Unarguably, the availability and reach of distribution of “small chops” (finger foods) is the number one thought of an average Nigerian present at a party scene or “owanbes” as they are often called. This is actually not a documented fact and might definitely be an exaggerated statement but it is certainly not false. It seems there’s an increasing demand for small chops lately owing to its high rise presence at party scenes, cooperate occasions and in new hangout spots across Nigeria. Small chops are usually packaged in various attractive ways and often consist of finger foods such as “Buns” “Puff Puff”, “Meat Roles” “Beef/Chicken” “Pies” and so on. The preparation of small chops is usually done by caterers or road vendors and is often made on demand such that in cases where an individual who would like to have some of it and isn’t physically present at an occasion, would have to go look for a vendor. This is quite a little problem and someone has taken a huge decision to solve it.
SmallChopsNG is a website that delivers small chops in beautiful packages to Lagos residents. Founded by 22-year old Uche Ukonu, a graduate of Information and Communications Engineering from Covenant University, Nigeria, SmallChopsNG is currently a growing startup in Lagos and definitely looks like a brand that’s here to stay. This week on Startup Stories, Uche Ukonu tells us how he came about the idea of SmallChops and why he decided to turn it into a full-fledged startup. Enjoy.
Startup Story of the Week!
One Saturday, I had a deep craving for small chops because my ‘owambe’ appointment got cancelled and I wanted something to hide the pain. Unfortunately, not a single vendor agreed to send less than 5 packs of small chops to me. Their reason was that it simply wasn’t cost effective to produce any less than that. After musing for a while, I thought to myself ‘I can’t be the only one that wants just one or two packs of Small Chops in Lagos’, so I asked around, and it turned out that I wasn’t alone. A lot of people admitted to wanting just one or two packs once in a while. Because i’m a dedicated food lover, and it’s a miracle I’m not bigger than I already am, I realised that depriving people of food cravings for quantity reasons was actually inhumane. I reflected on the quantity issue and concluded that one order of 5 packs of small chops is the same as 5 orders of 1 pack if they come at the same time. This was the base thought that brought up the idea of starting a business and that’s how SmallChopsNG was born. We aggregate orders in different locations and route them to vendors when they equal the vendor-specified ‘Minimum Produceable Order’ [MPO].
Our Head Office is at Gbagada, but we have vendors in different locations. Our primary target audience is ladies, specifically working-class ladies between the ages of 18 and 45 [laughs]. We love the ladies at SmallChopsNG because they don’t hide their love for food and they constitute the higher percentage of our client base. Our major marketing strategy was social media. We invested in creating promotions and giveaways geared towards word-of-mouth publicity. Things like RTs and Reposts on Instagram helped a lot in getting more customers.Till date, we’ve only spent about $300 [roughly 95,000 Naira] in advertising, which is amazing for a startup. We didn’t get any funding when we started, we have been running on self-generated revenue from the first day. Although, we are actively looking for investors now, it’s totally geared towards growth and expansion, not survival.
My basic drive to succeed at developing SmallChopsNG as a startup is honestly my love for food, merged with my slight talent in technology. That aside, my parents have been wonderful in applying just the right amount of pressure for me to succeed. I also surround myself by very inspiring young people. People like Charles Eke of Check-DC and Ebuka Okwuokenye of Reftek Technologies have been a great influence on my approach to this ‘hustle’ lifestyle. So far our major challenges have been with logistics, it’s still a problem we are facing but we have put things in place to handle that. Although, we’re yet to find a single logistics service that can be fully reliable, but we’ll get there. There is also the general problem that I assume all delivery-based startups in Nigeria face, ‘POD: Payment on Delivery’. I think Nigerians can be very mean, we’ve had customers who refuse to pay for items with reasons such as ‘I didn’t want them again’. This is really not good for an emerging brand like ours.
At some point I have felt like quitting, not entirely quitting though, just a need to take temporary breaks. Like you are probably aware of, recently, food prices have gone up in Nigeria, making profit margins to reduce drastically for our vendors. Unfortunately for us, we were in the early stages of our startup when the recession hit, so vendor-relations hadn’t been fully set yet. We have only one vendor per region (for quality reasons) and we want to give the users the best small chops experience, not provide a listing service for vendors. As a startup totally reliant on commissions, the vendors threatened to pull out if we didn’t reduce our commission or increase prices on the website. We decided to reduce our commissions at a point and that wreaked havoc on our balance sheet. I think that was one of the major points where I considered taking a break.
At the moment, I really do love my brand and haven’t ever considered re-branding. We have very big plans, most expedient of all is establishing a proprietary logistics service to handle our deliveries while servicing other food delivery businesses. In the future we plan to have physical pickup kiosks in specific areas and expanding to other cities around the world. Small Chops are everywhere in the world, we want to be everywhere Small Chops is available. We’re still undergoing the incorporation process because SmallChopsNG is a subsidiary of something bigger that is yet to be public.
To the young entrepreneur and startup enthusiasts, don’t wait for money to start, just start! Most of the time all you need is time itself and productive personal effort. Too many disruptive ideas are lying fallow because we stick to the thought that ‘we need seed funding to start’.