Yomi Olalere is a techpreneur and the founder of iChef, a new food start-up that leverages technology to feed people. In this interview by Kingsley Alumona, he speaks about the inspiration behind the start-up, how technology can bring digital inclusion to the Nigerian restaurant business, why they are feeding and donating to the homeless and the less privileged this Christmas season, among others.
Tell us about iChef and the inspiration behind it.
iChef was born out of a personal experience. At some point, about two years ago, I was craving an indigenous meal with that taste of home-made, but not mass-produced. With the help of a family friend, I was referred to a wonderful woman who had been operating cooking business from the comfort of her home. Not only did I enjoy the freshness of the meal, but her expertise at customer service left me with a curiosity. I asked the cook, Madam, how do you sell to your customers? Her response was what led to our journey of bringing technology into the homes of those with great talents, skills, expertise, training, experience, and excellent customer service skills, but without a consistent flow of customer traffic.
Second, who knows what is going to happen when all restaurants are shut due to one health incidence or another. We urgently needed to create an environment where our users (cooks, chef, caterers) are not shut out due to a pandemic shutdown. Shortly after we had identified this problem, our team conducted feasibility studies to further understand how we could add values to these target groups. We realised that the mounting cost of rent was a challenge to a lot of cooks and aspiring cooks.
So, we decided to develop a digital shop just for them, and at no signup cost. Our innovative approach was to create a digital ecosystem whereas, if you are a home cook/chef, pastry makers/chef, caterers, local beverage makers, you can take advantage of a free digital shop within the iChef marketplace. iChef connects.
How is the business faring since its inception? And what is it doing differently that other similar business are not doing?
We are not doing badly considering the state of technology adoption among our target groups. We have a dedicated team that trains our chefs on host of things including their profile management, uploading menu, attending training, order notification, processing, order status, delivery, and the likes. So far, we are happy to see our community of users (the iChef Nation, as famously called), using the platform to transact businesses. Within 10 weeks of deployment, we are approaching ten thousand (10,000) users.
iChef is unique in many ways: our target audience have, for far too long been excluded from technology. We are saying let’s bring these groups into digital world and let’s help their businesses thrive through technology inclusion. Whether you are selling delicious meals from your home kitchen, or making those refreshing beverages from your living room, there is a place for you to sell on iChef platform.
We are not focusing on brick-and-mortar restaurants who can afford to pay rent (even though they too, can use our platform), but those who are operating from their homes.
How and where can people access iChef food and services?
You can download ‘iChef Business’ as a cook/chef/caterer/beverage maker and start selling, or download iChef Customer as a lover of delicious, nutritious, custom/bespoke meals all at your fingertips. We are available on Appstore, or Google Playstore. It is as easy as that.
iChef Cares initiative is donating N1million in direct meals prepared by iChef and also raising funds to feed more people during the Yuletide season. Can you tell us what this is about?
Yes, iChef is reaching out to feed the hungry as a way of giving to the internally displaced, orphans, aged, and homeless during this season. These categories of people would benefit from our corporate gesture and social responsibilities. We recognise we are just about 10 weeks old start-up, but our goal is to commence the work of making impact right from the start. This is a direct donation from our founder towards the cause we believe in as an organisation.
It is a season of love, but also a time to give to those who really need it. Our goal is to raise more funds beyond one million naira to reach out to more Nigerians (in need) during this holiday season. Our chefs are ready to cook the meals and have it delivered to the aforementioned groups across the country.
One more thing you probably need to know about iChef Nigeria is that our goal is to donate a portion of every order that is processed on our platform to feed the hungry across the country. Put it simply, an order made on the iChef platform is an opportunity to feed the hungry.
Who will prepare the free meals and when will the event commence?
Our service providers from the iChef Nation will be engaged to provide their services to these groups. The meal delivery is scheduled to take place between December 25th and January 1st.
Is the iChef Care initiative an annual event? And are you partnering with other businesses/organisations to achieve it?
Our goal is to make this an ongoing initiative whereas a percentage of every order on iChef platform goes towards feeding the hungry. We welcome participations from other businesses across Nigeria to make hunger a thing of past in the country. However, we are operating solely currently.
Cooking business and restaurants are highly competitive business. How does iChef help position those with home-cooking business stay competitive and growth-bound?
Cooking business and restaurants are competitive globally. However, we must also remember that food ranks first in the hierarchy of necessity. Everyone must eat to actualise their dreams of becoming the next CEO or great entrepreneur. That implies there is a growing market as population increases. However, every business must find a place in technology to be able to scale and compete. That is why iChef App is arguably the best thing that can happen to home-cooking businesses in Nigeria.
What values does iChef bring to Nigerians entrepreneurs in cooking business?
First, they will have a traffic of customers which would increase their revenue, specific training on business development, customer service, food safety, and security, food hygiene, customer service workshops, free digital shop (meaning they don’t have to pay rent to a landlord), marketing and promotion of their businesses, free onboarding training (all our chefs/cooks are trained and examined before their profile is activated), profile management, where they can upload their information and get noticed by customers around their location, menu management, where they upload their menus, order management, delivery coordination, payment processing, customer service, free graphics and promotional materials, and many others.
What message do you have for iChef chefs and customers this Christmas season?
I want to thank everyone who has joined iChef Nation to make it a thriving platform. Whether you want to enjoy home away from home, iChef is there to cook your favourite meals; or you are a busy family with no downtime to stay in the kitchen, order from iChef; perhaps, you are a single person who enjoys having a great meal prepared and stocked in your refrigerator, you can call the nearby iChef.
Apart from iChef business, what other business(es) do you do?
I consider myself an ‘edupreneur’ and a ‘techpreneur’. I am currently the President of a post-secondary institution in Canada, and also have many other initiatives around the world as an entrepreneur. But my passion to really see home cooking businesses in Nigeria grow to their capacities by leveraging technology capabilities is what I consider an exciting journey for us as a team.
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