Kicking of this year’s unusual entrepreneur interviews is Joe Falter the founder and CEO of Hellofood. Lastnight, we saw a movie –Django– together with other members of the rocket internet team in Nigeria and this morning we pulled off this interview.
Take it away Joe!
Interview Questions Part One
ENTREPRENEURSHIP: Awakening the Spirit of business
1. Can you please tell us a little about yourself and your business? What do you do?, how do you do it?, why do you do it and who do you do it for?
Hellofood.com is a website where customers can order food from their favourite restaurants, in cities across Africa. We operate across the continent, in 6 countries already and many more to come. In Lagos, we have a huge variety of cuisines and styles, with over 100 restaurants signed up, and the top 5 fast food chains all about to join. The site makes it incredibly easy for someone to choose and order food they love online. We believe ordering food should be fast, fuss-free and fun!
I run the business, with support from an incredible team of 50 people across Africa and in Europe. We are here because there are a lot of great restaurants in Lagos, but they’re hard to find. At the same time, with bad phone lines, it’s often difficult to understand restaurants when trying to place an order, often resulting in mistakes. So we bring all the best restaurants in the city to one place online, and make it incredibly easy for the customer to order. So they can choose the food they love, or be surprised by something new, and order in 1 minute without even having to pick up the phone!
2. How would you describe your entrepreneurial journey into the world of business? Were there any key incidents or life changing events that inspired your decision to become an entrepreneur?
It runs in the family – everyone in my family, on my mother’s and father’s sides have always been entrepreneurs. My grandfather ran a bakery chain, a dolls factory, imported jetskis to the UK and operated bingo halls. His was a classic success story that has been a major inspiration to me. However I have always seen my family around me doing work they loved, and being successful at it. Once you have direct exposure to people who have experienced this, and especially if you have the urge to be your own boss, a ‘normal’ job is no longer possible!
3. When you started out in business, what specific idea, purpose or vision was your key driving force?
I started out in business as a management consultant at McKinsey & Co in London. I was driven by a desire to learn as much as possible about business, problem solving and leadership. And with direct exposure to the top leadership of global organizations, it was the perfect environment to learn. But at the same time, I realized I wanted to do something more independent, and to be on the business side, rather than an advisor.
4. What is your take on the general notion that entrepreneurs should build a business around what they naturally love to do?
Successful entrepreneurs pour their heart and soul into their work. They are absolutely obsessive about the details, while maintaining an intense clarity of vision over the big picture. It’s incredibly difficult to put such energy and focus into something that you’re not passionate about. While people start all sorts of businesses for all sorts of reasons, I think you have to have passion and unwavering belief to be very successful in business.
5. What is your personal life mission as an entrepreneur? That is; what contributions do you want to make with your life or what would you like to be remembered for as an entrepreneur through the businesses you create when you die?
Legacy and recognition are not important to me. If I become a successful entrepreneur in the future, it will be because I took advantage of a great opportunity to make life simpler for people, managed to convince them to adopt it, and effectively monetized it.
6. What would you describe as the purpose of entrepreneurship? That is; what role do entrepreneurs play in the world?
Entrepreneurship is ultimately about innovation. Entrepreneurs are here to do things better, invent new ways of doing them, or to change the status quo altogether. Take Hellofood for example – we have recognized that ordering food in Lagos and other parts of Africa can be stressful, difficult and confusing, and we have set out to simplify the process and make it more efficient. If, through that process, we have made people’s lives easier, and perhaps inspired other people to do the same in other areas, then I’m happy with the role we’re playing.
Interview Questions Part Two
STRATEGY: The unusual execution of business best practices
7. Do you have mentors, business coach or external consultants that you work closely with to grow yourself and your business? If yes, to what extent would you describe their impact on your business? If no, are there any particular reasons?
I’m lucky in that I have very active investors, with huge experience of building massive internet businesses. The knowledge, experts and resource that they contribute to the business is invaluable.
8. How do you strategically use your time as an entrepreneur? What key activities would you recommend entrepreneurs use their time for?
There’s no hard and fast answer to this as all businesses are different. One piece of advice I would offer, is to spend as little time as possible in the office answering emails. Save emails for early morning and late at night, and spend the day talking to customers, visiting partners, problem solving with your team. Technology has come a long way in improving business practices, but at the same time, you just need to get out there and experience your business live if you want it to succeed.
9. How do you generate profitable customers for your business? What unusual approaches do you adopt for marketing your products/services?
We have used all sorts of crazy methods to acquire new customers, which I won’t go into in detail! When you land in a new city where you don’t know anyone, you have to be resourceful, get the business out there, and be totally fearless in asking people for help – more often than not, they’ll go out of their way to support you.
10. When starting out a new business, who are the likely possible partners or professional service providers you would recommend every entrepreneur work with?
Again I can’t generalize on this one; however I would certainly warn any entrepreneur against outsourcing critical functions of his/her business. Tech, marketing, logistics and other key expertise should all be in house, or if not possible, the people responsible should be incentivized by business performance, rather than paid an hourly/weekly rate.
11. The pricing of products/services is always an issue for entrepreneurs, what unusual approach do you take when it comes to pricing?
For Hellofood, pricing is incredibly simple. Our customers will never pay more to order food with us, than if they ordered directly from the restaurant. So we peg out prices 1 for 1 against the restaurant, we don’t budge higher. In any internet business that does things slightly different to the status quo, it is very important to keep the model simple and fair.
Interview Questions Part Three
MISCELLANEOUS – Resourceful Recommendations, tools, books, and ideas for unusual entrepreneurs
12. Since you became an entrepreneur – someone who solves problems for people profitably; what has been your most outstanding accomplishments in the context of business?
I’m incredibly proud of the work that the Hellofood team is doing in revolutionizing the way Africa orders food. We have launched Hellofood in six challenging markets since we launched four months ago, and are already passing big milestones. 100 restaurants partnered in Lagos alone, thousands of satisfied customers in Lagos, and exciting new tech features on the way.
13. What would you describe as your major setbacks and what lessons did you pick from them?
Working in Africa, we constantly encounter infrastructure challenges, like connectivity issues, and infrastructure problems. However, we’re an internet company and have technology in place to work around it. For every process at Hellofood, we have a backup in case of technical failure. We can process orders by phone, email, SMS or fax, and it’s incredibly unusual that all of those would not be working. We have not yet had any orders that have failed because of rain or internet/phone downtime, even though there have been plenty of storms, and infrastructure problems since we started here. We also learn from our experience in other countries. Our investors have successfully set up food delivery businesses in Asia, South America and Europe, and bring a huge amount of experience and insight to Hellofood from those businesses.
What more would you like to know about the unusual Joe Falter? You can ask him further questions below in the comment section and I will be sure that you will get an answer directly from him.
Also, what did you learn from this unusual entrepreneur? What lessons, what philosophy of his strike you the most?
Joe has shared his unusual story with you, now is time to hear from you. Can’t wait to hear what you have to say!