We've now pitched over 50 restaurants around Lagos, interviewing their owners and general managers.
In the process, we've heard incredible entrepreneurial stories. From a vegan who after 11 years and three failed attempts managed to kick-start a vegetarian movement in his hometown, to an aspiring forensic scientist who went from a restaurant clerk internship to managing one of the top restaurants in the city, these meetings will stay with us as we continue on our journey.
The feedback so far has been incredibly positive, and we continue learning more about the hospitality industry and food waste. We've further validated the sctope of the problem, with some restaurants throwing up to 100 portions of food a day in the bin.
Over the next several days, we will continue onboarding partners for our soft launch later in the summer, and train a small team of volunteer salesepeople we've met on the trip.
Pona team united
Kingsley is a talented software engineer who has worked with us remotely for several years, Skyping occasionally, but communicating mainly by text.
When we met Kingsley in person in his home town of Lagos, it was like reconnecting with an old friend, and we started sharing stories and laughs immediately.
He was kind enough to welcome him into his home to meet his wife and child... only to reveal to us a very funny story... Around two years ago, when we hired Kingsley, we invited him to a 2nd round technical interview, asking him if the date and time we proposed was suitable. He was so keen to make a good impression, that he didn't bother to mention that that particular day was his wedding day, and he Skyped us between his service and evening reception!
We were told his wife still doesn't know, so we kept this story to ourselves as we enjoyed a delicious home-cooked meal with his family!
It's been quite a journey
It's now been five months since we got approached by the World Food Programme to help design a new learning platform...
The WFP cancelled the project in the end, but we've made the best of the opportunity!
We've devoured dozens of academic papers on food security, learned all we could about nutritional challenges around the world, and most importantly, discovered just how much food waste there is in some of the countries we've lived in, without realizing the full extent of the problem.
We emerged from the process with an idea for a new project of our own: A nutrition coach app that teaches healthy eating habits using local African ingredients and recipes, and reduces food waste through coupons on perishables at partner supermarkets.
We were so excited to start working on our idea, that we were glad when the WFP informed us their tender was cancelled!
The next day, we set out to work on Pona.
We've binge-watched all the TFF Design Lab videos, dusted-off a business model canvas from the Startup Weekend one of us attended last year, and remembered what it's been like to start our previous startup, lingualift.com, as high schoolers some seven years earlier.
After over two dozen phone calls with nutrition & food waste related startup and organizations operating in West Africa, we realized the only way to truly move forward is to get on the ground and talk to people in person. In DC and Nigeria to be precise.
Philip flew to Washington DC and spent a month meeting with African nutrition experts and NGOs working on similar projects in Nigeria, to see how we can best align our efforts. He made some excellent connections who are now consulting us on our efforts, and introducing us to relevant contacts in the region.
Kingsley, who lives in Lagos, has began coding the app, while reaching out to potential partners in the city, and introducing our contept to friends & family to gather initial feedback on our client app prototype.
Ollie, while delivering on an edtech consulting project in Japan, which we've accepted to help finance this new endeavour, has continued to reach out to food retailers, and gathered feedback we used to design our MVP of the seller dashboard.
Four months later, we've now streamlined our concept to a purely food waste project. We still hope to introduce a nutrition education component in the future, but realized that tackling both problems at once is too much of a challenge, and that nudging people towards healthier choices through discounts alone can be more impactful than direct nutrition education.
We have finalized our designs, built MVPs, and gathered initial feedback. In a couple of days, we fly to Lagos to regroup as a team, spend a month testing the MVP with a larger number of people, and talk to restaurants of all sizes to build a network of partners for a soft launch later this summer.
It has been quite a journey already... but we know there's a long way ahead, and we can't wait to see where it takes us!