Recognizing the need for accessibility to African products for everyday use, Stephen Ayeni and Naafiu Mohammed, two 20-year-old Nigerian students at UTM studying economics, began an e-commerce business last month called Afrocart.
Afrocart is an online grocery store that provides “products that are hard to find in Canada,” said Aveni, but also ones that while being “easily found, are not accessible to certain people.” Ayeni added, “for example, someone in Manitoba probably has to drive for hours to get some of these ingredients.” With Afrocart, Ayeni and Mohammed hope to begin home delivery for these goods.
While Mohammed said that Ayeni came up with the idea, Ayeni denied this by saying, “There is no division of roles. He lifts so much of the weight and I like to think I do the same for him.” Mohammed agreed, “If there is a problem or scenario at hand, we sit down and figure out together how we can fix it.”
When Ayeni, a self-described foodie, first came to Canada, he wanted to cook anything remotely Nigerian. However, it was “virtually impossible” unless he drove to the city or visited a family friend. “I had no access to even something as small as Nigerian bread […]. This was really inconvenient and I knew I wasn’t the only Nigerian going through this.”
While they’re both Nigerian, this does not restrict them to only their country. The economics students cater to all African countries, and recently had Egyptian and Tunisian customers. Their vision is “to make sure every African has access to all they need so [that] they don’t feel away from home.” Mohammed commented that they do plan on expanding into other demographics in the future.
They’ve now been operating for about a month, have had 20 customers, and made $700 in profit. This initial response is impressive, considering “that we haven’t developed that trustworthiness yet as a brand,” Ayeni remarked. Albeit in its infancy, the e-commerce business has 24/7 customer service, which includes having a chat option on their website, along with a partnership with Canada Post. The company will also provide free shipping to Amazon Prime members and discounts for first-time shoppers. The students’ established relationships with the main suppliers of African foods in Canada and allows them to make these ingredients available on their website.
“It hasn’t been easy especially because we’re studying, but we allocate time for the work,” says Mohammed. They both agree that most times it doesn’t even feel like work because this is something they’re passionate about. “Of course, as the business grows, so will our commitment,” Mohammed said.
As their business grows, they ask customers visiting their website what other ingredients they’d like to see on Afrocart. In addition, they plan on expanding into beauty and other accessories. They’ve allocated time to research what kind of ingredients are inaccessible to which specific demographic, so they plan on expanding accordingly. “Our vision is to bring you closer to home,” Ayeni emphasized. “It feels daunting at first, but when you do the first step, be dedicated and everything falls into place.”
In the future, Afrocart plans on expanding their team to 15 members.