The co-founders of a new ethnic food delivery app speak with Okayafrica on their mission to make shopping for Afro-Caribbean foods easy.
Chicagoans (and soon the rest of the US) can get their hard to find, African and Caribbean delicacies delivered straight to their door through this new app. OjaExpress, available on Apple and Android phones, seeks to make ethnic foods readily available for people who may not have the best access to specialty grocery stores. Oja is also Yoruba for 'market.'
Co-founders Boyede Sobitan and Fola Dada speak to Okayafrica via email about their new startup, what void they are filling in the food and grocery industries and more.
Antoinette Isama for Okayafrica: How did the concept of OjaExpress come about?
Boyede Sobitan: My friend’s wife is a busy mother of two. I was at his house one day, and I noticed she was ordering from Peapod. This was a tool she used to manage her busy schedule and get her groceries done. She lamented on how she had to actually travel to one of the “African” stores, and how inconvenient it was to take two children under two to some of these stores. This interaction sparked the idea of creating OjaExpress. We created an app that is a lifestyle enhancer, and allows our users to take the drudgery out of shopping for ethnic foods- starting with the African (broad) and Caribbean communities.
What were your inspirations for this app?
Sobitan: There are a number of inspirations behind our app. The primary inspiration, is to build a technology based company in the USA, led by Africans and serving immigrants, second generation children of immigrants and foodies. There are not many sectors of the economy that are focused on the African or Caribbean population in the States. We seek to serve our people, and with the utmost quality. We also look forward to helping to add to the America’s culinary lexicon.
OjaExpress team: Boyede Sobitan, Ololade Martins, Fola Dada, Dineo Seakamela and Muyiwa Adenaike. Photo courtesy of OjaExpress.
What problem are you hoping to solve with OjaExpress?
Sobitan: Currently, ethnic American consumers go to three or more grocery stores regularly in order to find the full product selection they are looking for. Some studies suggest that upwards of 61 percent of ethnic American consumers are not finding enough ethnic food/ingredients at their main grocery store. Simply put, OjaExpress seeks to eliminate these barriers, and allow customers to have more convenient access to their cultural foods, through the OjaExpress app.
Fola Dada: We want to allow our users to take a load off and direct their time to activities they actually enjoy. Through our own research, African and Caribbean heads of households would like to spend more time with their families and grocery shopping was rated as one of the least favorite things to do. Our app removes at least one important task from your day. Many of us work hard, the last thing we want to do is spend hours driving and shopping for groceries, when you can just push a couple of buttons and have it delivered to your home within two hours. What would you do with an additional hours added to your week/month? We eliminate this problem by utilizing our on-demand model.
What are your plans for the future of your app?
Sobitan: Plans have been set in motion to be in at least two major cities by years end. We are also working on segmenting our app by country and region of origin, because we understand that African and Caribbean are very broad terms. Food in Trinidad is different from food in Jamaica, just as food in Nigeria is different from food in South Africa.
Dada: We plan to expand to other ethnics groups because we understand that people in other communities are facing the same problem that we are addressing.
What have been some challenges with the development of OjaExpress?
Sobitan: Food and shopping are very intimate activities. Getting over the initial hesitancy was a challenge, but more people are using the app and loving the experience. For myself, my patience has been tested, as is the case with many other entrepreneurs, but we believe in what we are doing, so I have to remind myself of that sometimes.
Dada: We are still in the early stage so there are many 'NOs' coming from every direction. We are also still working on our product and improving the technology. But as entrepreneur we wake up every day ready to continue working hard to enhance our technology and service.
Are there any exciting collaborations coming up?
Sobitan: We are working with some innovative food entrepreneurs and chefs in the US and from around the globe. We are developing some technology enabled recipe sharing modules within the app as well, so moms, college students, or bachelors can share their recipes with one another. We are working to offer more than just African and Caribbean products, and serve immigrants and food lovers from different backgrounds. Stay tuned!
Dada: There are several features that we plan to add as we grow. We also want to provide a platform for other entrepreneurs, especially those in the food industry access to utilize our platform as a way to showcase, and enhance access of their products to a larger audience. There are several thing that we plan to do that will make OjaExpress become a more appealing and exciting brand.
Photo courtesy of OjaExpress.
Are there any lessons/pieces of advice you wish you had that other young, budding African entrepreneurs should know?
Sobitan: Build a great team and support network! Once that has been built, go and do it! You will be surprised how much you have within yourself to get thing done, if you act!
Dada: The most important advice we have gotten is go do it. People are innately looking for perfection, we want the idea to be perfect, we want the product to be perfect. Perfection is unattainable. What you can do is build a great product. Coincidentally great products are built on the go, and you can measure this by how great companies: the Apple, Google, Facebook, and others have changed under our watch. There is no perfect product, there is no perfect time, all you have is constant growth and change.