Zimbabwe: Entrepreneur outlines how he grew food delivery app Munch

Driver Noah Mandimitsira leaving the Munch premises to dispatch an order.

Driver Noah Mandimitsira leaving the Munch premises to dispatch an order.

By Tatenda Kanengoni, bird

Twenty-nine-year-old Zimbabwean entrepreneur Tatenda Jakarasi sought a convenient way to order his favourite meals without taking time out of his day and busy schedule. His solution? Develop an online food and grocery delivery app. The result is Munch.

Long queues at pizza outlets in Zimbabwe can mean only one thing: Terrific Tuesday. The weekly ‘buy one, get one free’ promotion introduced by a famous pizza brand to reward its loyal customers now has a special significance for sales entrepreneur, Tatenda Jakarasi.

While waiting in one of the Terrific Tuesday queues, in January 2015, Jakarasi had his “entrepreneur’s epiphany”. Taking time out of his busy day to order food was frustrating. What if there was an app to order his favourite meals and have them delivered?

Later, Jakarasi started to think seriously about developing his own online food ordering and delivery service.

“It was out of a frustration, needing better convenience, needing something that’s faster so that I can be doing a lot of things simultaneously, as opposed to just waiting for one thing for an hour and a half,” said Jakarasi from his home in Harare.

The thought persisted.

“Why can’t I have something that I can just use, like an app, and get told a time to come and collect my order and then just pick it up or have it delivered to me?”

All too often, ideas like this get forgotten, shelved, put aside as day-to-day realities crowd them out. Authors go to great lengths to explain how grabbing hold of an idea is what separates successful entrepreneurs from “the crowd”. Often, though, success is also about coincidence, luck, serendipity. Sometimes, timing is everything.

While catching up with a childhood friend online, Farai Chikumba, Jakarasi shared his solution.

“He asked me ‘What are you up to?’ Because he was in Canada and I was here in Zimbabwe. And I told him. Then, he’s like, ‘I was thinking of something like that! There’s SkipTheDishes here, it’s very efficient. I think something like that would work in Zim, how can I help since I’m about to graduate?” Jakarasi recalled.

When Chikumba relocated to Zimbabwe after graduation, he joined Jakarasi and they developed the idea further. As it grew, however, the realisation dawned that they need significant funding to actually bring the idea to life.

Fortunately, they were able to convince a friend’s father to invest some US$10,000 into the business, in 2016.

“His dad came in and gave us money. It helped us get started, and at least start operating,” Jakarasi explained.

With some start-up capital secured, there was one missing piece to the puzzle – a name. Jakarasi initially thought of naming the business, “Foodie” but his wife (then girlfriend) Tinevimbo felt something that sounded more experiential would be more fitting.

“She was like, ‘What about Munch?’ and I was like, ‘let’s put it to a vote’. So, we’ve got a group of my friends, I put it there. I said, ‘Foodie or Munch?’ I also asked my cousin who I really trust and said, ‘which one would you pick, Munch or Foodie for this business’? Eight out of twelve people said Munch, so it was clear,” he said, chuckling.

Munch CEO Tatenda Jakarasi.

Munch CEO Tatenda Jakarasi

The business model had different moving parts. The delivery service, the restaurants, the drivers and the consumers. The service relied heavily on an efficient food ordering app.

“On the first app, you could just order, and food gets delivered. You could also order and choose a pickup, but there was no payment option … you couldn’t see pictures,” said Jakarasi of the early period of the business.

Once the app was functional, in early 2017, the Munch team started approaching restaurants to sign up delivery contracts. One of the first they approached was a Chinese food restaurant.

“We went to approach Shangri-La and they were like, “perfect timing!”. People needed a delivery system,” Jakarasi said.

After ironing out some initial payment issues, Munch signed on a total of three restaurants. Then, an established brand joined – and set the pace.

“So we got the biggest one, Antonio’s … that became a ripple effect because now you keep on going to each restaurant and say ‘we just signed on Antonios’ and people would say, ‘wait, if Antonios is on, we need to step up’, and that’s how people jumped on. At some point, we had 50 restaurants,” said Jakarasi of the exciting early days of the new start-up.

With restaurants signing up, Jakarasi and Chikumba sought a cost-effective way to deliver food to customers and a conversation with a taxi driver triggered another light-bulb moment.

“We were like, ‘let’s go and talk to taxi drivers’. And one taxi driver was like, ‘to be honest, I wouldn’t be interested, why not get guys who can be your own drivers?’”

The team realised their best bet was to approach young graduates to sign up as drivers for the service.

“Youngsters have cars, they are waiting to go to uni. A lot of our youngsters go August, September some even take a whole gap year. Why not get those youngsters to come and drive for us?” he explained.

Employing from this pool of candidates proved to be a hit, and they also signed on drivers who worked nine-to-five jobs but who wanted to work after hours and during weekends, to earn extra money.

“Some of our best drivers came from that – where you finish your nine-to-five, straight after, you’re on shift. And they get extra money,” he continued.

The Munch team also approached friends with extra money to invest in bikes, then signed on bikers to assist with delivery. Owners of bikes who were also interested in doing deliveries themselves were invited to sign on and get paid a commission.

Bikers and drivers remain an important part of the Munch ecosystem. Biker Garikayi Kusaya decided to utilise his motorbike for Munch deliveries when the COVID-19 pandemic hit Zimbabwe in 2020 and the country enforced a stringent lockdown in March that year.

“I decided to find something to do instead of just sitting down during the lockdown … I’m passionate about riding, so I wanted to use my passion to do something productive. Instead of just riding, I’m now riding to get an income,” Kusaya said.

For Kusaya, a logistician by profession, discovered an entire new universe through the delivery work.

“My passion is serving and if I meet a customer’s full satisfaction, I’m also satisfied. So, I can say my happy moments are when I fully satisfy my customers because those are the fundamentals of transport and logistics,” Kusaya said, as he waited to begin his next shift.

The lockdown propelled the start-up to greater heights. With restaurants limited to deliveries only, Munch stepped in to fill the gap – and surpassed all expectations.

Just like that, the very pizza brand that had sparked Munch, was a customer.

“We started doing a lot of deliveries with Simbisa brands, so the Pizza Inn, Chicken Inn, and all that. May last year, we recorded the highest in terms of our orders, 230 orders in one day. Now, we want to replicate that, and I know we’re going to get there. At least now the system is working properly,” Jakarasi said.

Munch now has 20 drivers on duty at any given time and 15 drivers on shift on a busy day.

Afternoons are the busiest, shortly before lunchtime. That’s when most bikers report for duty at the Munch base in Strathaven, a surburb in Harare. They’re able to respond to calls from consumers ordering from any one of the 63 restaurants and food businesses registered with the app.

An employee holds up a mobile phone loading the Munch application.

The functionality of the app has also evolved.

“On this new app you can get groceries, the user interface is better, it’s easier to use, you see pictures on this one, you can also pay online. So, those are the added features, and it’s going to keep on improving to a point where you can track your order. Right now, you can just track it in terms of, has it been picked up, has it been delivered? Soon you’ll be able to see where your driver actually is,” Jakarasi explained.

Last-mile delivery services are not new to Zimbabwe, with just under 100 delivery businesses listed under “Google my business”, a tool to help businesses manage their online presence. However, the market for e-commerce, particularly the online delivery service in the food industry is still largely untapped.

There is “enormous potential” for e-commerce in Africa, according to applied trade law and policy analysis organisation, Tralac, while the media platform Nomad Africa argues that online food ordering and delivery is “on the rise”, in Africa.

Start-up consultant Jocelyn Nyaguse agrees.

“Last mile delivery and especially the fast delivery of food is an essential service. While contextualising this solution is a crucial part of the process, there is no question that a customer base exists. The success of Dial-A-Delivery is a testament to that. In the region, Mr D Foods and Uber Eats have become household names. Kenyan foodtech start-up Kune raising 1 million (US dollars) in pre-seed funding further illustrates the product-market fit that exists in the sector. The Zimbabwean start-up ecosystem may have more challenges than most, but innovative solutions to problems certainly have a place here,” she said.

For chef and small business owner Rutendo Matiki, whose business Rue Cakes & Bakes is registered with the Munch service, the app has benefited her business.

“I thought the exposure would be good and also people would know more about me because of Munch. They got me more customers,” Matiki said.

While the orange peel-textured ‘M’ has now become synonymous with convenience when it comes to food delivery in Harare, Jakarasi has turned his gaze to the rest of Africa. Why not? Pizza Inn first opened its doors in Harare, in 1994.

“I always wanted to build something from scratch, and this is the first one … I’m so passionate about it … I want to see it as the first successful Zim start-up to be all over Africa, so that’s what drives me every day to wake up and want to see it through … I used to read up on a lot of these guys like Uber, Airbnb. I also want to be part of those guys who are spoken of when you talk about great start-ups,” Jakarasi explained.