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Two Nigerian-American cofounders have just rolled out their ethnic food delivery app to the Washington metropolitan area. The founders of Chicago-based OjaExpress extended operations over Thanksgiving weekend, the start of plans for a national expansion.
Their mobile app brings African and Caribbean grocery stores to the doorstep of its customers in as little as an hour. The aim is for consumers to shop for hard to find diaspora delicacies in a convenient and efficient manner.
The duo expanded their service to the DMV area: DC, Maryland, and Virginia. The move capitalizes on Maryland’s large immigrant community, including a sizable number of Nigerians.
Sharing a passion for Nigerian cuisine and noticing an underserved immigrant population was the motivation behind this startup. In an interview with Urbangeekz, CEO Boyede Sobitan shared how he and co-founder Fola Dada met.
"It was not really the idea. It was his commitment to do the work that I was interested in. Ideas are nothing; hard work is what makes the difference. Everyone has ideas, most people don't want to do the work."
“Fola and I met randomly at a mutual friend’s event. Fola was quiet, and I am not as quiet. I started probing him and found out he was into software development. Fast-forward a couple of months; we were members of the same Master Mind group in Chicago. That’s when I approached him about helping me with this idea.”
When asked what about this idea motivated him to jump on board, Chief Technology Officer Fola Dada, explained, “It was not really the idea. It was his commitment to do the work that I was interested in. Ideas are nothing; hard work is what makes the difference. Everyone has ideas, most people don’t want to do the work.”
OjaExpress connects local African and Caribbean, “Mom & Pop,” and Halal grocers with consumers who crave popular foods and spices that larger retailers don’t carry. Sobitan explained, “Our focus is to connect immigrant communities with the grocers they love, and help our community grocers remain viable in the digital age.”
“The biggest challenge we face is the lack of technology infrastructure at some of these grocery stores, so acquiring data is manual,” Sobitan said. “We are working to build solutions that automate the data we need to share with our customer base, so they know what is available in the store and the quantity.
“Another challenge is the fact that we are addressing a market that has been ignored for so long, so increasing awareness and marketing will not follow the same tried and true models, that more mainstream products utilize.”
In order to market their platform in their new town, the startup has recently collaborated with a local chef, Morenike “Renny” Ayo-Vaughan. At Chef Renny’s Culinary Boutique, an ethnic food fair with approximately 150 guests, Sobitan educated potential customers on the features and benefits of OjaExpress and plans to frequent similar events across the country as the company grows.
The startup has provided service solely in Chicago since 2016 and looks to capitalize on several benefits of operating in the Washington, D.C. metro area. Sobitan revealed, “We chose DC [DMV area] due to the diversity and infrastructure of the city. DC is home to many of the world’s diplomatic offices in the USA.
“Specifically, with the community that we are initially seeking to serve, there is an Office on African Affairs. With the city being a commuter city, full of busy professionals, of which a sizeable amount are immigrants or are a generation removed from their immigrant background, we felt the DMV area made sense.”
When asked how he feels about the east coast expansion, CTO Dada expressed excitement. “The DC market is very promising,” he said. “We have many customers already waiting for our service and we are very excited to see how they will embrace it.”
Dada stated, “the vision of Ojaexpress is to help people source food across the world. We want to build a central marketplace for ethnic/international grocery. It will be a place to buy and discover a new experience.”
“We want to provide a digital presence for all ethnic grocers, therefore, increase efficiency in the ways immigrants and foodies find and buy ethnic groceries,” Dada said. “It is important that ethnic grocery store owners understand that the ways they’ve done commerce in the past 10 or 20 years will not work in the future.”