Tell us a bit about yourself.
I spent my formative years in Kenya and later went to the London School of Economics. I worked for an investment bank and later a private equity firm in London, New York and San Francisco. In 2006 I had what I jokingly call my “quarter life crisis” and wanted to do something closer to home, so quit my job and did some consulting for USAID in South Sudan. I then bought a business in London, which I restructured and later sold, and then spent some time consulting in Kenya and Rwanda, helping businesses restructure, grow into new markets, and position themselves for future growth. After the financial crisis hit in 2008, I joined HSBC bank and worked in both London and the Middle East, but quickly realised I wanted to do something I was passionate about.
Throughout my career, I have often spent three to four days a week on the road, eating in thousands of restaurants and staying in hundreds of hotels, so knew I wanted to do something in the hospitality space.
Why Naked Pizza specifically?
When I was visiting my family here a few years ago, I had to wait over 75 minutes to get a pizza delivery on two separate occasions. That was it. I love pizza. After my time in Jordan, I declined a move to New York and decided to set this up. I secured the rights (for Naked Pizza) for East and Central Africa. Naked Pizza was founded in 2006 in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and the recession. It’s naked because naked means natural. We don’t add any weird chemicals or preservatives to our food. Fast food is generally perceived to be unhealthy, but it doesn’t have to be.
We opened our first Naked Pizza store last November, which is the first store in Africa. Our plan is to open two more outlets this year, both of which are in the pipeline. I think Nairobi can support three to five stores, after which we will consider going regional. I have thought about bringing a lot of brands here, but this is a brand I can personally identify with and feel passionate about. I can eat the product every day, and therefore feel good about selling it. Delivery is the core part of our business. We have ten delivery motorcycles and will be adding more as demand grows. While we do have 40 seats, this isn’t a traditional restaurant, but rather a delivery place with a cool space to hang out.
Describe your target customer.
I believe that we appeal to a cross-section of people, across income, community and age divides; our brand and product transcends boundaries. A lot of Kenyans are getting increasing amounts of international exposure by travelling, studying and working abroad, and that translates not just into demand, but also expectation of international levels of services and products – and that is what a number of entrepreneurs have identified. The younger generation doesn’t just want to experience something, they also want to be seen experiencing it on social media and by their friends – especially if it is cool. We get a lot of expatriates too; from business people, to diplomats to people doing humanitarian work. It’s like a slice of back home for many of them!
Is this a challenging business to run?
Our biggest challenge is the bureaucracy. I have done business in umpteen countries and the bureaucracy is unlike anything I have ever seen. I think businesses in Kenya have still done well in spite of this, which says something about the opportunities here. Operationally, delivering is a challenge because many roads are not named and buildings not numbered. We spent three months before we opened mapping out our delivery area. Food costs here is also very high, with some locally sourced inputs being almost two times what we would pay in other parts of the world.
I am curious. What kind of manager are you?
I am very hands-on. When things get busy you will find me at the back making pizza, out front taking customer orders, and even sometimes going out on deliveries. I live and breathe the brand. I usually open the store at 10am in the morning and close it at midnight every day. One thing that I will probably never outsource is how we handle our social media accounts. I do that myself because it is such an integral part of our DNA, and very important to have that direct connection with customers. My attention to detail is very high, perhaps even to a fault.
You know you could be a senior manager at a large corporation somewhere instead of selling pizza?
I did that on and off for ten years, but I’ve never had more fun than I have had in the last year. This is much more fun – I am doing something I am passionate about, work with great people, and to boot, I can wear jeans, a t-shirt and sandals to work! I haven’t worn a suit in a year and I love it.
Should we expect to see more foreign food brands coming to Kenya?
Yes. For many years a lot of people were focused on Asia but now they are looking at Africa. I knowSubway (a US franchise) is coming to Kenya. There are a number of other brands sniffing around as well, which means that they have also seen the opportunity that Kenya has to offer. I mean, look at the Java coffee house, a homegrown success. The challenge that you face in a country like Kenya is the scalability of a business. We could do four to five stores in Nairobi whereas in a small German city we could build 15 to 20 stores because of the demographics and spending power.
What’s next on the horizon for Naked Pizza?
We have already operationally broken even and will shortly start generating profit. Any business that I start I like to operationally break even in 100 days. We will be opening two Naked Pizza stores in Nairobi this year, and potentially two more next year. We are looking to begin regional expansion at the end of next year. In the long-term my goal is to introduce other hospitality brands into the market and I strongly believe there are opportunities across the retail sector.