Start-up Stories: HelloFood Nigeria
HelloFood Nigeria uses their mobile app and website to connect people with the best restaurants around them. Last month in Lagos, Eyitemi Popo, founder of Ayiba, met up with Guillaume Leblond, Managing Director of Hellofood Nigeria, for another installment of our popular Start-up Stories series. Leblond, who sees Africa as the new frontier for business and came to Lagos for the first time to lead Hellofood Nigeria, speaks with us about Nigeria’s food culture and growing a business in Africa’s largest, and perhaps most challenging, economy.
How would you describe Nigeria’s food culture? And how would you say it differs from other places you have been?
Let me start by saying that Nigerians really love food and are willing to spend on it. The first and most differentiating aspect of Nigeria’s food culture is that Nigerians love Nigerian food. I would say that 60-70% of food ordered via Hellofood Nigeria is Nigerian cuisine. Nigerian brands massively out-perform other cuisines or food brands on the platform. This is very different from what you’d see with Hellofood in Ivory Coast or Morocco, for example. The second thing I’ve noticed is that orders come in all day long. Normally in food ordering, you have a peak at lunch and one in the evening for dinner. However, in Nigeria people seem to eat throughout the day. I even notice it in our office. This is very different from say France, where people stick to breakfast, lunch, and dinner at specific times.
In a country where infrastructure is inarguably lacking, how have you managed the logistics associated with setting up a food delivery venture?
It was super tough! We started as a pure marketplace. We were not involved in any logistics. We were connecting people with restaurants already doing delivery. After one year of business, we realized that only a few restaurants were doing delivery well. The others didn’t have the quality of operations to do it well and this led to average customer experiences. We then decided to step in and provide logistical support to our vendors.
Luckily, we are part of Africa Internet Group, so we were having these issues around the same time other members of the group like Jumia, for example, were experiencing logistical challenges. We invested in technology to solve our problems. We started doing real-time tracking of our riders to ensure timely delivery and have a team who track and support them all day providing best routes. We also equipped restaurants with vendor apps and order printers to avoid mix-ups.
Our investment has paid off because some popular restaurants were not offering delivery. However, now through Hellofood, these restaurants can reach customers all over their city. I would say that in Nigeria, we handle about 50-60% of deliveries, so it’s an important part of our business.
What has been your approach to customer service?
Customer experience is extremely important. But, well, everyone knows that. The point of the app is to make life easier for the customer. Our unique challenge is that people use our app because they are hungry and they want food right away. This means that we have to deliver accurately and efficiently. We do this by hiring smart people and maintaining a lean team that work together to make this happen. Our customer experience is in the details. We have even invested in delivery packaging to complete our experience.
Hellofood is in forty other countries, so I am sure the Nigerian market was approached with certain assumptions. What were some early lessons learned in this market?
Nigeria was the first market we entered in Africa. We later expanded to ten other countries in the region. When you move into a new market, you don’t come in necessarily with assumptions, but rather with questions. How good are the restaurants? Is it going to be easy to find good restaurants? Will they want to partner with us? Do Nigerians see the benefit of ordering food online? What will the average order size be? So, we had scenarios based on all these questions. I mean, think about it. Ordering food online is not the most intuitive thing to do. If we think about e-commerce, people would probably book a trip or buy a pair of shoes before they think to order food on the Internet. So, that was one challenge on the demand or customer side. On the supply side, it took a bit of time to convince restaurant chains to come onboard.
Once we overcame these hurdles, the upside was that when people started using the app, they kept coming back. We have a high return rate because once people start using Hellofood, it makes sense in their daily lives.
Let’s talk growth strategy. What has been the hardest part of scaling Hellofood in Nigeria?
There are three parts:
- Getting to the right customer experience has been the hardest. It took a lot of account management effort and logistical work to do this. Once we got this right, the return rate increased, as well as the word-of-mouth referrals, which is the most powerful form of marketing.
- Vendor acquisition. It took some time to convince various food brands to go online.
- Customer acquisition. Getting people to find out about the app, download the app, and finally, use the app.
Focusing on these key details has helped our growth trajectory.
Is the Hellofood app developed specially for the Nigerian market or is it a replication of what you can find in other countries where Hellofood is present? If it is different, how did you tailor the user experience to the Nigerian customer?
Great question. It is a standard app. However, there are adaptations and innovations that are implemented from country to country. One innovation for the Nigerian customer relates to the payment method. In Nigeria, we do cash on delivery because customers were not ready to pay online unsure of whether or not they would receive their order.
Another is how people search for restaurants. In London, you might ask for a postal code, but in Lagos asking for the area makes sense, instead of even a street address.
Are there any new partnerships or activations coming up for Hellofood Nigeria our readers should know about?
Yes. Soon, we are integrating with MTN to provide mobile money as a payment option. This is just another way we thought to improve the customer experience.
Lastly, is the Hellofood team growing? If any of our readers are interested, are you hiring?
Well, we have almost doubled in size to twenty-three since I came onboard almost two years ago. So the team has certainly grown. However, we try to stay lean. But, I will say that I am on a continuous search for great candidates because we are always interested in connecting with smart people who can bring something new to the team.