It took me a while to sit down and write this article. I wanted to provide the clearest picture possible of the process we went through before efforts of Sulma & Sulma have been finally appreciated. It took just, or a whole 4 years. Looking back, one can also say that all it took was one night.

Let’s start from square one…

We founded Sulma & Sulma in 2013. After an exciting launch, we concluded we wanted to stand out strong in the market. Sure of our methods and questioning the trend of that time – exporting powdered milk to China, we decided to start selling products to Africa. The market was an uncharted territory to us. To many, it seemed unavailable, and statistical annals for the recent years were showing an absolute zero in the section for export from Poland to one of East African countries. This information was very enticing to us.

Analysis is the foundation of success

After applying our methodology, assessing the risk potential, gauging options and available means, we reached a conclusion that it’ll be best to start doing business in East Africa. In particular, our interest turned to Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda. Not knowing anybody out there and having no budget for business trips, we decided to utilize the best that new technologies such as LinkedIn and Skype have to offer.

We’ve used social selling before it’s become trendy

After some three months since we had selected contacts, first inquiries started to flow in. Considering our still meager budget, we had to act in unorthodox ways. While cross-checking a certain business, we decided to call up its closest town hall and ask around. As it turned out, it was a bullseye. The clerk verified the company and it proved worthy of our trust. 

It’s downhill from here…

In late 2014 we closed our first order and so officially started to build relations with East African countries. Not much later, we had our first partner/employee in Rwanda, and then another two in Kenya. We were still thinking long-term. In the meantime, we raised interest among several companies wanting to export their goods to Africa with our help. 

An article that opened new possibilities

In 2016, while witnessing bad practices of Polish exporters, I wrote an article titled “Afryka wzywa – czas na eksport (Nie daj się oszukać!)”, which opened new doors. We started to receive inquiries from major Polish businesses, working, among others, with the national football team players. We thought that since we have the experience and people on the ground, we’ll be able to quickly figure things out with these companies. 

Well, as it turned out, the issue was they weren’t willing to accept our methodology and MO. Our high efficiency and greater profitability seemed to be of no importance. The companies I mentioned prefered to spend way more on standard methods than our services. For instance, our quarterly budget needed for operations was several times lower than a the cost of a typical participation in a trade fair. Oh well… 

The night that turned things around

Fast forward to 2018. We still run projects in various markets, including Africa. We’re also increasingly more recognized in the domestic market, mainly due to bold undertakings and achieving results at a pace far greater than the current standard. We require two months to achieve what our client would’ve in nine. We blaze trails, selling stock where others couldn’t. 

One day I got a call from dr Malwina Bakalarska, who’s been hired by a group of partners including the BGŻ PNB PARIBAS bank, KUKE, Bisnode Polska, and Gazeta Rzeczpospolita. She convinced me to a brief meeting while I was waiting for a train in Warsaw. She wanted me to share our experiences and take part in the Kraków edition of the Program Handlu Zagranicznego (Foreign Trade Program). During our conversation I told her about our export operations and relations with East African countries. After the meeting, I hesitated whether I should participate in the Kraków discussion panel pretty much until the last day. The reason for that being my previous experience with management boards and not really wanting to beat a dead horse. Still, thanks to dr Bakalarska and her assurance, I decided to participate in the program.

Certified expert

On D-Day, I arrived at the venue, sat down in the front row, took part in the expert panel comprised of other bold companies, and became a certified expert. An Expert with a capital E. Since then, no one has been questioning our methodology. What’s more, it’s now being shown as an example. Sulma & Sulma was recognized as the only company in Poland which built business relations with African countries utilizing new technologies. We didn’t go to trade fairs, didn’t apply for programs being called “vacation trips” behind the scenes, didn’t burn through budgets. Instead, painstakingly, step by step, we’ve built relations. At the same time, we didn’t let ourselves be conned and shared knowledge, helping other companies in crisis situations. 

Has anything changed internally at Sulma & Sulma? Have we subjected ourselves to an audit, certification, or won references from major corporations? NO. We’re still the same organization which disregards limitations and does its job, brick after brick, building bridges between markets. As it turned out, it took 4 years to be recognized as an expert in a single night in a niche where you achieve results unavailable for most people.

I committed this post breaking some of my marketing guidelines and dedicating it to all the small, humble, feisty, undiscovered experts in their fields. We serve as an example that it pays off to do what you believe in, as long as you do it right. It’s a shame a lot of time was lost, though. Businesses which didn’t believe in our capabilities back then could’ve long been building their position as a leader in African markets.

Be strong, be bold, persevere!
Sebastian Sulma


Photos courtesy of BGŻ PNB PARIBAS