Hellofood.com is an online and mobile platform where people can order food from all the restaurants in their city. The company works with all the most popular restaurants in each of the 14 cities that theycurrently operate in Africa, and their goal is to introduce our Hellofoodies to the incredible choice of restaurants available in each city, while also making it incredibly fast and easy to place an order.
TechMoran had an interview with the Founder of this online and mobile platform, Joe Falter, and this is how it went.
A little about the founder:
Joe moved from London to Nigeria in late 2012 to start Hellofood Africa, and it has only been 18 months since he came yet he is shaking up the food delivery platform.
He says: “It’s been a thrilling ride since those early days in a cramped room in Lagos – 18 months later we have tens of thousands of customers in 10 African countries, and heavyweights like MTN coming on board as investors.”
Feeling like he is leaving his dream, the passionate founder travels between the Hallofood countries supporting each local team with the specific challenges they face, as according to him there are different challenges for each city which makes for a varied and exciting role for him.
What was the inspiration behind Hellofood, how did it begin and what did it take for you to get where you are now?
As a customer it’s typically very difficult to order food for delivery in most African cities. It’s hard to find great restaurants, even harder to get a working phone number, almost impossible to know what’s on the menu and how much it costs, and then you often have to deal with frustrating customer service, dropping phone lines… the list goes on.
We saw a gap in the market for a service that revolutionizes this whole process – enabling someone with no knowledge of the city to find a great restaurant and place a delivery order within one minute. Now, if you’re stuck in the office at lunchtime, or looking for healthy food to order for your family, or even looking to cater an event, it can all be done with a few clicks.
We started in a crowded room in Lekki and just went from there, signing restaurants, iterating our website and mobile apps, making marketing partnerships and just getting out there. What did it take? – a lot of hard graft and confidence.
What were you doing before Hellofood?
I started out as a consultant for McKinsey & Co in London. I was actually offered MBA sponsorship and the opportunity to continue there, but had always wanted to run my own business, and saw my consulting experience as training for that. When I left, I started working with the ex-MD of one of the UK’s leading food retailers, to develop new food products and ranges for food brands. I then worked on a tech startup in London, which we took to 12 countries on 4 continents.
Did you know you were going to be an entrepreneur all along or did it happen by chance?
I’ve always wanted to do this. I think it’s my family’s fault – no one in my family had ever had a ‘normal’ job or been to university before my brother and I came along. My grandparents were all refugees and started successful businesses from nothing, my parents run their own business together – I’ve grown up in this context and so to work for someone else in a regular job feels alien to me, I don’t think I’d be very good at it.
How successful are you in the business? Is there competition? And how do you face them?
Hellofood has grown on average by nearly 10% per week since we started 18 months ago. We’ve got tens of thousands of customers across Africa whose loyalty is significantly above average for this kind of business. We’ve partnered with heavyweight brands like KFC, McDonalds, Samsung and MTN, and brought out some awesome technology. I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve achieved so far, and excited that there’s still a huge amount of growth still to go.
We have competition of one kind or another in all of our markets, whether similar sites, or simpler food delivery services. But actually, we are all working in the same direction. We’re doing something pretty revolutionary but many people are set in their ways and are reluctant to try new things, even though we’re providing something that makes their lives easier. Our biggest challenge is to get the word out there and convince people to try us out. Once they have, we know they’ll be back for more.
Does ICT play a big role in your organization?
Our product is critical to the success of our business. We put a lot of resource into having a best-in-class website and into our free Android and iOS apps, and we get very geeky about all aspects of the technology that underlies the business. How can we make the order process as efficient as possible for customers; how can we get an order to the restaurant instantly; how can we measure and improve our customer service? All these require smart technology/ICT and we focus very heavily on it.
Where could you place Africa in terms of ICT development?
Africa is hyper-developed in some ways, lagging in others. Looking at mobile for example, I’d say that mobile technology is more advanced in many African countries than it is back home in Europe. I can book a flight in Nigeria using SMS only – that’s absolutely incredible. We now see up to 50% of our orders coming in from a mobile device – we’re going to be a mobile company first and foremost and I never expected that to happen this quickly.
There are more people online in Nigeria than there are people at all in the UK, where I’m from. When you think about the scale of the African online user base, and the speed at which it’s growing, there can be no doubt – Africa is on track to be a technology powerhouse.
What do you love most about your business and your life as an entrepreneur?
I get a real kick out of arriving in a new African city, spending 30 seconds tapping away on my phone, and getting food delivered 30 minutes later. It still feels magical to me somehow that this all happens despite the challenges of our local markets. Of course the reason this magic happens is no accident – I’m proud to lead an incredible team of over 80 passionate and talented people, who work hard to keep growing Hellofood. Working with these guys, and trying to solve the varied challenges that crop up in each country is what I love most. I try and get around as much as possible to work on these local issues – I haven’t spent 2 consecutive weeks in one country in over 8 months.
What keeps you and your team motivated?
The knowledge that there are tens of thousands of people out there who are ordering food from a company that we created. That feeling of creating and building something novel, that customers love and use, is better than anything for me, and I’m driven to convert as many Hellofoodies as possible.
What can your team not live without?
We’re constantly ordering food, often under the guise of ‘testing vendors’ – deliveries come thick and fast to Hellofood offices.
Is there a specific skill one needs to join you, if yes what is it?
Of course I look for people who are smart, structured and driven. But beyond that, what I really value is the ability to just get stuff done. We don’t have time to waste writing powerpoint decks, or putting things off to ‘this afternoon’. I look for an impatient, driven attitude, backed by good judgment, and I get a buzz out of working with people who have that.
What does Hellofood have in store for the future?
Our goal is to be the number one Choice platform in every major African city. You’re going to see more geographical expansion, more features on our website and apps, more great partnerships with mobile operators and device manufacturers, and a better food ordering experience across Africa.
Who was the most influential person or mentor in your life?
My parents always gave me opportunities to do new things. I grew up not feeling limited in any way. I feel very privileged to have seen first hand from them what it could be, to run your own business. Their influence has been to give me a level of confidence and curiosity which I wish every kid could grow up with.
What advice would you give to any person who wants to follow your example?
Do it. There has never been a lower risk associated with starting a business. If you have an idea to do something new, or do something better, just try it out and see how you go. Some defining characteristics of entrepreneurs I meet are clarity of vision, lack of risk-aversion, and impatience. You won’t hear a successful entrepreneur say “I had this great idea but I never got around to doing anything about it.” Don’t aim for perfection immediately – aim for speed and fast iteration – that’s how great ideas get off the ground and make an impact.