Visionary Entrepreneur Series: Innov8tiv presents the best and brightest early stage entrepreneurs from Tiphub’s Diaspora Demo Summit. Tiphub is a mentorship driven accelerator that supports early stage businesses and social impact ventures in Africa and the African Diaspora.
After listening to friends complain about their struggles to find conveniently located African and Caribbean groceries in the United States, Boyede Sobitan and Fola Dada launched OjaExpress, a web and mobile application delivering groceries to your doorstep. “Immigrants have to go out of their way to find foods from their home country,” says CEO/Co-Founder Boyede Sobitan.59% of ethnic American consumers go to three or more grocery stores regularly in order to find the full product selection they are looking for and some are even forced to use poor substitutes or change their dietary habits completely. “Even foodies, don’t know where to go to recreate the dish they ate at their favorite restaurant during their Caribbean vacation. Even if they did, they are mystified by the options that are present at ethnic grocery stores. My co-founder and I also discovered there were no same day or next service for immigrants, specifically the African/Caribbean demographic.”
Armed with a passion to eliminate the hassle of shopping for cultural groceries for immigrants as well as foodies, the OjaExpress app, takes the pain out of shopping for your favorite ethnic groceries. Here’s how the app works:
- Browse hundreds and growing cultured food items.
- Search or browse the store for the food you love
- Discover sales and deals going on at different stores, enjoy big savings each week.
- Contact the Ojaexpress Customer Service team via email or phone.
- Check the status of your order.
- Create a favorite list of item that you like or buy often for easy shopping.
Although Ojaexpress is only available in Chicago, the dynamic duo has plans to expand to other locations throughout the US.
Tell us about your background.
I am a self-titled, Chigerian. I am Chicagoan of Nigerian extraction. I started my career as a Registered Nurse. I have a Masters in Healthcare Administration, and I have been in the healthcare administration/consulting space for the past 9 year
What are your top 3 accomplishments?
There are 81 million first and second-generation immigrants, and a growing foodie population that is seeking a fast and convenient method for acquiring hard to find ethnic groceries. We provide a solution that addresses this problem. So essentially every order we have is an accomplishment. We have 81 million potential accomplishments to list.
What has been your greatest challenge? How did you overcome it?
The biggest challenge has been getting our community to innovate, and adopt new technology. Many immigrants’ people like to touch and feel their produce to ensure that they are selecting the best. Many were hesitant to allow us to get their groceries for them. So far we have been fine-tuning our techniques, especially with yams. We have a feature that allows customers to list their preferences, so we can purchase items just as they would. I’d say we’re doing pretty well with that since we haven’t had any complaints. In fact, we had a customer that was impressed by the yams that we picked for him. So much so, he asked us to purchase yams for him going forward. He wanted us to be his personal “Yam pickers.” Overall, we have received positive reviews about the OjaExpress experience.
Tell me about a time you failed in business. What did you learn from your mistake?
I can’t accurately recall a failure. My mindset has morphed, to look at failures as potential lessons. Early on during our venture, we go a lot of “no’s”. This was discouraging to my co-founder and I. After speaking with our advisor, we learned how to convert those “no’s” into yes, by following-up with people. One of our early “no’s” is now one of our largest retail clients.
Many people have a “secret sauce” that has defined his or her success. What are the top three ingredients that have enabled you to succeed?
I don’t know if I have a “secret sauce”. I think a dogged determination is key to starting a company and seeing it to the end. It is also key to develop and nurture relationships as you grow. I have met so many entrepreneurs along this journey, and we have served as a sounding board for one another. Lastly, seek out an advisor. You need someone who has gone through a similar journey in the past, and can advise you on this exciting, yet tumultuous journey.
What would be your advice for those trying to create a brand?
If I were to advise anyone trying to create a brand, I will tell him or her to have belief in what they are doing, and be open to pivoting. If you are too confident, and not open to feedback, you can hurt yourself and brand in the process.