When I caught up with David Mbuta, the founder, Ubuntu Meal Deliveries, he was in the midst of a very busy day, allocating his delivery bike riders to restaurants and trying to meet the increased demand of food delivery services within Lusaka.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, some more restaurants had reached out to him to discuss possible collaborations on how they can work together to facilitate food deliveries for them within the city.
The food delivery industry is expected to evolve globally as they remain one of the core links between restaurants and consumers, being a key contributor in keeping the restaurants afloat.
In China, Meituan, one of the biggest food delivery companies, told Business Insider it is receiving four times the number of orders it got during the same period last year.
These are some of the opportunities that David Mbuta hopes to leverage on, but how did it all start?
Recognising a gap in the food industry in Zambia
David Mbuta returned from Australia in 2015 after completing his Master’s degree. He had been working for a few e commerce companies while there and seeing the immense number of opportunities and impact created in the lifestyles of people living in towns was a great motivation to start something similar at home in Zambia.
“When I came back home, my first experience was having a hard time getting access to food, not knowing how much the food cost and not also knowing the best places to eat from. This led me to think of ideas on how to create a solution,” said David.
He started by reaching out to a few friends and asking them to call him any time they needed food from a specific restaurant, and he would get the food and deliver to them. He did not have motorbikes or a lot of capital then but with some savings he had made while in Australia and investing in his parent’s real estate property, he started Ubuntu Meal Deliveries.
In 2017, David was selected for the Tony Elemelu Foundation entrepreneurship programme which provided them with their first funding. He used the money to invest in their first motor bikes, opened and furnished their office in Lusaka. This made their operations much easier and created opportunities for more business.
Providing value addition services to clients
Surprisingly, 90% of their clients are women. Most of their target market is between 22 and 40 years and David admits that he is constantly trying to figure out how to get more men to use their services.
When Ubuntu Meal Deliveries was founded, the only service they provided was food delivery. After some time, a couple of clients would ask them to pick up and deliver packages for them and take food to their children in school.
They provided these services as a value addition to the clients and eventually decided to designate specific couriers for such deliveries.
“We also noticed that most of our clients are working mothers who sometimes work late, have to pick their children from school and end up not having enough time for grocery shopping. This led us to partner with a few grocery stores which are affordable and deliver the groceries to our clients as an extra service,” David added.
Leveraging on social media marketing
At the moment, social media is their main marketing tool, but David acknowledges that word of mouth marketing has worked really well for them.
He noticed that what attracts their customers especially online is good quality food images accompanied with the price of the food. Due to this, they have invested in taking quality food photos and informing clients of different specials and promotions.
Moving forward, they plan to tap into radio advertising especially during the morning shows which are very popular in Zambia.
What David considers their major achievement is getting a lot of recognition outside Zambia.
“We’ve had customers from the diaspora reach out to us to send meals or groceries to their loved ones in Zambia. That recognition, knowing that we are visible out of Zambia is a key achievement for us,” said David.
Getting positive feedback from their customers has also motivated David to keep working hard and improve the services. Once in a while, he delivers the food to the customers personally to show them that they care about them and this has helped build solid relationships with the customers.
Solidifying customer relationships
An interesting fact is that Ubuntu Meal Deliveries is the first fully owned Zambian food delivery service. They have two main international competitors but what makes them stand out is always giving back to their customers. They constantly reward customers with free deliveries, free meals and value addition services which shows the customers that they care about them.
They also involve customers as much as possible in the development of the business. David acknowledges that customers are at the centre so engaging them by seeking their opinions on certain decisions like which other areas they can deliver to, whether they should create a mobile app is very important to him.
Major challenge faced
“I noticed that a lot of restaurants faced a lot of challenges when it came to the line of credit. At the end of the week when delivery companies had to pay out for the food they delivered, there is always some glitches because probably they had to spend more money on fuel, or something else came up which causes a shortage,” said David.
Starting Ubuntu Meal Deliveries, David wanted the restaurants he collaborated with to get the utmost value and not have their sales affected in any way. To do this, he structured his operations in such a way that he always has float money.
This has greatly improved their relationship with restaurants, but it also presents the challenge of always having access to money which acts as the float money. David admits that investing in real estate was a wise decision he made at the initial stages of the business since the returns from that always act as a buffer for the business.
Value generated from the GrowthAfrica Accelerator
A colleague recommended David to the GrowthAfrica Accelerator in 2018 and after meeting one of our representatives, he realised that it would be a great opportunity for him to access mentorship and guidance in growing Ubuntu Meal Deliveries.
He learnt a lot about how to better manage the team, manage their expectations and improve working conditions. Through the GrowthAfrica programme, David started exploring different avenues to increase revenue such as advertising through motorbikes.
Getting to interact with industry experts was also key in changing his mindest,
“There was a time when an expert from Stanbic Bank spoke to us about how our products and services fit into the daily lives of our customers. That completely changed my perspective on how to better approach my customers,” he said.
David also had an opportunity to visualize the long-term goal of the business and realised he had not been preparing his business for the growth stage. He started doing things differently by looking at contracts, figuring out how to protect the business and creating the right structures and policies that would serve the business in the long term.
Advice on funding
“Don’t be quick to look for a venture capitalist for funding. You can fund your business yourself if you are creative. I kept asking GrowthAfrica when we would meet the investors but they always asked me if I have exhausted every outlet of generating revenue and that started changing my mindset on raising revenue by leveraging on what I have,” he said.
Long term goals
Ubuntu Meal Deliveries major long-term goal is to create an ecosystem that allows restaurants to rely on them for their produce. Their plan is to collaborate with farmers in Zambia to provide them with a ready market through restaurants. This is not only profitable for the farmers, but restaurants will get consistent quality produce at an affordable price as well.
Through the Africa Free Trade Agreement, David plans to leverage on the open borders being created in Sub Saharan Africa to ultimately expand out of Zambia and move food to other countries as well.
In April 2020, they plan to launch the first Ubuntu Meal Deliveries in Blantyre and Lilongwe, Malawi. This strategic move is in line with their vision which is being the number 1 food delivery service in Sub Saharan Africa.