Mr. Tobias Igwe co-founded Speedmeals Mobile Kitchen, an industrial catering outfit in Lagos, with his twin brother. He tells ’FEMI ASU about the growth recorded by the business despite challenges.
What prompted you and your twin brother to start Speedmeals Mobile Kitchen?
We started off as office cleaners in 2006. After the death of our dad in 2009, we were saddled with the responsibility of taking care of our mum and seven siblings. We then decided to approach life differently. Titus dropped out of school, the University of Lagos, while I deferred my admission by one year. We set out and acquired skills in cake baking and also did a brief entrepreneurship programme at the Fate Foundation.
Selling became a challenge. So, we decided to give children free cakes on Sundays to share with their parents with the message that “twins make cakes.” We started getting orders from the kids’ parents as wells as their classmates.
We later ventured into wedding cakes and at a time, people started advising us to also do their catering. We went for a short training in cooking and established Speedmeals Mobile Kitchen with a mission to deliver fresh and healthy meals on time to busy workers in their offices.
We also started offering catering for outdoor events such as weddings, corporate meetings and annual general meetings; and today, the company has evolved with two branches.
How has the journey been so far?
It has been challenging and interesting. We keep learning along the way. One of the things we have learnt on the journey of entrepreneurship is that one of the main attributes of a successful entrepreneur is to have passion because as we have found, it is only our passion that keeps us going when the chips are down. Failure has been part of the journey. We have failed in recruiting people and in other areas of administration. But our passion has kept us going.
How did you get the initial capital to run the business?
We started with N50,000 saved after the burial of our dad. Our church helped in raising money for the burial and we got about N150,000. It was after the burial that we decided to learn how to bake cakes.
What were the major challenges you encountered when you started?
We had people who never believed in us and they did not take us serious. We didn’t have market access to sell our products and we didn’t have funds too.
How has patronage of your products and services been so far?
We are growing gradually. Now, we manage canteens, catering facilities and offer catering services for all events. Our services are available nationwide. Currently, we have 10 full-time employees and we have about 15 to 20 casual workers who go out with us, although we have an extended list of 100 depending on how big the job is.
The beautiful thing is that we have seen how our business has been able to improve the lives of those who work with us and the society at large.
What challenges do you currently encounter in your business and how are you coping with them?
We need funding. Currently, we are growing the business with our own funds. There are limited funds for growing businesses in Nigeria. Even with a good business plan, financial projection and track record, you don’t stand a chance.
What difference are you making with Speedmeals Mobile Kitchen?
Speedmeals has been promoting healthy eating, youth empowerment and job creation. We recently started what we call Yeast Project, a sustainable job creation strategy that we developed to create 20 million jobs in Nigeria within 10 years. We want to train people in different skills and set up job centres for the trained, and the trainees will be expected to train others.
Between June and now, we have successfully organised two different job fairs for Surulere and Apapa regions, and we recorded a turnout of over 1,500 job seekers. The testimonies have been overwhelming; some of the attendees got immediate job offers from companies that exhibited at the fairs, while many registered for training in different skills.
The next challenge is how to provide a platform to engage them. We are currently running the Yeast Project with our personal funds. The high rate of unemployment is a serious danger to the future of Nigeria. The more the number of the unemployed, the more instability Nigeria will experience. If you trace all the agitation in Nigeria, they are linked to unemployment.
We all have a role to play; government at all levels, the religious bodies, non-governmental organisations and corporate organisations are contained in the strategy document we have developed. We need a sustainable approach to youth empowerment and job creation in Nigeria. The next job fair is slated for October 4, 2016 at Yaba, Lagos and we are expecting more than 2,000 job seekers to attend.
We strongly believe that the Yeast Project’s target of 20 million jobs within 10 years is achievable. We are starting the pilot scheme with 2,000 people and after that, each participant will be mandated to train 10 others.
The model is very simple: from empowering 200 people to 2,000 to 20,000 to 200,000 to 2,000,000 and then 20,000,000. It is a grassroots-focused strategy. We will train job seekers in different skills. They will undergo the Yeast Test; thereafter, they will be moved to the job centres, which we will establish at different locations in partnership with the public and private sectors and NGOs.
Everybody has a role to play in accelerating job creation. We need collaboration, synergy and partnerships to ensure the sustainability of the Yeast Project and job creation in Nigeria. This is the kind of change Nigerians are craving for.
What are your future plans for the business?
We want to establish a central kitchen with the capacity to feed 10,000 people daily. We want to give people the opportunity to run our franchise, thereby creating more jobs and economic opportunities for young people.
Recently, we established the Feeding Along Food Bank, a free meal community welfare programme aimed at delivering food relief to the poor. It is an irony that in developed countries, there are food relief programmes for those out of jobs or those affected by disasters; but here in Nigeria, we have nothing of such.
We are not just planning to share food to people, but also putting a strategy in place to assist young farmers to create a ready market for them by buying directly from them. Over 40 per cent of the food we produce is wasted because of lack of storage facilities, while so many people have nothing to eat.
Government can patronise young farmers and share meals through the Feeding Along Food Bank. When this food bank is fully operational, we will be giving out food tickets to those who are really in need of food.
We are also planning what we call the Feed an Officer Initiative, which entails free meals for police officers on duty.