“Food is a very important part of our lives, and more so in Nigeria. We do not joke with food.”
Apparently not. Dayo Koleowo, co-founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of Nigerian startup ChowHub, started his business after attempting to order a takeaway from his favourite restaurant, and being unable to do so.
“We decided to create a web platform that will be the default platform for discovering any type of restaurant, with their menu prices and basic information about them, not just the most popular ones.”
ChowHub was born in September, providing an online food discovery and ordering service. The startup is aiming to go further than competitors such as hellofood by offering less commonplace food types and even smaller food vendors.
Koleowo says though ChowHub – currently only active in Abuja – has a number of competitors, they mostly focus on restaurants that do takeaways.
“There a lot of food outlets out there that need to be on a platform like ours just to be discovered, and for customers to visit them rather than ordering a takeout. We are working on a feature that will drive physical traffic to food outlets so they can make more sales,” he said.
The startup has been self-funded so far, aside from a US$5,000 grant from the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme (TEEP). At launch it had 20 restaurants on its discovery feature, a number that has since risen to 50, while last month it began taking orders through WhatsApp and Twitter direct messages.
“This is an indirect way of taking orders until our ordering feature is available, which will enable users to order their food via the website,” Koleowo said.
The startup has processed a small amount of orders since then – gaining revenues from a 10 per cent commission and delivery fee – but foresees growth once the ordering feature is implemented.
ChowHub’s “special sauce”, according to Koleowo, is its focus on allowing users to discover great places to eat regardless of size, shape and structure.
“Our aim is to put even the smallest food vendor on the internet to be discovered by food-loving people,” he said.
The startup has big plans for the future, with a Lagos launch set for this year and the team working on a discount service feature that will send more traffic to both high-end restaurants and regular fast food outlets.
Persuading restaurants to sign up for the platform in the first place is a challenge, but the response to ChowHub has generally been positive.
“We speak to a lot of restaurants and we always have to convince them of why ChowHub is an important platform for them. The challenge is convincing them to sign up on the platform,” Koleowo said.
“It has been more of a positive response because of the way we entered the market, most importantly letting food outlets understand that we are in business together to increase their sales and help them reach a wider customer base. We are not there to rip them off.”
Restaurant acquisition would be boosted by a stronger marketing push, but the bootstrapped startup does not have funds for that right now.
“Marketing and awareness is low, because we do not have the funds to do aggressive marketing. We have been able to use what we have, basically events and social media marketing to publicise ChowHub. Word of mouth has been helpful since we try as much as possible to satisfy our customers,” Koleowo said.
With this in mind, fundraising is on the startup’s agenda.
“There is little bootstrapping can do for the success and growth of a startup. Our aim has been to start with what we have, apply to fundraising competitions, create a prototype product for beta testing and hopefully get funded along the way to grow the company,” Koleowo said.
Regardless, pan-African expansion is the eventual goal.
“Our aim is to be the leading and default food discovery and ordering platform in every major city in Africa. Achieving this will mean ChowHub will have the largest collection of restaurants and menus in any given city in Africa. Once we can conquer the Nigerian market and get enough funds to expand, we will.”