In his second year at Baze University, Abuja, where he was studying electrical electronics engineering, Erik Obianozie encountered a familiar and frustrating problem. Three hours after he and his friends ordered food from a local delivery, it still hadn’t arrived. As a child visiting the US, Obianozie used to marvel at the promptness of delivery.
He and his friends talked about this, if there was anything they could do. His friends were non-Nigerian: Iffat Mahmud, a Bangladeshi woman, and Abbas Dayek, a Lebanese man. “Things sort of progressed from there,” he tells me. “Later that year we started laying groundwork.”
They did the documentation, bought bikes, hired customer service representatives. “We didn’t even really have any place we were working out of; we were just dancing around everywhere we could get the space, to see what we could do. We started hunting for investors, training all our staff.”
The company the three cofounded, OyaNow Logistics Ltd., has become one of Nigeria’s best-regarded delivery businesses. Obianozie, 22, is its Technical and Marketing Manager. The name comes from the impatient speech mannerism of Nigerians: “Oya noooow.” “It could slide off the tongue easily because you’re so used to it,” he says.
Since launching with its app in September 2017, in Abuja, OyaNow has expanded beyond food to include medicine, shopping, and night services.
The business is reliant on trained riders, whom the company designates as “marketers” because “the riders are the people everyone is seeing. They are our foremost point of marketing. They are trained, based on politeness, how they speak, how they handle food.”
There were unanticipated challenges at first.
“We thought it’d be easier to get restaurants to co-operate with us, in terms of using technology to make it easier,” Obianozie explains. “We felt, since we had the app, we could seamlessly give it to them so once an order comes in, they get it in time to start getting it prepared, before our riders pick it up and transport it to the customer. But they had so much they were already doing to [think to] start checking to see if orders were coming in, especially at the beginning stage when we were still getting customers and not a lot of orders. We found we had to develop a new means to contact them.”
OyaNow’s competitive edge is its quality service. Its employees undergo a 3-month probationary period, during which the company teaches them the use of Google Maps and driver applications, making them tech savvy. The company also trains them in conflict resolution, how to de-escalate potential situations with customers. In cases of delayed delivery, they call to inform customers.
OyaNow has gone further to develop training programs for delivery workers, generally, and is occasionally hired by other companies to train their employees in logistics and customer service.
“People don’t even know how much they want from people serving them in Nigeria,” Obianozie says. “We are so used to poor service. We are trying to change the mindset, telling people: you deserve to be spoken to nicely, you deserve to get your order in time, and if not, you deserve to be told. The better the standards, the better we become.”
In the food delivery ecosystem, newer companies have keyed into the new standards, taking branding cues from OyaNow, adopting OyaNow’s flashy yellow for their own riders. “We were the first logistics and technology company to come in and put proper branding on our bikes, riders, marketing,” Obianozie says. “Now it’s a bit of a trend.”
Despite disruption by the pandemic, OyaNow’s originality steadied it. With millions under lockdown, delivery became priority. New companies arose, and, in the competition, prices crashed, threatening to leave earlier companies adrift. “We said, let’s just stick to what we do,” Obianozie explains. It worked.
OyaNow’s launch strategy was to cover Nigeria’s commercial north. From Abuja, it expanded to Kano and Kaduna. Soon, it will turn to the competitive south, where it already has an office in Lagos. It will look to break into the south-south, with Port Harcourt as the natural target, and, crucially, the south-east, starting in either Enugu, where Obianozie was born and went to high school, or Anambra, where he hails from.
“We are going to take a different approach,” he explains. “We are going to try and work with the way people are and already know themselves. In the east, if people could save N5 in delivery, they’ll take that option. It’s not the same way you sell to an Hausa man that you’ll sell to Yoruba man or that you’ll sell to an Igbo man. Just as it’s not the same way you’ll sell to an American that you’ll sell to a Nigerian. The landscapes are way too different, the cultures are different; the people need to see different cues to relate to your product.”
Beyond OyaNow, Obianozie is a cofounder of The Boolean Tech, an app developer. One of their forthcoming apps is a school management platform, Resulta, “an ecosystem for schools, a portal that shows each school, your branding, colours,” he explains.
Resulta will provide access to students and staff via its Question Bank; and it will grade scripts. “We are trying to reduce the menial work that teachers do. They are doing so much that there’s no time to learn and therefore impact new students.”
The second platform, he says, “will help with social security.” The End SARS protests, he notes, shows a lack of transparency between the government and the people. “We want to see if we can help with the communication.”
At OyaNow, Obianozie is focused on new ways of resetting the delivery business. The company is now considering an out-of-the-box option: franchising its technology and business.
“An individual from another state can come to us; we give them standards and training, we license our technology,” he says. “We could give them all the tools they need to start their own business.”
Otosirieze Obi-Young is Editor of Folio Nigeria, where he profiles innovators and facilitators in culture: art, business, entertainment, activism, health, food. He is a writer, journalist, curator, media consultant, former academic, and Founder & Editor-in-Chief of Open Country Mag, a new online platform covering African literature. In 2019, he received the inaugural The Future Awards Africa Prize for Literature. In 2020, he was named among "The 100 Most Influential Young Nigerians" by Avance Media. Find him on otosirieze.com or on Twitter & Insta: @otosirieze.