The Vendor is a PocketApp series that features creators and professionals who sell on PocketApp. They’ll share why they started their business, how they’ve evolved and what they’ve learnt along the way.
As co-founder of 500Chow, Tosin Onafuye is trying to build Africa’s largest online restaurant chain. For The Vendor, the 23-year-old shares how 500Chow evolved, how he has navigated the challenges of starting a business and his advice for entrepreneurs facing challenges.
Tell me about 500Chow
500Chow evolved from a bike-hailing business, which shut down in 2020 after the Lagos state government banned bikes. We first diverted the bikes into logistics for food businesses. Then we launched a service where customers could order ₦500 meals from any part of Lagos for about ₦300. Then we finally pivoted into the restaurant chain that we are now.
You keep evolving, even in the face of challenges. Why?
If you think you’re good enough, why stop? If you experience challenges and know how to surmount them, why not try? We have put the business on hold for lack of capital, gotten jobs with startups to gain experience and even restarted the business with our savings. Life has taught me to always get back on my feet after every hit.
Weren’t you worried about using your savings to run a business?
Not really. Some people, like me, enjoy the daily hassle of running a business. Not to say that we don’t think about it, but the vision in our head — knowing that we’re providing value to people — keeps us going.
And inflation as a challenge, how has 500Chow worked around that?
Food inflation has made things very difficult, and customers are having to bear the brunt of that. But we’ve tried to connect directly to the supply chain by relating first-hand with the farmers. It doesn’t eliminate the impact of food inflation, but it reduces it.
Is that the biggest challenge you’ve faced?
It’s harder to think of challenges because we’re laser-focused on solutions. I think the biggest challenge we’ve faced is access to capital, especially because of how competitive the food space is. The most notable one, though, is the okada ban. I was onboarding more riders when it happened.
What exactly is 500Chow hoping to achieve?
We are trying to provide affordable food to as many people as possible across as many cuisines as possible. That’s literally what drives us.
I’m guessing that’s why you also signed up on PocketApp.
Yes. I seriously like the app. The chat feature has improved communication with customers, and the app has made it so easy to send money to members of staff on the field. I also love the escrow feature; it saves us the stress of negotiating cash-on-delivery with customers and worrying about fake alerts.
What advice would you give to businesses currently facing challenges?
There are challenges everywhere; the bigger you dream, the tougher the challenges you might face. But you can innovate out of those problems. Focus ruthlessly on finding solutions and getting things done.