When Gwen Floyd, Ella Peinovich, and Catherine Mahugu met and launched SOKO in 2012, their goal was to transform the modern fashion industry into one where the default shopping choice is always an ethical one. The company initially began as a jewelry distributor, connecting local artisans in Nairobi to global retailers.
The key problem they hope to address is a pressing one: artisan craftsmanship is one of the biggest - and most marginalized - means of employment in the developing world. Artisans are limited to the local sales they can generate; hardly enough to support a family.
However, Africa has much more widespread use of mobile technology than in the U.S. “Years before we had Apple Wallet or anything like that, they were transacting primarily on their mobile phone,” said Floyd.
With that in mind, Floyd and her SOKO co-founders decided to create a mobile marketplace that provided the infrastructure local artisans need, effectively becoming a demand-responsive virtual factory that increases artisan income by five times. It also allows SOKO to fulfill orders in mass quantities for large retailers like Anthropologie and Nordstrom.
However, it didn’t all happen at once. SOKO was founded in 2012, and the supply chain technology to support the marketplace didn’t really take off until 2014. In 2016, the company began pushing wholesale orders to large brands like QVC and Nordstrom, and in 2017 it added another business channel with direct-to-consumer sales on shopSOKO.com.
SOKO then began expanding its supply chain technology to other brands, effectively becoming a Manufacturing as a Service (MaaS) company.
“We’re working to scale our financial planning to support our account management teams across wholesale as well as artisan networks,” said Mirelle Guy, sales operations manager at SOKO.
Before it launched NetSuite, Mirelle’s team was using QuickBooks accounting software that didn’t connect easily with the supply chain, a wholesale platform to book orders, a CRM system to manage hundreds of accounts, while a simple spreadsheet was being used to keep track of tradeshow costs.
“We had to do a lot of manual data cleanup and reformatting across our systems,” Guy said. “And that’s not even counting double-checking for errors.”
Guy and her team wanted to be able to do more with their operations data, like building out projections, accessing customer history and finding ways to align expenses with performance reporting.
“We wanted a system we could trust so we could focus on growth instead of constantly trying to keep the boat afloat,” she said.
When they started looking at options, the SOKO team had several key requirements in mind. Customization was a top consideration given the unique business model. Accessibility was a high priority as well, with the team distributed in Nairobi, San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. Finally, ease-of-use was a major component, as SOKO wanted a system that could be used by a wide variety of user types at the company.
After deciding on NetSuite, Mirelle and her team did the implementation into two phases. The first phase launched SOKO’s financial data in NetSuite in August of 2018, followed by the CRM portion about six months later.
“There was a lot of data cleanup to set us up, and we welcomed the exercise,” Guy said.
Today, the entire finance team uses NetSuite, including the director, controller and accounting staff. Accounting uses it to manage payments, while the controller primarily leverages it for FP&A. On the CRM side, SOKO account managers use it to track leads, sales projections and pipeline status. Inquiries from wholesale partners on the website come through NetSuite, and the sales operations team uses NetSuite for analytics.
The SOKO team is now able to perform sales forecasting with real-time visibility, improving cash flow projections. Past sales forecasts help make the sales team more accurate in future forecasting. They’re able to look at conversion rates from leads to customers, segment wholesale customers by category and territory, and slice and dice reporting on a number of attributes like sales channels, SKUs and territories.
Expense reporting for trade shows, customer payment schedules and credit terms are all in one place.
“Information is easily available much more quickly,” Guy said. The increase in time savings related to NetSuite has allowed the SOKO team to better allocate headcount and be a bit more aggressive. “We’re more lean because we’re not allocating resources towards operational maintenance,” she added.
Going forward, Guy and her team are confident that NetSuite can meet their operational needs no matter what direction the business goes.
“As we grow, we’re stepping into Software as a Service (SaaS) and Manufacturing as a Service (MaaS),” she said. “We don’t know how our growth will affect our needs in the coming years, but we have the ability to adjust NetSuite as we go along.”
Want to know how other social impact businesses leverage NetSuite for streamlined operations? Check out their customer success stories.