One of the most memorable quotes of Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, during his speech at Harvard graduation ceremony in 2017 is this: “ideas don’t come out fully formed. They only become clear as you work on them. You just have to get started.” This quotation has become very popular across the world among inspirational speech makers striving to encourage people to tread into the world of creativity, entrepreneurship and startups. Zuckerberg had also added: “If I had to understand everything about connecting people before I began, I never would have started Facebook.” You can imagine that. There wouldn’t have been Facebook or it wouldn’t have been developed by Zuckerberg if he hadn’t started because he wasn’t too sure of what he was getting into. Zuckerberg did not make that mistake.
This is definitely a mistake one intelligent young Nigerian also refused to make while thinking of how to solve a major problem of bridging the gap between meals and the stomach while trying to find a solution to his personal problem of always eating very late at night due to busy schedules. Emeka Ikechukwu Nweze converted the solution to a personal problem into a general value, leading to the establishment of the leading food delivery business in Asaba, Olili Food. So who is Emeka and how did Olili.ng start? This piece is not just very captivating but inspirational.
Who is Emeka Nweze?
Emeka Ikechukwu Nweze is a young man whose dictionary has no page where impossibility is defined or probably it was turn off before he bought it. Otherwise how can someone summon the courage to start up a business that is very unpopular in an area and believe he would conquer the territory? This can only be propelled by an innate desire to accomplish the uncommon. Emeka hails from Awka in Anambra State but grew up in Warri, Delta State. He had his primary education at Ekpan Primary and Secondary School in Warri. He then proceeded to Delta State Polytechnic, Ogwashiuku for his ND (National Diploma) and later had his HND at Federal Polytechnic, Auchi, Edo State where he studied Computer Science. He was posted to Adamawa State for his National Youth Service Corp (NYSC) programme but after the orientation camp he redeployed to Ebonyi State. After his NYSC programme he began the journey into the tech world in search of opportunities to convert to value.
How he conceive the idea of starting up Olili Food
You could say the birth of Olili Food was a bit accidental. Most inventions in the world took this familiar path. It all began while Emeka was living alone as a young bachelor. He was a programmer so he was always online. He realized that he always ate very late because before he would finish roaming the internet, reading articles, writing codes and the rest of them, he wouldn’t have had time to leave his house to eat. So he ended up eating very late. “And it was very awkward to me,” he told Massmediang. “So I browsed about food delivery. I read about food delivery companies around the world such as Uber Eats, Zomato and Grub Hub. So I came up with an idea. I told myself I can have something like this in Nigeria. After all, this is an untapped niche where we have only few players in this field, like Jumia food. So I conceived the idea early last year but I started executing it around February 20, last year.”
That was how the success story began. Emeka then began to reach out to a few friends and shared the vision with them. He realized they were having same project idea in mind they teamed up and started the Olili project sometime in August, last year. They began the established together as six board members, and started serving the people of Asaba which is presently their only branch. The company is about to move into Warri with a very vibrant branch.
Initial challenges and discouragements
Definitely there are always teething problems and Olili.ng had its own share of that. Here’s what Emeka had to say about that: “In fact, I gave up at a point. I was not financially buoyant when I started. I was actually into other businesses. I was into cryptocurrency and some freelance jobs. At a point I ran out of finance. I bought three second hand bikes and I ran out of finance. It was tiring. The team was looking up to me because I am the CEO. I was this kind of person that carries everybody along. They believed in me. But already I had given up within me but the belief they were showing me was like they were asking so what’s the next step, what’s the next step? So I realized giving up was not an option because they had entrusted their hope of the project to be alive on me so I had no other choice than to pick up the pieces and we moved on.
“So from December to January, I gave up literally, but from January ending I picked up the pieces and we moved on, God helping us. And today we have about ten fleet (of bikes), we have a total of 15 staff.”
How the Covid-19 lock down helped the business to grow
The COVID-19 pandemic provided opportunity for many web-based businesses to thrive and Emeka’s Olili.ng benefited from that opportunity. He and his friends utilized the opportunity to engage in massive online advertising which created more awareness for their startup, paving the way for them to gain grounds during the lock down.
Services offered by Olili.ng
This is a very interesting aspect of the story. Olili.ng is already huge with exciting services that keep more food vendors wanting to join the company and more customers pacing orders through this platform. Emeka told Massmediang that the company focuses on delivery of prepared food which is their specialty for now. “We partner with food vendors – restaurants, local kitchens, those that are into pastries, natural food vendors. We partner with those that prepare what is consumable instantly; not those that provide unprepared food items. What we do is we have a platform where users can come and see different restaurants they can order any item from. It’s just like Uber Food, Zomato, Jumia Food, Grub Hub (among others). Those are the big players in the food delivery business. Currently we are partnering with close to 20 food vendors here in Asaba, ranging from those that are cooking local dishes, to international dishes, to pizza, shawama, among others.
“Another advantage is this; if you were to go physically to a restaurant near you and they have the dish you want but not cat fish, you will have to go to another place. But with Olili.ng when you go to a particular vendor and the person does not have cat fit you just search on the same Olili platform for a restaurant that has the cat fish and the particular dish you want. So we make it easier for you.”
How Olili.ng works
Prospective customers always want user-friendly platforms that make it easy for them to get registered and place others within a trust-worthy online and off-line atmosphere. This is exactly what Olili.ng provides. You can’t be hungry and be finding it difficult to navigate a website to even spend your own money. So Olili.ng makes it very easy for customers to transact businesses and love the experience. Emeka explains this further: “This is how it works. We are using a progressive web App. You visit us through olili.ng. Then you register and set up your location. We have a wallet system. So we’re partnering with a service provider called Monify. What they do is that if a user should register on olili today, a bank account will be generated and sent to the user. So when he or she wants to fund the wallet, he or she will make a transfer to that bank account and its going to reflect in your wallet immediately. So each bank account is tied to each user. So you’re having a wallet that has a bank account. You can give your friends the bank account to fund your wallet for you. We don’t do cash on delivery. All items should be paid for online. Then we have sales agents who manage the dash boards of the restaurants. Normally the restaurants are supposed to manage their dashboards but we’re having this problem with restaurants. They don’t take us seriously because we’re start ups. And you know this model of business is not common in this part of Nigeria. So we use the sales agents to monitor the dash boards of the food vendors and the sales reps make calls to make sure that the food customers requested for is available. We also re-route orders. May be you ordered for assorted and the assorted is finished we can plead with you to go with cow leg or cow head. Then we do the plus-minus, and you get your refund in your wallet. So for now we are using a web App. But currently development is ongoing for an android App to be used for this business.”
How they handle social events requests
This is one big benefit food vendors that partner with Olili.ng enjoy. The fact is that Olili Food does not engage in social events management. So when people make such requests the company connects them to one of their Food vendors who takes up the contract. “Sometimes we do get calls and we notice that people tend to misunderstand our major area of expertise,” Emeka told Massmediang. “Some people call us for social events so what we do is we connect them to some of our vendors. That’s one advantage of being a vendor with us. If somebody needs bulk supply we can help them deliver bulk supply to them. So being a vendor with us gives you an opportunity to have offline jobs too.”
Thorough quality check on food vendors before partnership
One of the advantages Olili.ng enjoys in Asaba is the reputation of their food vendors which is why many customers prefer placing orders with them. Hygiene and food quality, including packaging, are factors that are crucial to the success of food delivery business. So Olili.ng does not joke with that at all. According to Emeka, “ We check standards of vendors before accepting to work with them. Those standards are what we always consider before we onboard a vendor. We are interfacing between a vendor and the prospective consumer of their food item so we’re very careful with what we do. We make sure whoever we are accepting to work with meets specific standards ranging from the hygiene to the packaging level. We also consider the name because there are some restaurants that have reputation already in Asaba so what we do is we endeavour to partner with those restaurants. That reputation will make the user come to our platform. When users come to Olili.ng they move from one vendor profile to the other. So the vendor reputation is very important too.”
Competition in Asaba
Of course, Asaba is one of the Elite cities in the entire South Southern part of Nigeria so there is surely competition in every business there, including the food delivery business. But that’s what Olili.ng likes. Healthy competition brings out the best in any good company so Olili.ng is not bothered at all. It is still the market leader in that territory. “Yes we woke up all the whole food vendors, in fact, all the whole food delivery companies in Asaba and even general deliveries because many of our clients started asking for general logistics from us. But it was not advisable to use the same container we use in carrying food for carrying other items so we just concentrated only on food. So we made the demand for deliveries, and logistic services in Asaba generally, to come alive.”
Advice to young people in Nigeria about considering start-ups
This is a very important aspect of this inspirational story. With the rate many young Nigerians are focused on acquiring quick wealth with less stress, startups seem not to be fashionable at all. Yet this is the best way to go and those who have taken this part will always advise others to follow it. Emeka did not hold back his advice on that. “My advice to them is that there is no perfect time to start; just start. Why I said just start is that this is not my first project. I’ve started several projects. I won’t say I failed but I learnt some lessons. Once you have the minimum viable products, just start. When you start the market will give you a road map. All you have to do is streamline your start-up towards the road map of the market and then you get perfection. You can’t get perfection from just having a product in the hidden but when you bring out the product in the market you face challenges, criticisms, all sorts of issues. But don’t let it get to you.
“We started with two restaurants but today we have over 20 restaurants and we’re rejecting some. So just start. Our target was to have 10 restaurants on board before we can start. It took us one month to get just two; and we started with those two. Today we have about 20 restaurants and the demand for Olili to come to other parts of the country is increasing by the day. Our social media inbox is flooded with messages from people telling us to come to various cities where they are. So our target is to cover the South South region. Lagos may be saturated but the South South region and the South East region are virgin markets. So all I can say I’ll encourage people to look for a problem. Then solve the problem; that’s how you make money. If you don’t have value nobody will value you; and what is that value? A value is a solution to a problem. When people know you have solution to their problem, you have value in their sight. And by then they can pay for value; they can pay for the solution. So the first thing is look for a unique problem to solve. I see people re-investing in problems that have been solved; they’ll go and re-solve it again. No, we still have many untapped niches in the tech space. We have 200 million people in Nigeria and you can’t look for a business that can serve 20 thousand people in the country, that’s a problem. So my advice is just start. If you want to make it in the take world, look for a unique problem, proffer a solution, then you’ll have value; and people pay for value.”
Olili.ng is already at the top of the food chain in the food delivery industry in the Asaba. The company has a steady plan on how to gradually cover and conquer the entire South South. So who says they cannot go national and eventually global? Don’t even doubt this. Otherwise read the first paragraph of this story again about how Zuckerberg started and how he ended up.