#LLAInterview: “Mentorship is critical in business. Why repeat mistakes when you can learn practically from those that have experience?” – Saudat Salami, Founder, Easyshop Easycook.

Saudat Salami started EasyshopEasycook.com the first online multi-platform fresh grocery delivery company in Nigeria 15 years ago, to help working professionals especially women to balance work and homelife. Today, she is paying it forward and helping other entrepreneurs in the food business grow successfully.

Easyshop Easycook Services Limited is a proudly Nigerian domestic outsource company that specializes in shopping services, providing customized domestic solutions to the working professional.

 

Thank you for taking the time out to speak with us again at LLA; the last time we had an extended conversation with you was in 2015. What have been the major milestones for you and your business since then?

Hello LLA, it is always a pleasure chatting with you.

A whole lot has happened but let me mention 2. We raised a seed fund in late 2017 through a Venture Capital EchoVC so now we have external investors on our Board. This major investment helped us to scale to over 300% revenue. We improved our technology and operations, increased our customer base, brought in good talent, invested in new buses and increased our marketing spend. Presently we are getting ready for another round of investment.

Another major milestone is the online grocery delivery initiative we are championing.  The tech community have often overlooked this subsector because many businesses have been buried here. It has a high entry and exit history. We realized at Easyshop Easycook that in order to hack the growth in the sector we need to collaborate more and partner were necessary. Over time it is the software tech part of the business that investors fund but the business side, the infrastructure side, the back-end that is linked to the agric value chain is what buries the company. Investors overlook it and underrate the impact on the business. Our initiative as the pioneer and the most deep rooted in this sector is to share with others what has kept us in business for over 15years which is our deep understanding of the business side and use this knowledge to build standards and attract needed infrastructure which software tech can build on. The sector is big enough to accommodate many players but unfortunately, they keep dying.

Rad! For those who might be unaware, tell us about your business and why it serves an important need?

Easyshop Easycook is an online grocery delivery company set up to help working professionals especially women meet their domestic responsibilities by supplying high quality fresh prepped groceries to their homes or office in a timely and convenient manner.

This is an essential support service because women are responsible for over 75% of domestic responsibilities including care of the children and adult especially married women. Over 50% of working women consider quitting their jobs due lack of support in balancing work and home life. This is why of the 48% of women in entry level only 22% are left at management level and less than 10% make it to Board level.

Shopping and food preparation are a major domestic responsibility. The convenient and time-saving way around solving this problem is what Easyshop Easycook is here to do and we have done that successfully in the last 15years.

You are often referred to as the “mother of E-commerce,” why do you think that’s so? (Completely deserving in our opinion btw)

I can’t even remember who gave me this name but I like it, smiles. I built my first e-commerce website myself in 2001. It was fully functional and we were ready for business. I was the first to do this but the market was not ready for it. The shopping behavior, the culture and infrastructure were not in support of this service even though the problem we were here to solve existed, they were not ready for the solution we were bringing.

In all honesty, I also did not know what I was getting myself into. 2001 to 2005 were brutal years, I will call it Beta stage. I went for an entrepreneurial course at Fate Foundation in 2005 to understand how to run a business and having gained that knowledge, I quit my day job and faced my business fully. Many companies have come into this sector and have died along the way. Easyshop Easycook has stayed the course even during 2 or 3 recessions and little funding. Maybe that is why they call me mother of E-commerce. I consider it a huge compliment.

Nobody could have predicted the way 2020 has turned out — did Covid-19 impact your business in any way?

I said earlier that our culture and behavior affected the way people accepted online grocery delivery. This is mainly because our culture has assigned food roles to women. Even a busy woman often feels guilty of outsourcing shopping because culture says it’s her responsibility.

COVID19 happened and changed people’s mindset to grocery delivery. Easyshop Easycook was made for a time like this and we took full advantage of the opportunity because we have a highly skilled and experienced team. This period made us shine and our customer base multiplied even when we had to use less than 50% of our staff due to social distancing. An opportunity presented itself and we thrived in it.

It is now no longer a service for lazy people but an essential service for everyone which we always knew it was. The stigma of laziness is no longer there. People and government were looking for grocery delivery services they did not support in the past. The lockdown was not successful in many states because there were no grocery delivery companies and also other indirect support services were not available e.g. cold chain logistics and storage for fresh fruits and vegetables.

Due to this, many COVID19 impact surveys are recommending funding of the sector and organizing programmes that will help digitalize many food businesses.

Let’s segue and talk about your latest project — the “Growing Your Online Food Business” workshop for entrepreneurs like yourself — what’s the idea behind that?

I have been mentoring women into the online food space for a while. I made it official in 2019 through a workshop I launched.

When COVID19 happened, it created an opportunity for many people to pivot into this space. Being the oldest company in this sector, I have been inundated with messages from new entrants both men and women to mentor them. This prompted my new workshop.

The online grocery delivery sector has already been classified as an essential sector which means we will be attracting the right policies and infrastructure needed for fast development post COVID. This sector has buried many companies and I know that if we do not have a critical mass of strong companies there is a likelihood the sector will be overlooked again.

My workshop is to help new entrants navigate the sector, inspire collaboration and partnership, agree and set standards and build a strong ecosystem. I will be concentrating more on building capacity for the business/operations side of the sector to get them ready for partnership with the software tech side that will help them scale faster. Both sides are important and needed to thrive.

Amazing! In your video (which we have here), you speak specifically about mentorship — why is that important, particularly for entrepreneurs?

When I started my business in 2001 before it became official in 2005 mentorship was what I sought in the field but did not get. I had mentors on general business but not in my field. I made many mistakes, lost money and stepped on many mine fields.

Mentorship is critical in business in other to help one navigate an unknown business area. Why repeat mistakes when you can learn practically from those that have experience? Mentorship is also a two-way street, with new ideas from mentees, mentors will have a clearer way of solving an old problem. Mentorship builds confidence and helps reduce your mistakes and save money while experimenting. Your mentor encourages you on personal development and in many cases gives you access to a network you ordinarily will not have. When you have ideas and need someone with experience and superior knowledge your mentor can be the one or link you up with the person that can help you.

Asides funding — which is a constant challenge — what other challenges would you say entrepreneurs (specifically foodpreneurs) face?

The infrastructure in the agric value chain is lacking. Cold chain infrastructure is needed to reduce food waste. Standards need to be enforced in the agric sector across the value chain. There is no enforced good agric practice in production on the farms so waste and substandard produce is coming from there. Farming is not just about fertilizers and silos for grains. We need good seeds and practice to increase shelf life of what is coming from there. We do not have pack houses across the country especially in the farm areas so the markets are filled with waste and unsorted produce. The cold chain transport logistics companies are few so food gets rotten in transit. Foodpreneurs are constantly buying waste with their food which can’t be preserved because we have no cold chain.

What’s next on the horizon for Easyshop Easycook and Saudat Salami?

Building the online grocery sector is key for me. We need to attract the right policies that will make it profitable for investors to put their money in. We need to reduce the mortality rate of companies in this sector by forging partnerships and collaboration with highly skilled people and sectors that determine our growth particularly the agric sector.

We want to encourage strong modular companies around viable cities in Nigeria which will help to shape customer behavior faster and validate the sector. This will lead to mergers of strong viable companies that large ones will emerge from.

 

The Leading Ladies Africa weekly interview series focuses on women of African descent, showcases their experiences across all socio-economic sectors, highlights their personal and professional achievements and offers useful advice on how to make life more satisfying for women.

Do you know any woman of African descent doing phenomenal things? Send an email to lead@leadingladiesafrica.org and we just might feature her.

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