FIP 57: David Auerbach Interviews Lauren Russell Nkuranga of GET IT

David Auerbach of Sanergy is on the mic again this week interviewing Lauren Russell Nkuranga, Founder and CEO of GET IT, a text-to-order model for food-service distribution in Rwanda. Lauren first moved to Rwanda in 2012 on assignment with the Nike Foundation where a three-month placement soon turned into a two-year placement. During her time in East Africa she saw so much opportunity for business in Rwanda, so when Nike asked her to return to the US she made the bold move to leave her job and pursue a business plan that she had been nursing since moving there. Lauren launched GET IT in 2014 and has been transforming food procurement and distribution in East Africa by connecting frontier-market farmers, producers, and manufacturers to formal markets.

On this episode you’ll learn:

  • Lauren’s path to founding GET IT – which started as a retail food service delivery model and quickly evolved.
  • The key for Lauren and her team was starting simple. Send an SMS, and food will arrive at their house. They sourced their food from farmers directly and connected them to formal markets.
  • Lauren started with $5000 and an idea – in the early days she was doing deliveries out of the back of her car trying to figure out the retail market on the fly.
  • When she introduced fresh fruits and vegetables to the catalog, Lauren noticed she was getting orders from restaurants, commercial kitchens and hotels in the area. She began asking chefs if there was anyone else doing this sort of thing for their industry. To her surprise, there wasn’t!
  • Lauren calls this an “invisible industry” as it was hard to see this gap from the outside looking in. She admits that she discovered this gap entirely by accident and takes us through the pros and cons of the retail market (families and individuals) vs. B2B (restaurants, commercial kitchens and hotels).
  • Retail model was cash based which she found to be messy and required more chasing for payments. If a customer found one bad avocado she would have to worry about them potentially never using her service ever again.
  • B2B model ended up working more smoothly. B2B clients could post-pay through invoices and digital payment. She also found that retention was smoother and orders were bigger and more consistent. It was easier to develop stronger relationships with restaurants and companies.
  • In discovering this new market, Lauren and her team had to change the way they talked about themselves as a company. They had to make an internal “pivot” though to outsiders their service was the same. David and Lauren have a good chat about how maybe it was less of a pivot and more of an evolution for GET IT.
  • Through all of this, they focused on the simple things and fine-tuned their logistics and operational capacity. They saw this as a way to differentiate themselves from any potential competition.
  • GET IT’s first major capital investment was in cold chain technology (aka a really really big fridge). At first, they would visit the farmers markets in the morning and deliver the food later that day. This would save their customer a trip to the farmer’s market, but not earn them a very a big margin. They found that they had to invest in the infrastructure in order to really differentiate themselves. Robust cold storage meant that they could buy in higher volume and have more straight forward logistics and fulfillment.
  • With this investment GET IT has been able to de-couple themselves from the grid – they can go 2 days without electricity and 5 months without city water! They are truly building a company that meets the need of the market.Their ability to face these challenges head-on are a big part of the reason why competition hasn’t been quick to move in and in part have led to deeper margins and better returns for GET IT!
  • Lauren shares how she “got her board on board” with her big ideas. The key for her was getting them to understand the day-to day. She had board members in with her fulfilment team filling orders to try and understand the true operational challenges that they faced. Operations and logistics are the core of their model and she doesn’t want her board to lose sight of that.
  • Usually you want these board visits to go perfectly… but David shares that when small problems arise it is more reflective the challenges a company faces.
  • Lauren talks about expanding – they want to make sure that they are doing a really great job in one place before they considering moving into the next market. It is important to her to have a really tight model. Start small, and stay focussed.
  • Lauren wants to bring everyone on her team on the long term journey and has toyed with different ways to motivate various people. She has found that shift workers and middle management are more motivated by immediate and short term goals, however, senior managers are motivated by the bigger picture goals and moving into new markets.
  • Lauren is a big believer in getting ahead of issues before they are issues. Listen to your gut!
  • Lastly, Lauren couldn’t do what she does without her weekly calls with her board. She says these 15-30 minute check-in are really helpful to her and her team. They are able to talk through problems and day-to-day issues before they have time to grow.

Links to resources:

Connect with Lauren:

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