May 27, 2021
Interview ＃2 : Pricepally
This series features talented founders in our portfolio.
Our second interviewee is Luther Lawoyin, founder of Pricepally.
Pricepally.com is a digital food cooperative that allows customers to buy bulk items with their family and friends quickly and efficiently. The platform aggregates consumer food demand and matches it with supplies directly from farmers and wholesalers. Customers can enjoy deep discounts on the prices of food and daily needs. It is a smarter way to shop, especially under COVID-19.
We asked Luther about how his personal experience led him to found a company, and how he sees himself as well as the company in the future.
1)Tell me about yourself, and how was your entrepreneurship mindset cultivated?
All my life, I always had an interest in businesses. I got that influence from my mother. When I was a child, she used to make cakes and other confectioneries, things that you will eat for snacks. I was always there with her, she gave me directions on what to do, and I helped her bake. I also helped her packaging all the confectioneries, bringing them to the stores and selling them to the store owners. I loved the whole process because I was involved in the process of manufacturing, supply and sales, and this was the first encounter of understanding the concept of running a business. The joy I had through this experience remained inside of me even after I left home for the high school boarding house and university.
Since then, I have had a habit of seeing things from a business perspective. When I receive a complaint or face a problem, I try to come up with a solution to see how money can be made.
When I enrolled in university in Nigeria, I majored in geology. However, soon after I realized that I did not enjoy studying the subject, I dropped out in my sophomore year. Back then I was already running a small business on my own, video game leasing services in my hostel, and thinking about in which direction I should lead the business. To explore my opportunities, I decided to go back to school and study business administration. This time, it was a perfect fit for me, because I already accumulated some knowledge to a certain extent. The interesting thing is, I’ve never been employed before, always created something on my own, which paid my bill until today. I worked in an organization for free on purpose to gain experience or to understand the system behind it, but that’s it.
My first real business I founded was “PASSJAMB”, a platform that helps students to prepare for the university entrance exams. After running the business for about 2 years, I successfully sold the business, and founded another company called “Lucy”, an online gifts superstore for seasons, occasions and events. The business was growing steadily and sold over $1m worth of products within a short period of time. Nevertheless, I was looking for a new opportunity, something more challenging, which finally led me to found Pricepally. At Pricepally, we are looking at the food sector, which is really challenging, but the social impact we can bring through Pricepally is huge, which keeps me going on this journey.
2) Why did you decide to focus on the food sector?
Because it’s the most challenging, yet very close to our daily life.
After getting married, my wife started keeping records of our household expenditure, and she pointed out that our expenses are increasing. It did not make sense at first, but when we looked closer, we found out it is because of the increase in food expense.
Food expenses shouldn’t be the most expensive among household expenditures, there are other important expenses such as healthcare, education, which usually costs more. It was truly eye-opening for me, so I dug deeper to understand the reasons why the problem exists.
How can we bring the farmer and consumer closer so that food is cheaper? How do we use data to predict what the consumer wants in the future so that the farmer can plan with the right information?
That’s where we got PricePally and we have been building since, thanks to Samurai Incubate and the other investors that believed in us.
We are only the beginning of this journey, and we believe we can be the one to solve the problem.
Nobody should be hungry. It’s crazy that we are even talking about this. Nobody should go to bed hungry because they can’t afford food. There is a lot of activity going on in production. But somehow, someway along the line, a lot of value is lost before it gets to the consumer and the consumer suffers for it. How do we clear that up? That’s our mission on PricePally and that’s what we’re trying to do.
3) What do you love the most about your job? What makes you feel that it was the right path that you chose?
So many things make me excited.
Starting with the team, I’m happy to have great talent in our team, and wish to employ more in the future. Employment is also a problem in this part of the world. There are so many talented young people, but not many jobs are available, so making growth and having more people on board excites me for sure.
On top of that, just seeing the progress of the company makes me happy. We are tackling the problem that consists of many factors; infrastructure, supply demand, inflation, etc. It surely is challenging, but we are trying to find a path to solve the problem, and we are getting closer to it step by step.
We’ve identified 3 things that we need to work on to solve the problem; Technology, Data, and partnerships. We are working on all of them. Through our platform, we are able to collect the data of food prices which allows us to predict future price/demand of the food. We are in connection with farmers, wholesalers and consumers to shorten the value chain of the food supply. By integrating technology into the value chain, the whole process gets more transparent to consumers.
4) Being the founder of the company, what was the most difficult thing that you have faced in the past? How did you solve that problem?
As a startup founder, especially in this part of the world you have problems every day.
To be honest, it’s difficult to choose the one that is the most difficult because there were so many of them. However if I were to choose, throughout my journey of entrepreneurship the core problems have been how to deal with infrastructure.
For instance when I was running Lucy, we worked with Chinese companies, especially with Alibaba. We used to import products from China to Nigeria. Sometimes it was too much of a headache to deal with custom, police, logistics and etc. Government infrastructure is not designed to meet with the timeline of startups. It took us 4 months to even register a company, and open a bank account to start the business.
At Pricepally, we wanted to supply strawberries from North Nigeria to Lagos where strawberries are not available. However, there is no rail system, we needed to use roads to supply food that significantly decreases our efficiency. We always have to be ready to face such problems and come up with solutions from what we have now.
5) What is the important mindset as a founder of the startup?
Persistence is definitely the key.
When you do business in an emerging market, you should not give up easily. You will often get into an unreasonable situation, but you should not give up easily, because the longer you stay in the game, the better chances you will get to solve the problem.
Also, it’s important not to lose your vision. As a founder of a company, you have to be able to see the picture every day, and remind yourself what is the problem that you are trying to solve, so that you don’t lose sight.
Persistence and consistency will be the key mindset that founders should have, and eventually that will hold the team together.
6) What kind of support do you want to receive from investors?
Accountability is one of the things that I’m comfortable with.
I talk with Samurai once a month where I discuss the progress, where we are planning to be, that helps us to check that we are on the right track.
In regards to the support we seek for, VCs should be well aware of what are the strengths that each of them have.
If you are an international VC, you have a wide knowledge of the startups and M&A in the world. If you are a local VC, your network to introduce to owners of the banks/companies/government would be helpful. We don’t expect one VC to cover everything, so just think through on how you can support startups, and do what you are capable of.
7) Any advice/suggestions for us? (from a startup founder point of view towards VC)
African startup ecosystem is growing, and there are so many great talented founders who are down to earth to build the company. However, many international VCs are passing them over because they don’t have chances to meet them. It’s difficult to meet with founders who are truly building products to solve the problem in our life if you don’t set your foot on the ground in Nigeria.
If you are here quite often consistently, you’d integrate well with the right people, who are actually doing business locally. Visit here, settle here, integrate with more people. That would be my advice.