BIT Startup of the Week: OjaExpress – “Expanding access to ethnic groceries”
Q: Who founded your company?
A: Boyede Sobitan is the CEO/Co-founder and Fola Dada is the CTO/Co-founder of OjaExpress.
Q: Give us a brief summary of your background in tech.
A: Boyede Sobitan: I am a registered Nurse with a Masters in Healthcare Administration. I work in leadership and consulting roles within the healthcare industry, and currently specialize in operations management, leadership, and strategy for OjaExpress.
Fola Dada: I am a Software Engineer and the technical Co-founder of OjaExpress. My background is in Electrical and Software Engineering.
Q: Tell us about your company, what does your company do or make?
A: Founded in 2015, OjaExpress is a company that expands access to ethnic groceries in the United States through its mobile application. The OjaExpress application connects the diaspora and global food enthusiasts to ethnic food products, and acts as a platform for ethnic food vendors who need a location to house their products.
Q: What problem does your company aim to solve?
A: There are only a few stores that cater to the cultural dietary demands of the diaspora, despite evidence that suggests an increasingly diverse U.S. population from increasing immigration numbers. Our primary and secondary research have often concluded that this phenomenon is the driving factor to why many immigrants end up changing their diets to assimilate with the American diet. There is also a growing demand for ethnic foods by non-ethnic consumers, but non-ethnic consumers are limited to outdoor dining options alone, because of the scarcity of ethnic grocery items at their main grocery stores.
Q: How does the current version of your product solve that problem?
A: With the provision of a digital platform accessible to everybody and featuring ethnic products that can be ordered for on-demand, same day delivery, OjaExpress aims to solve the above mentioned issues.
Q: What is your company’s mission?
A: Ultimately, the goal is to improve the accessibility of cultural foods from around the world with each delivery. OjaExpress seeks to provide an international palate from the comfort of the home, hence, our tagline: “Bringing home to you home.” The initial “home” in the phrase is to represent history, heritage, and culture, while the latter “home” is typically a physical habitat.
Q: What has been your biggest challenge as a startup founder?
A: Boyede Sobitan: Learning to be patient. I have typically worked in high stress, fast paced settings such as an Intensive Care Unit of a hospital. In the clinical setting, when you implement an intervention, you see results almost immediately. In the startup world, things don’t happen as fast. Developing relationships and a following takes time. That has been my personal area of growth.
Fola Dada: Although tech startups are very dynamic and fast paced, you have to understand your niche and operate based on that, and patience will serve your well. The most successful on-demand companies had their development period. Uber, for example, was in private invitation only mode for a long time. During this time, the founders worked hard to perfect the technology and service. We believe that we are in the development phase and patience is one of the key tools that we need.
Q: Did you ever feel like giving up?
A: Boyede Sobitan: I do question myself from time to time but I never feel like giving up. Our objectives are bigger than us so when I think about the opportunities we can create for ourselves and others, I get excited again.
Fola Dada: I have never felt like giving up. I believe we are solving a very exciting, and at the same time challenging, problem. We have the opportunity to impact the ways people interact with food on a global scale.
Q: What lessons did you learn from that challenge?
A: Boyede Sobitan: “Don’t let ‘perfect’ become the enemy of ‘good.’” Which is to say, things don’t always go as planned but if you wait for things to be perfect, you might never get anything done. We try to create a team culture where we can really learn from our mistakes and use those lessons as teachable moments. In the startup world, constant iteration is the nature of the beast.
Fola Dada: You need a great team. The most difficult part is getting started but once you do, you will quickly realize you need help. You need a team. No matter how talented you are, you can’t do it all on your own. Secondly, you need people with domain expertise in different arrays of skill: design, marketing, communication, etc.
Q: What has been your biggest victory?
A: Our biggest victory thus far has been initiating, and in other parts, continuing the dialogue of the importance of diversity in food selection. Until we started on this journey, many people didn’t realize how much they missed foods from back home. The ability to address this issue has been a victory for us.
Q: How did it make you feel?
A: It made us feel purposeful. We now know that we are addressing a real need around the country and even beyond.
Q: What lessons have you learned from your successes?
A: We are still a work in progress and our definition of success is ever evolving. But we’ve learned from our accomplishments to never get too caught up in them. Rudyard Kipling said in his poem ‘If:’ “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, And treat those two impostors just the same.” Thus, we try to stay level headed about perceived successes.
Q: If you could only give one piece of advice to an aspiring tech startup founder, what would it be?
A: Boyede Sobitan: Just Do It! You will be surprised at how things move when you start to move. Earlier on, we were bogged down with market analysis and trying to ensure the accuracy of our projections. After a while however, we realized that the exercise, although important, wasn’t a direct value to the people we sought to serve. A business plan will eventually change, and so will projections. Ultimately, you have to go out there and just do it. With time and persistence, things will start falling into place.
Fola Dada: Read Techcrunch because it is impossible to get into a game that you know nothing about. Techcrunch will give you a good understanding of the tech startup ecosystem. You will begin to see and understand trends. Things like why Webvan failed will make sense. Why it makes sense that Facebook bought Instagram, WhatsApp, and Oculus. Why Facebook is already the biggest telecom company in the world, etc. So every tech founder should read Techcrunch.
Q: Has your company received funding? If so, what type of funding? From who?
A: We are currently self-funded but will be launching a crowdfunding campaign in the upcoming weeks so watch out!
Q: How can users find more info on your company?
Q: Where can they download the app?
A: OjaExpress can be downloaded from the Apple and Google Play stores. Users should also be looking out for our upcoming version 2.0 launch on April 21st, 2016.
A: Where can they buy your product?
Downloading the application and using it to purchase grocery items will be sufficient. In light of our upcoming crowdfunding campaign, people can also donate to the cause. Please look out for information that will be released via our social media channels regarding this.
Q: How can they sign up for your service?
A: Our 2.0 version will require an account setup, but for now, users are encouraged to sign up for our newsletters on our website: http://ojaexpress.com/
Q: How can people contact/follow you/your company?
Facebook: OjaExpress (https://www.facebook.com/ojaex/)
Twitter: OjaExpress (https://twitter.com/ojaexpress)
Instagram: OjaExpress (https://www.instagram.com/ojaexpress/?hl=en)
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