Grovara, the exports and imports marketplace for consumer brands, co-founded by Sierra Leonean-American entrepreneur Abu Kamara kicked off a three-day showcase this week at Dubai Global Connect in Dubai, UAE. Grovara Food Week launches a game-changing platform in the Middle East. Fifteen American and Mexican brands will expand overseas sales channels and meet regional buyers. Grovara has been accelerating global commerce since it raised $5.5 million in a seed round last year. In this interview on the sidelines of #GrovaraFoodWeek, Kamara shares his vision for global trade––digital with a human touch, insights on the power of partnerships, culture, and getting brands export ready.
Why Dubai and Why Grovara Food Week?
Dubai Global Connect (DGC) is developing one of global trade’s largest physical showrooms and marketplaces, complemented by infrastructure dedicated to building consumer brand trade. Thousands of brands will be setting up at the DGC to meet with buyers in person to do business while also having the opportunity to digitally engage on Grovara’s B2B marketplace to go beyond and engage with those buyers and more across the world. You can say that Grovara’s digital marketplace complements Dubai Global Connect’s physical trade infrastructure. Our platform currently allows over 100 brands to export, with a plan to scale to thousands. Retailer and distributor buyers discover new products online, transact, make payments, and access all trade documentation and logistics workflow while utilizing data and insights in the buying process.
Our relationship with Dubai Global Connect is symbiotic and mutually beneficial, a true partnership. We share the same goal of transforming global trade while approaching it from different angles with a tech and human experience focus. Our three-day Grovara Food Week event is a first-of-its-kind event that connects brands and buyers within our digital trade ecosystem.
In total, we have partners from 15 brands in the US and Mexico here to meet with 150+ quality buyers from the Middle East, make introductions in person, and do business in real-time.
How does Grovara Food Week fit into your vision for global trade?
I see a future where trade will be digital with a human touch. B2B relies on business culture and meaningful relationships, but business culture varies by region and country.
Human connections like what we’re doing with Grovara Food Week will strengthen ties and build the trust needed to succeed in the space. You must build confidence to make significant business decisions worth thousands or millions of dollars a year.
Grovara Food Week is one of the first steps to move the current manual-based export and import business to a tech-based experience with a human touch. We have to meet the users where they are to engage, do business, educate and start moving to a more robust and efficient digital platform. For example, suppose I’m from Dubai and trying to connect with a buyer in Hong Kong, where my Dubai culture relies on more personalized relationships. In that case, it’s essential to maintain this crucial part of the experience while relying on technology to fast-track and power trade. Addressing these issues allows Grovara users, buyers, and brands to transition smoothly to digital.
Is there a shining example of what going global with Grovara––What is the brand perspective?
When it comes to American consumer brands, they are mainly focused on building to scale nationally because the US market is vast, familiar, and has uniform regulatory compliance. While to get export-ready, brands need to meet country-specific regulatory compliance, know their buyers, figure out how to get paid, and become experts in global supply chains and registration and shipping documentation.
These are some reasons why over 93% of US brands do not export, and more than 99% still need to be export-ready. However, some brands like Rise Brewing are venturing internationally by working out the right pricing, marketing support, and payment terms and are open to working with platforms and teams like Grovara for export.
Pricing is a big challenge for US brands because of the high cost of labor, marketing, cost of running a business, and other variables. So when we approach brands, we ensure that the price is right, and number two, they provide marketing support. Rise Brewing found a way to re-work its pricing and marketing strategies to compete globally. We’re launching Rise in Saudi Arabia, UAE, and other Middle East markets.
What makes Grovara the emerging global trade leader it is today?
Grovara is powered by technology, has a fantastic team full of energy, and has several strategic partnerships for growth. You can take leaps and bounds to grow from 0 to 100 quickly. Partnerships power trade exponentially, which is why I tell people one plus one equals five.
Our network is built on sales, marketing, and supply chain partnerships. Equally important are our public-private partnerships with initiatives such as Dubai Global Connect. Our tech is attractive to our partners, especially in transparency, supply chain, trade documentation, and other processes. We’ve gone beyond any other marketplace to seamlessly move goods through the export and import trade, eliminating many hurdles and painful experiences.
When completed, Dubai Global Connect’s state-of-the-art showroom and physical marketplace will house global brands onsite with resources to scale, from access to funding, insurance, 3PL services, marketing, and every other function. Grovara’s technology will be a natural fit with Dubai’s physical infrastructure allowing both partners to grow and scale much faster and push global trade to a different level.
Where do you see Grovara in the next couple of years?
In two to three years, Grovara will be the marketplace where any consumer brand from any country will go when considering export. Conversely, any retailer or distributor looking to import will use Grovara for brand discovery and purchasing. It’s happening now. Our platform will be the place for exporting and importing consumer brands.
We will transform global trade, making it a seamless digital experience with a human touch.
You’ve discussed partnership, technology, and the human touch, but where do you get the global cultural experience to support brands and buyers?
I’m a guy from Sierra Leone looking to transform global trade. When I was growing up in Freetown, they used to tell us to do things smallsmall, but I’ve always been a big dreamer. What moves me is the opportunity to solve problems at scale. Since we founded Grovara in 2011, it has taken us years to learn and scale. We pivoted to a B2B marketplace in 2020, right in the middle of the pandemic, so we’ve come a long way. My destiny is to make a global impact, and I am more confident than ever that we’re on the right path.
The best part about our journey is experiencing it with my team. I’m fortunate to have a diverse group; more than half are women and people of color. We’re a team of 31 and planning to be the most diverse and inclusive in tech.
Our people come from the US, Mexico, and Colombia. Chile, UAE, Bahrain, and soon Saudi Arabia, with new hires coming up in South Korea. In 2023, we’re looking to enter South Africa and Nigeria.
One of the perks of leading a global team is learning from people from different backgrounds.
If we are going to be a global marketplace, we must look a bit like the United Nations.
Over the next three days in Dubai, my team’s excited to connect brands and buyers. We’re all super passionate about what we’re building at Grovara.
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