idea and still doing so.
What were you afraid of when starting out and how did you overcome this fear?
Aha great question. To be honest, my only fear was my inner voice and the fear of failure. It is just a very Gambian thing that when you fail in business everyone tells you "WE TOLD YOU IT WON'T WORK" rather than help you figure out how to recover from your bad experiences.
I can't say I have overcome my fear or inner voice but I research and read a lot now and I also have access to great support and a pool of mentors at ESpark, who are always willing to listen and offer unbiased advice whenever I ask for one. I think this safety net kept me going.
Whoâ€™re your customers?
I have two customers, first one is the Africans and Caribbeans living in the UK and second one is businesses selling African and Caribbean products. However, the main customers are the Africans and Caribbeans because they are my customers' customer.
What is the most challenging aspect of running an online business?
Tricky question but everything to do with an online business is challenging. To be honest, it's not easy, but I am trying.
Would you mind to share with our readers how you market your business and build your client list?
Like I said I am still re-shaping my idea. I have started doing markets where I showcase some of the products I have on the website, reaching a wider audience and bringing the products to the customers. For example, I have just sourced some great designs from Jekkah.com who make their products in The Gambia and sell them in the UK- naming their designs after the various Gambian towns and villages. Now this is a targeted campaign for me because I know Gambians are going to love these designs when they see them so that would be an example of how I would market to a targeted group using channels like What's On Gambia and the other media outlets.
According to information reaching us, you are also very active in the Gambian association in Scotland. Tell us more about that?
Yes, since I moved to Scotland in 2006, I volunteered a lot with different community groups and eventually when the Gambians and Friends in Scotland (GAMSCA) was formed I was made the secretary.
I have a young family here and I know how frustrating it can be especially in times of need living in a place you don't know anyone. It is very close to my hearth because I want my kids to grow up knowing their roots and one of the best ways to do that here is by getting involved with fellow Gambians.
Any plans to open a business in The Gambia?
Well never say never, but that is a dream I have. Although it might not be now, but I have dreams of doing business in The Gambia especially in the entertainment industry which I'm still secretly kind of obsessed with. But as for now just taking every day as it comes and hopefully inshallah one day (which I can't wait for) I can say yes to this question. However, I'm open to collaborating with Gambian businesses because what I'm trying to do is build networks that will connect businesses and customers easily.
Finally, what is your best piece of advice for young Gambians who want to start their own business?
If you have ideas go for it. You will only know if it will work or not if you try it. Don't listen to what people think or say what should or can do just follow your heart. I did and although I lost friends what I want to achieve is what matters to me and not what people think. Michael Jordan was kicked out of his team but he went on to be the greatest basketball player.
This might sound too cheap to some people but if we get rid of the old laid back mentality, a lot can happen.
Matter of fact, after my feature on What's On Gambia back in December, a few people got in touch and said how inspiring my story was to then and as a result I'm currently mentoring one of them called Mena Minaj, because I see what she's doing and I believe she can make a success of it.
I might not be the best but if I can be of help to anyone like Mena then feel free to get in touch.
I would recommend reading "THINK & GROW RICH BY NAPOLEON HILL & The E-Myth by Michael E. Gerber" they are great books to get started.