From London’s famous Portobello Road Flea Market with more than 2,000 stalls to Morocco’s Marrakech Night Market featuring food and fortunetellers, open-air markets are popular with tourists looking for bargains and local culture. To help connect street vendors to a global marketplace, Christine Souffrant Ntim, the daughter of a third-generation Haitian female street vendor, created Vendedy. The web-based platform provides a database of street markets, making it accessible to consumers worldwide.
Souffrant Ntim’s mother was a Manhattan street vendor selling Haitian artwork, so she knows firsthand how easy it is for wholesalers to exploit artisans by buying items for pennies and then selling them at a huge profit. “For the women in my family, their means of making a living was street selling,” Souffrant Ntim says. Her great-grandmother sold candy and sweets, and her grandmother sold street food. “I used to travel from street corner to street corner in New York City with my Mom,” she says.
That knowledge of street markets led Souffrant Ntim to begin blogging about them in 2014. Two years earlier, journalist Robert Neuwirth had determined that street markets were responsible for 1.8 billion jobs worldwide, and he estimated that the street market economy was valued at $10 trillion. But Souffrant Ntim says she didn’t consider creating a business that would leverage that pervasiveness until her blog had 500 followers. She realized she might be onto something.
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Souffrant Ntim’s goal is to make it easier for tourists to find street markets and, as a result, help these microentrepreneurs make more money. About 1 billion tourists travel the world annually, she says, and about 100,000 visitors stop at top street markets like the London Camden market each weekend. “When we did pilots in 2014 in Haiti and Brazil, vendors were making 14 times their annual income in two weeks,’ she says.
From E-Commerce to a Global Street-Market Directory
Souffrant Ntim first began digitizing the street-market economy by attempting to create an e-commerce site that would allow street vendors to upload photos of their artwork. Customers around the world would be able to bid on products, and artisans would be paid by SMS after the artwork was shipped to the buyer. Initially, she says, the site gave customers access to a network of street vendors from more than 150 countries. She even won a $15,000 MasterCard Priceless Elevator pitch competition in 2015 for her idea.
Her e-commerce site did well over the holidays but then, she says, “it went dry.” Many vendors didn’t have the infrastructure to sell online — some didn’t have bank accounts or a street address, and the SMS payment system wasn’t universal. And all the vendors didn’t want to sell online. Instead, she says, they wanted to sell their items at public landmarks, tourist sites and outside hotels.
Souffrant Ntim, a solopreneur, pivoted her business. Instead of asking vendors to upload photos of their wares, she is now asking people who visit street markets to upload photos and information about the markets they visit to create a global directory of street markets. About 220,000 global street markets are in operation, Souffrant Ntim estimates, and so far Vendedy has created a database of 500 from 51 countries. In 2015, the site had about 1,000 visitors each month, and by late 2016, it was bringing in nearly 9,000 each month.
Vendedy also offers free, customized travel recommendations to its visitors. If they fill out a nine-question survey about where they are traveling to, the site will reply within 24 to 48 hours with a list of recommended street markets and promotional links from Vendedy’s marketing partners JetBlue and MasterCard. In addition to revenue from promotional partnerships, Vendedy offers $10 webinars for travelers seeking tips and information on street markets.
The site is not yet profitable and Souffrant Ntim declined to disclose how much revenue it brings in. However, she says, Vendedy is in talks with Airbnb, Booking.com and Mastercard to create a promotional partnership that would allow users to book vacation deals directly through the Vendedy site. She anticipates this would increase the site’s revenues by 20 percent.
“We plan on announcing the details in the second quarter of 2017 once we see the effect on our projections,” she says. “We aim to be profitable by July 6, 2017, according to our revenue and costs projections.” Souffrant Ntim plans to use that money to hire two full-time employees.
In addition to developing Vendedy, Souffrant Ntim wants to help other entrepreneurs succeed by offering free Brand Entrepreneurs Bootcamps in New York City, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Boston, as well as in Aruba, Dubai and Haiti. These daylong programs focus on practical advice for startups on ideation, funding, branding, product development, legal issues, customer acquisition and marketing. Souffrant Ntim says when she first started Vendedy, she would pay large fees to attend pricey startup bootcamps and conferences, but the speakers never shared the nuts-and-bolts information she needed to get her business off the ground. “I want to shake up the startup ecosystem,” Souffrant Ntim says. “I learned a lot during my experience.”
This year, Brand Entrepreneurs will go on a 50-city tour, mainly in Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America. “We will be looking at street markets along the way,” Souffrant Ntim says.