I am a public health specialist by profession and my area of focus is maternal health. I used to work with the United Nations and when my children were all grown up, I didn’t feel the need to continue doing the tours of duty. I decided to move back to Kenya. I love food and when I moved back here, I realised there was no one who could deliver food from all the restaurants in Nairobi. Only a few restaurant chains make deliveries but this is also limited to how close a customer is to their branches. I teamed up with a friend and we started Mama Meals on Wheels. We deliver groceries, booze and food from any restaurant of a customer’s choice. The business was inspired by my own need to get food deliveries. Restaurants can either list their menu on our website at a fee or sell the food to us at a 30% discount. Customers pay for the delivery depending on the cost of their orders and their location. This business is very well developed in the US and we are hoping to grow it here too.
Who is your target market?
We did a survey and found out that only 5% of Nairobi can afford our services. In high end estates, the population is scarce; people have cars, a chef and basically access to all types of cuisines such that they would not need our services. Middle income estates make [up] the majority of our customers. There is a bigger population here and they can afford our services. They are mostly working people who get home tired after a long day at work and being stuck in traffic and they don’t have a live-in house help. They want convenience and that is what we sell. We are focusing on this market. We get very busy between 11:00am and 2:00pm and in the evening from 6:00pm until 9:00pm. We started with two motorcycles and we have expanded to ten. We still can’t meet the demand during peak hours. We are growing at a faster rate than I had anticipated. It is almost difficult to keep up.
What do you attribute to the success of the business?
We focus a lot on good customer service. We try as much as possible to deliver in time and if we delay, we will apologise to the customer and give them a free delivery. We also use thermo bags to ensure the food is hot when it reaches the customer. This has distinguished us from anyone else who does deliveries. People also have expendable incomes. If you are in the food business, you will make money as long as you give good quality. Grocery deliveries are also a growth area and we are looking to expand our business in this segment.
Describe some of the challenges you face?
We have had difficulties getting staff who can effectively manage customers. We are a known brand and we get a lot of customers. That means we cannot afford to compromise on standards.
You are one of many Kenyans who had lived and worked abroad, but decided to start a business back on the continent. What was behind this thinking?
I grew up in the US but visited Kenya quite often. Kenya has changed, and it is a big ‘wow’ for people who haven’t visited in many years. Sure there are challenges here, but the changes in the last decade have made the country viable for business. Foreign economies have also been hit in recent years with high levels of unemployment. In the US, for instance, it is very easy for someone to find themselves a slave to their bills. Kenyans in the diaspora can bring the professionalism that they have earned from organisations they have worked with. They also bring time management, integrity and other business ethos.
What advice would you give other entrepreneurs?
Passion is the starting point. Your idea needs to be bankable. You should also have a few things that will distinguish you from any copycats. Plan how you intend to achieve your goals and targets. You should also operate with integrity and professionalism. Young people should not just go to university with the idea that there are jobs waiting for them. They need to study knowing that there are tremendousopportunities in starting small businesses.
Are you worried about Kenya’s March elections?
Our business does well whenever there is anything extreme. From traffic, rain or elections and anything that makes people not want to leave their homes. However, we are praying that all goes well in the elections. We have learnt our lesson from the incidents of 2007/2008 and we are hoping for peaceful and safe elections.
Your future plans?
Starting February we will be piloting online ordering and payment using PesaPal, a service that brings together all payment platforms including mobile money and cards. We hope it takes off, because it will mean more efficient service. We also plan to expand in Nairobi and enter Mombasa. We are working with a big accounting firm to actualise franchising plans in a year or two. We have had enquiries from Nigeria,Seychelles and Uganda. We think there is a lot of potential outside the country. I hope to open up the business to other investors in about two or three years.