FIRST THINGS FIRST: hellofood is neither a fast food service, a restaurant, nor is it a physical place. It’s an online food ordering and delivery platform.
It is what you would call a “food broker,” linking people in need of food to hotels and restaurants. And not just that, it also delivers your order to your office or home, on behalf of the eatery from which it is ordered.
The global chain has its services spread across Latin America, the Middle East, Asia and Europe, with Asia as its biggest market, followed by Africa. In Africa, the service can be found in Nigeria, Morocco, Ghana, Senegal, Kenya, Ivory Coast, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda.
Just three months old in Rwanda, the service is the first of its kind in the country, and according to the country manager, Duncan Muchangi (in circle), the company has so far partnered with 60 local eateries.
One can choose to order from the website, hellofood.com, use the mobile Android and iPhone applications, or place a direct telephone call.
“Most callers are specific on the type of food they need, but not the restaurant from which it should be picked, so our call centre usually takes you through the available options. But we also have a group of people who know their favourite restaurants, so we just process the orders,” Muchang says.
The call centre, located at Muhima in downtown Kigali, is a bee hive of activity. “Once you order online, our customer service agents receive real time notifications, and immediately call up the restaurants to place the order, then the delivery team will be on the way to pick the order and deliver it.
We also try to keep a client updated on the progress of their order. For instance if the weather is bad, we inform them of any possible delays.”
Delivery is by motor bike, and is limited to orders within Kigali. On average, it will take at most an hour for one’s order to arrive.
Coming to Rwanda
In September 2013, the company ventured into the virgin Rwandan market as a pioneer in the trade. Muchangi describes the rationale for choosing Rwanda over several others, even those with bigger economies.
“As we considered new countries to venture into in Africa, we realised that technological penetration in Rwanda is growing very fast, there is a fast-growing middle class, many new eateries are coming up to cover this growing middle class, and there is a lot of investor interest from abroad.
Big food chains are coming to Rwanda, and yet online food ordering and delivery was virtually non-existent before. It was a virgin market, which is why it was attractive for us.”
Other reasons had to do with the newly emergent entrepreneurial spirit in the country, which he describes as “unmatched”: “Starting a business is easy and well explained, there is no bureaucracy, and the environment is welcoming to entrepreneurs.”
“The restaurants were easy to convince because they are entrepreneurs, and like all entrepreneurs, they looked at increasing their sales, so they easily understood the concept and loved it. They love our model because they see an increase in orders without a similar increase in operational costs.
Go to the average restaurant at 3:00pm, and you are likely to find no one. As a food delivery service, we can make a restaurant busy even at a time when they ordinarily don’t expect customers. It’s also an additional service to already existing customers who may not want to keep returning to the same place every time.”
However, it wasn’t easy sailing all through, and he says: “The only problem was how to convince clients, since most people had never heard of this service before. Still, the company believes that everyone appreciates the need to save time, and the sheer fun of simply clicking at a computer mouse or making a phone call, and you have your order delivered right at your office or home. So we had to create a lot of awareness to overcome this.”
In picking restaurants with which to deal, the company tries to accommodate the widest range of culinary options to cover the various categories of clients.
“We look at the cuisine, the budget range, and the standard of services such as food preparation time the and nature of packaging. We only work with places that meet the standard we promised online.”
As country manager, Muchangi works with a small local team of sales and marketing executives, customer service agents, and the delivery crew.
He further liaises with the global support team, which is in charge of the website and all the mobile apps.
“Hello food is global, so we bring a lot of expertise from abroad. It’s what makes us efficient. We have several global conference calls where we plan strategy. The local team is comprised of 10 people, but we increase capacity according to business sometimes. All members of the local team keep their ears open for new business, new restaurants and new dishes. Personally, whenever I hear of or spot a new place, I go sit down, and order for a meal like any regular customer, and see if it’s worth including on our list.”
As country manager, he literally works round the clock. “This is a 24-hour kind of job like hospital work. People need to eat hot food at specific times every day. My day is generally divided into two parts — business development and operations:
“Every week I make it a point to interact with each of the restaurant owners on our list to keep updated on new trends. I am also in touch with corporate clients, while on the operations side; I liaise with the call centre and customer service and delivery staff.
Ironically, Muchangi is an engineer by training. For his first degree, he studied Electronic and Computer Engineering in his native Kenya.
“I’ve always been fascinated by technology and innovation. After a few years of work, I realised I was more interested in using technological innovation to do business.”