From idea to MVP in five months: the power of finding your people

Kay knows how to make his family proud: not only has he maintained a love of his native West African food that his mother instilled in him as a child, but he’s turned this passion into a viable and growing business.

Back in July Kay joined Vestd in order to grow his startup, AfroExpress, and since then it’s been a wild journey of pivoting, collaborating and lots of learning. The idea behind AfroExpress was to give African and Caribbean communities living in the UK the ability to buy the authentic ingredients and food they miss from home online, rather than having to travel to physical markets. It’s now transforming into Zazuu — the same idea but for a much wider audience, with products already selling through the MVP and a much clearer value proposition.

That’s a lot to have achieved in only five months, so we caught up with Kay to tell us how it’s gone and how he did it.

Stage 1: be confident (and a bit confused)

I’m no stranger to striking out on my own as in 2012 I created my own marketing agency, LIM Concepts. But I decided to take a step back in order to put as much as I can into a new venture, AfroExpress.

The big difference for me between setting up the agency and starting AfroExpress was an emotional one, I really believe what I’m doing now could make a difference to people’s lives, it’s more than just a job.

When I started AfroExpress I felt pretty confident about what I needed to do. What was hard at that stage though was that it was just me and that created a lot of pressure to get things right. The vision was there but looking back now I definitely didn’t realise the potential the business could have, or the scale of the problem I wanted to solve. The mission just wasn’t solid.

Stage 2: figure out what you need

I wasn’t working full time anymore, in order to put more into AfroExpress, but I was still doing some marketing work on the side. This meant often I just didn’t have the time or brain space to think about how to approach the business differently or from other perspectives. I was confident about what I needed to do for my startup, but not clear.

What I needed was a mentor. I wanted validation from someone with experience who wasn’t a friend or family member and someone who could look at things from a different point of view.

Stage 3: find your mentor

So when I came on Vestd one of the first things I did was look for a mentor. I remember seeing Gul’s profile and being really impressed by his experience, I was thrilled when he wanted to collaborate with me too. He’s great because he could use that experience to turn the business round and give it a new and much stronger direction.

He asked me such tough questions! Tough, but necessary questions, because I would never have been able to ask myself things like that and so never have the answers I need. What was really amazing though was that he totally got the idea. It wasn’t just like I’d hired a consultant and was paying him by the hour, Gul was passionate about the business and that was why he wanted to give his time and skills to it, I can’t tell you what that means.

Stage 4: fill your skills gap with other people’s

Then meeting Vas was another great step forward. He’s such an enthusiastic guy! I put a task on Vestd asking for someone to collaborate with me on the copy for the ecommerce aspects of the site and the transactional emails and was just blown away by his ideas and creativity. I definitely couldn’t have come up with such good content so it’s incredible to have access to people who can. I remember the first time we spoke on Skype, it was like we’d known each other for ages, he totally got the idea and was so willing to go the extra mile to see it succeed.

When you’re meeting people like this who not only support your business idea but are also passionate enough about it to use their time and skills to help it grow, well that’s such a powerful force for your business. It also feels great that you know it’s not charity, they’re not just ‘helping you out’, they’re doing it because they are invested in you and your business.

In the kitchen with Kay — watch Kay cook a delicious West African dish while he tells us about his business’ journey.

Stage 5: get optimistic and think big

Right now I feel like I’m in heaven. In a few months I’ve gone from being confused to so optimistic. And that’s down to the advice that Gul and Vas have given me.

I went down to Dalston market (where I usually have to go to get the food products I want) and was talking to store owners and shoppers, they were really excited about the platform and its potential for growth. Now my value proposition is really clear, I can talk to people and see just how big the demand is for a business like AfroExpress.

We recently made it to the final of the JustEat accelerator pitching competition and although we didn’t win, it was such a confidence boost. I’m now able to see the bigger picture and realise the scope of what I can achieve. It’s like coming up for air!

Kay winning hearts and stomachs at JustEat
Kay winning hearts and stomachs at JustEat

Stage 6: plan next steps

Due to the work I’ve done with Gul, Vas, and the feedback I’ve got from the community, I’m now looking to expand the business, which is why we’re re-branding from AfroExpress to Zazuu. Gul’s guidance has helped me realise that I shouldn’t confine this idea to the African or Caribbean communities; there are plenty of other communities who would benefit from this sort of service.

That’s the next big step, the rebrand, then it’s going to be about preparing ourselves for a wider audience. I also want to make sure that Zazuu continues to be something special. To do that we’re going to be looking at what unique products and offerings Zazuu can make available.

Stage 7: share your tips for founders

My one and only tip for founders who are where I was and trying to get started is ‘don’t try and do everything on your own’. I’m not saying you can’t, maybe you can, but it will take a lot longer. You need someone to ask you those tough questions and getting validation from someone experienced and passionate really does mean the world.

If you have an idea for a business and are dedicated to building it but just don’t know how to get stuck in, join Vestd to meet the people who do.

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.