Start-up snapshot: Ordering meals online in Abuja, Nigeria

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Launched in 2014, Food-i-like aims to provide a simple platform to order food from restaurants online in Abuja, Nigeria. The start-up was one of 10 selected to compete in the Nigerian arm of the Seedstars World competition this year.

While many tech start-ups are operating from Nigeria’s business centre Lagos, this company is specifically addressing needs in Abuja. How we made it in Africa talks to Biebele Somiari, Food-i-like’s co-founder, about launching and running the business.

1. How did you finance your start-up?

We basically started out with funds from co-founders, family and friends. We have not raised any rounds yet, though we are hoping to raise a seed round soon.

But from the investment enquiries we’ve gotten so far, it’s really impressive to see a rise of successful African tech entrepreneurs who are looking to invest in tech start-ups in Africa. The immense value they bring to the table is priceless. It’s always comforting to find angel investors in entrepreneurs who have walked the path before you, and speak your language from valuation to marketing channels. I think that’s the dream.

2. If you were given US$1m to invest in your company now, where would it go?

Marketing will be a priority of course, exploring both offline and online channels. Considering that only 2% of the Nigerian middle class shop online at least once a month, the need to continually invest in customer education, awareness engagement and customer acquisition is vital for, as much as it is for every other start-up in the space.

Of course we will also invest in the team by hiring the right talent, and we all know talent doesn’t come cheap. Thirdly we will invest in product development, including making our platform more user-friendly, increasing our fleet and deploying technology to manage the fleet to improve food ordering and the delivery experience for our customers.

3. What risks does your business face?

Phew! Yes, we face risk like any other start-up, and we constantly look out for them. For example risks around reaching the next milestone, be it product development, customer acquisition, raising next round, and so on. There is also the risk of running out of money, whether we can scale quickly enough, and what to do about logistics.

Mitigating these risks for us is firstly about acknowledging and owning them. We know our lives depend on living to fight another day as a start-up, so we don’t ignore risks. We openly discuss them as a team, and use those discussions to fuel our motivation to succeed.

The only way to find answers to these questions [around reducing risks] is by testing our ideas/hypotheses. We still go by the ‘release/deploy-observe-improve-repeat’ method.

4. So far, what has proven to be the most successful form of marketing?

For a start-up with little or no marketing budget, this has been interesting. I can’t yet say there is one “most successful form of marketing” for us. But, considering more people are still offline rather than online, what has worked for us has been a hybrid strategy using social media, very basic brand advertisement, direct marketing and, of course, word-of-mouth from satisfied customers. We are still exploring other channels.

Our partnership with restaurants has been very successful as a channel. They are proud to be on our platform and are making money, so they gladly encourage their customers to use us.

5. Describe your most exciting entrepreneurial moment.

The whole journey has actually been exciting. One moment I can’t forget was when we first started out. It was an experiment to see if this will work, if anyone wants our service enough to click on our blog site and call to place an order. While orders came in the beginning, they were few and far between. But every time someone placed an order there were high-fives in the room. In fact we had a dance to celebrate every order.

Things have changed since then. Now it’s about how to deal with the volumes of orders and logistical challenges. But those early stages were really exciting times.

6. Tell us about the biggest mistake you’ve made in your start-up, and what you’ve learnt from it?

We’ve made loads of mistakes, though I think that is allowed. One that comes to mind was in the beginning stage when we felt it would be nice to hire people with experience in areas like marketing and delivery logistics to help us. Well, let’s just say that we overpaid for grossly unmet expectations. Of course now we know better.

So we learnt not to outsource what you should do as founders, especially when it has to do with interacting with users, at least in the early stages. Secondly, when it comes to hiring for a start-up, traditional experience has nothing on the sheer willingness to learn and execute.