With activity on the rise and a greater demand for convenience, it’s no surprise that food deliveries are on the increase. Having been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the industry shows no signs of a decline. These businesses adopt the trio of online storefronts, digital payments, and logistics to provide customers with meals, anywhere they are, within minutes of placing orders.
One of these companies with its eye on the ball is OliliFood — a food ordering and delivery mobile app that lets users find the best restaurants around them. Unlike most other Nigerian food startups that began operations in Lagos, Nigeria’s activity hub, they took the road less travelled and launched in Asaba, one of Nigeria's fastest-growing cities.
OliliFood was founded in 2019 by Nweze Ikechukwu Emeka and five young Nigerians who were inspired by the problems they faced. As developers with various programming gigs, they had no time to make meals. Realising their situation’s recurrent nature, they had an epiphany and sought to convert their problems to mass value.
Chukwuyenum Abanum, the current CTO, was working on a similar idea and was brought on board with the team he was setting up. Slowly, the team took shape, and the work began.
The founders barely had capital and survived on hard work, dedication, and the little money made from gigs. In the beginning, they spread the OliliFood gospel through WhatsApp and marketing to friends and family. They also partnered with restaurants by going door to door and meeting with their owners.
They officially launched operations on February 20, 2020, with just two riders and sales agents. Since launching, they have processed over 14,000 deliveries and have 3,400 users in Asaba.
Nweze Ikechukwu Emeka, OliliFood CEO, provides insight into his journey and what it means to build from scratch.
- Describe the problems your business is solving and what solution it presents?
Many people like me do not have enough time to make meals constantly. In some cases, they just want a more convenient solution to deploy their time more effectively. Restaurants also want greater exposure and customer loyalty. OliliFood is solving these problems and creating a win-win situation for customers and restaurants. Our solution also saves time because you’re well on your way to receiving a meal in three to four clicks, which I think is incredible.
Additionally, we give people access to various food choices, opening up a wide range of restaurants to choose from. We also promote convenience by adopting a cashless payments policy with our in-built wallet system, OliliWallet, which can be funded via at least three mediums. Everything is done right there, from your phone.
- What is OliliFood’s unique value proposition? What sets it apart from its competition?
Firstly, we maintain a certain standard in logistics. Logistics has constantly been referred to as the bane of food delivery startups, and we’re ensuring this is not the case with us. We’ve established a seamless communication process — from vendors to customers and from riders to customers. Additionally, we ensure that the app is as flexible as possible, allowing for easy navigation, wallet funding, and order placements. We also try to keep in touch with our customers and solve their problems.
- As the CEO, what’s one challenge or setback you’ve faced and what did you learn from the experience?
There were several discouraging comments at the start of this journey — “Why start with Asaba?” “This state isn’t tech-friendly; start elsewhere.” — but it’s okay because it was part of the process. We pushed through them and worked hard. We’ve come a long way, and that's one of my greatest lessons. Do your research, believe, and keep going. Another challenge at the beginning was getting vendors to register on the platform. However, slowly it got easier. So when you want to chase a goal, just start. When you start, everything will align; well, hopefully. Don’t be afraid to fail. Interestingly, OliliFood is my fourth startup.
- You’ve built the fastest-growing food delivery startup in Asaba in just a year. Why Asaba? What other markets are you looking at, and why?
For starters, I live in Delta. Also, Asaba is one of Nigeria’s fastest-growing cities. I’ve found that, for many businesses, starting in a seemingly unfavourable environment when you understand the market gives you a much more significant potential to scale quickly. Asaba is a unique market, and the demand for food delivery is present, but many people shy away from the idea. As someone said, “Don’t miss out on something that could be great just because it could also be difficult.”
Currently, we’re looking to cover some tier-2 cities before the end of the year. Our next stop is the oil-rich city of Warri.
- How receptive have consumers and restaurants been? Are you glad you chose to solve this problem?
It was tough at the start because consumers and restaurants were hardly receptive. It was hard trying to expose restaurants to all the value we offer while some were convinced we were trying to take their customers. Luckily, that isn’t the case anymore. The value is evident as they gain visibility and customer loyalty. Currently, we have 90% of all top vendors and restaurants in Asaba on the OliliFood app. On the customer side, getting them to trust our wallets and payments system wasn’t easy. However, with time, they trusted us. I’m glad I chose to solve this problem; adding value to a state through something inspired by my challenge is a dream come true.
- What have you enjoyed most when you look back over the past year building the company?
I’ve enjoyed the growth process and the team dedication. Whether it's an emergency or a model we need to tweak late at night, the commitment is outstanding. For small startups, the power of enthusiastic teams can’t be overemphasised. It’s insane thinking about all the roadblocks at the start and how far we’ve come. I almost gave up.
- What is the future of OliliFood?
Scaling, scaling, and some more scaling. We’ll continue to further our digital transformation, meeting our users where they are in the most convenient ways. There are also plans for funding, but we’re not rushing that now. If we have aligned goals with investors, we will bring them in. Otherwise, we scale at our pace.