On one of the hottest afternoons in September 2014, two rugged 18-year-old undergrads were trekking through howling harmattan winds under an unforgivingly scorching sun into some of the remotest areas in the ancient city of Benin. The goal: to get every corner store, spaza shop or street shop the resilient pair could find on the radar of a leading milk producer in Nigeria.
After a week of stumbling into bayou-like villages, knocking on hard doors, outliving erratic GPS work and hand-writing everything from names to phone numbers and addresses, Nnanna and Nonso got their first compensation; undeniably the fattest cash sum they’ve ever been given in one go. It was at that point that the duo knew they were finally onto something that flexes the attributes of a lucrative—however ordeal-like—endeavor.
Much unlike the job opportunities available to students in a typical Nigerian city, working for a milk manufacturer willing to pay fine sums for this kind of information was something that soon saw the pair smiling in and out the bank every other weekend. In a few weeks, those two undergrads each had about thrice their tuition fees cooling in their bank accounts; looking ahead to the fresh semester with a trouble-free mindset.
What line of work provided such compensation to two boys so young, especially since it was some 8 years ago? Well, Nnanna and Nonso worked as market surveyors given one not-so-straightforward task: “visit as many mom and pops in Location A, introduce our company and ask these few questions about their milk supply”. The job was simple, until the boys realized it involved far-stretched locales and offline dimensions on an everyday basis.
Those two youngsters were hitting jackpots just by finding and talking to store owners—most of which were moms and elderly women—and documenting the important info garnered. It was a job with huge potential because in such parts, in similitude to many African markets, informal retailers are at every other corner, stop, crossroad, and street. More than enough to go around, precisely.