Every time a rider passes by or approaches you in their sunny yellow backpack with Glovo imprinted in light blue, it is Priscilla Muhiu’s brand on the line. And what an interesting surprise e-commerce turned out to be for an extraverted avid reader whose origins include working with logistics and transportation start-up, Sendy, (2018 – 2019) as Head of Marketing. and the now-defunct OLX Kenya (2011 – 2018) as Head of Business Development and Marketing, East Africa.
Muhiu was approached by Glovo to be their Regional Head of Marketing (2010 – 2020), and it was her elevation to GM of Glovo Kenya that got her into the list of 30+ Women to Watch in Tech, in our November 2020 issue. You would be hard-pressed to find a CV as extensive as Priscilla’s in the world of e-commerce in East Africa.
I mean, the woman loves Mondays (bleurgh!), and she has just been hit with an epiphany. “I realised I used to spend a lot of money going out! The industry requires a lot of socialising and my team is super active. Now, I’ll save it and take myself to a spa!” A perpetual learner who will most likely be found attending an online class to pick up some skill or other. Every month, her brood will be taken in by grandma who will take care of them as Priscilla gets a moment to herself and does what makes her happy. “If you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t be a good mother and a good employee.”
We now know what the pandemic did for e-commerce. It re-invented it, paving way for q-commerce. Muhiu’s Glovo stats indicate that shopping is still mostly done by women especially when it comes to groceries, and men and women go head-to-head when it comes to ordering food. She doesn’t take credit for this and instead fingers her people. “The best part of my job is seeing my team flourish. I have people who I started working with and now they are very different people. I can see how I have helped them. If we have a conversation today, and five years later I meet you and you tell me that conversation we had changed your life, that is what fulfills me. And I think of it as success.”
In case you were wondering, when the app asks you to rate both courier and food, it is this feedback that rolls over into fact. “We have what is called an Excellence Score. If a courier was not good, that affects their rating. There are implications. If you keep on getting bad feedback it means you are not complying to the quality standards that we set. It is the same case with the partner. If we keep on getting complaints, we offboard you from the platform.”
I am dying of curiosity. What will Glovo NOT deliver?
Anything that is not legal. We literally deliver everything within the city in an hour. If you go to the app, you will find options. We have anything you can think of. We have a button called “The Anything Button” in the event that you don’t find the store you are looking for on the app.
When you’re delivering, you say you take a minimum of 15 minutes. There’s this expression that goes, if you want it fast and cheap, you will have to sacrifice on quality because you can’t have all three. Is the customer sacrificing something to get it fast and cheap?
If you look at our delivery fees, they are the cheapest in the market. Our delivery times are the best in the market. What we try to do is optimise, making sure there are enough riders to service the customers. We limit the radius of different stores to within three to 4 km so that a customer beyond that radius can’t order from those stores. It is how we optimise our delivery times especially for food. We have ways of doing this so that things are fast, cheap, and of good quality.
I know this was an issue in Spain, the Glovo mothership, where they even went to court over the fact that Glovo, Spain decreed that couriers were self-employed, but the court disagreed and said they were employees. What is the situation in Glovo Kenya?
We call them freelancers – like sub-contractors. They join the platform with their own motorbike and phones. The good thing with this model is that they are flexible. The app shows the rider can choose their working hours. They can also work for multiple apps if they want and they can do other things they want to do. As opposed to being an employee where you are forced to come in from 8 am to 5 pm, and we have to regulate your behaviour.
So your freelancers are like the Uber driver who also works with Little, Bolt, and any other driving platforms?
Yes. Exactly what you see with the ride-hailing services.
Tell me more about your business model. How does Glovo make money?
By taking commissions with every order that is placed with us. And, we have an arrangement with the different stores we have where they give us a particular commission. We have a range of commission levels. And, of course, the delivery fee.
You’re in this e-commerce space. What do you see in its future?
We have barely scratched the surface. Internet is becoming cheaper with the use of smartphones increasing year per year. It means the market size will also increase. What I like about e-commerce is there are a lot of businesses in the same space. It is how we continuously draw in consumers on how to use these platforms. Five years from now, it will be a different market altogether.
What about Q-commerce? What does your crystal ball tell you?
Quick commerce is becoming another category we need to focus on. We have realised that beyond food, there is a lot more we can tap into as a market. For example, right now we already have partnerships with Carrefour and Naivas. Your groceries are delivered to you in under five minutes. We see opportunities in other categories such as fashion, beauty, and electronics. We just partnered with Super Cosmetics, a well-known beauty brand and they are doing well. It is beauty on demand. We have pharmacies on our platform, but we can only deliver over-the-counter medicine. We are not allowed to deliver prescriptions. There is a lot more to be tapped into. We are only just beginning.
As a continent, we haven’t exactly warmed up to e-commerce. How can you anticipate that Africa will embrace Q-commerce? What about it will be different?
We just need to continue building trust. This is one of the barriers to e-commerce. That, and of course, access to the internet. During this COVID-19 period, we have seen a rise in grocery deliveries. Even when the situation eased up, we didn’t see a drop in the number of orders. That tells me people embraced and acknowledged it was easy to shop online as opposed to taking my car, going to the mall, paying parking fees, shopping, queueing – as opposed to having a rider deliver it to you. We are seeing more people trusting and embracing e-commerce. It is up to the players in this industry to make sure we deliver what we promise. That way, more consumers will trust us.
You’ve talked about partnerships. How do you decide, and approach these?
Anyone that has a store that has customers can join Glovo. When we were launching, we had to focus on certain categories and prioritise. But right now, we are onboarding kibandas. We have launched a brand called Kibanda Express with the pickup stores being the different local food outlets we have in the city. We know you don’t know the names of these kibandas. If you hear Mama Fulani, you don’t know them. We build these brands while the pickup location are stores closest to you. By doing this we are able to digitise these merchants. They are very informal but there is great demand for them.
Who picks it up from these points?
The rider. Ideally, when you go to the app, you go to Kibanda Express, find the one closest to you, and order. The food is very cheap, below Kshs 200. We have been able to increase the number of stores such that we can reduce the radius, which also reduces the cost of transporting it to the customer. Right now, you don’t pay more than Kshs 50 per delivery.
This is why I was asking how you make money. Doesn’t such little money, well, overwhelm the cost of doing business?
It is a low-margin high-volume game, We make sure that there are many kibandas in the platform. We reduce the radius to 2 km so that the rider does not have to travel very far. And they can do four deliveries within an hour. Even if they are earning Kshs 50 per delivery, at three to four deliveries per hour, then it makes sense. It is a matter of making sure you leverage on volume and take into consideration the low margins. It is a volume game.
Glovo Spain is fresh off a Series F funding worth $528 million. There is talk of using these funds to expand into their existing markets. Do you think some of this money will be used to expand Glovo Kenya?
Actually, we are expanding in Africa. We are setting up the team in Nigeria as well as Western Europe. In terms of achieving penetration in Kenya, we are planning to invest. We don’t want this app to be a niche or for the middle class. We want this app to be affordable to a majority of Kenyans.
Say you are given a bunch of money. What is on your wish list?
Currently, we are in Nakuru, Mombasa, Nairobi of course, Eldoret, and Kisumu. We are looking at opening in Thika, Kiambu, and Ruiru. There is a lot of opportunity. Beyond that, we want to make sure more people can access the platform. We also want to create brand awareness for the middle class and towards the lower classes.
This brings me to, who are your largest consumers?
We have seen growth in the middle-class sector. We started in Kilimani and Westlands area in terms of operations. Right now, we are covering central Nairobi, places like Donholm and Umoja. That is why it’s important to make sure the platform is affordable and that we have affordable content. Not just typical high-end stores, but also kibandas. That way, anyone living anywhere can afford to buy food if they don’t feel like cooking.
What is it that attracts your network of riders? Is it just the money they get paid, the freedom of freelancing, or something more mysterious?’
The first thing is money. We use minimum wage so we look at how much a waitress would make from a restaurant. We benchmark on this and have KPIs to make sure this money paid to the riders is optimal. We have to make sure operations don’t bring in so many riders to the point of saturation where they don’t have a lot of work to do. The first thing they care about is the number of orders you give them, and the amount of money they make in the course of the day. There are other things too. We give them medical cover. We work with partners to help with the financing of either mobile phones or if motorbikes. We get as many partners as possible so that we can improve the lives of these riders.
Right up until this interview, I could have sworn that Glovo Kenya’s strategy was to lean harder towards food because that is what you became known for.
Most of our orders come from food. If you think about it, food is in the high-frequency category. If you have to acquire customers, this is the fastest way, and over time you can teach them how to use the other categories.
One of the most spectacular things that came out strongly during the pandemic was Dark Stores. Is this a business model Glovo will ever embrace?
Yes. We have Dark Stores in multiple markets, especially in the European markets. We plan to launch them in Africa. A dark store is a store that has merchandise strictly for delivery.
Over time, it has become almost taboo to ask a woman how she manages a work-life balance. But before we started the interview, you talked about how much you love to be a mother.
Being a mother is the most important thing to me. Even more important than being the boss of Glovo. That is why I always choose – the company I work for, has to appreciate that I am a mother first. If I have to be there for my kids for whatever reason, I want an employer who understands that. My kids will always come first no matter what.
What’s your typical day like in times of COVID-19?
I go to the office once a week. The rest of the time, I work from home. I have come to learn is that empathy is critical. It is important to keep up with your team when you are not having meetings every other day face-to-face. Check on them and make sure they are ok. I meet with my management team once a month in the office so that we can keep in touch. Sometimes, this whole thing about Zoom is that it is not the same. As a leader, I meet with each one of the team members every week to talk. Not just about work, but to find out how they are doing personally and see what I can do to help.
That’s a lot!
That is the work of a manager. Actually, a leader. It is not just about work. For example, last week, I had a feeling that the sales team was feeling a little demotivated during our morning meeting. I encouraged them to keep at it, told them that they were doing a good job. Just letting people know that if they need you, they can reach you anytime, anywhere. That helps in terms of being there for them.
Are you looking into a drone-delivery system, AI and IoT into the future?
Definitely. We already have a machine learning team, and we have historical data that is telling us how long your order will take, and the system knows that you have been assigned courier X and this is their speed. Based on that, you can calculate time. We also have data on prep time. All this data helps predict how long your delivery will take so we have a timeline and an ETA. This is in case you need to go downstairs and pick your order or alert your security about it, or if you want the courier to come up to yours.
What other interesting things is your data telling you?
The good thing about being a data company is that you have enough information to make decisions almost immediately. We know which stores have the most or least orders. It tells you what can you, and the partner, do to improve orders? How many customers came? At the end of the day, you don’t just want to acquire customers. You want to acquire and retain them.
Is there anything about Glovo I haven’t asked, and you want to talk about?
Not really… In Africa, we operate in Morocco, Kenya, Ghana, and Uganda. We are planning to open in Nigeria, and we are heading into Southern Africa.
I’m shocked Glovo is not already in Nigeria. Why is that?
Nigeria is a … special market. But we think now we can do it. We have all these learnings from Africa. You need to appreciate that Africa is not your typical market. You really need to understand local nuances and address them. For instance, Glovo Spain does not have cash with delivery. The penetration of cards is so high they don’t need to have cash. But in Kenya, you can’t launch without cash. It is a cash market. You need mobile money. We recently incorporated M-Pesa. These nuances matter. We are not your typical European market, but ours is still a very lucrative market. Remember in Africa we have a very young population. It means that in five years’ time, most of the demographic will move into this market as consumers. This is the right time to invest in Africa.
Once Africa is consolidated into Glovo Africa, will you head the continent?
Can I surprise you? My ambition is to be in HR. From GM I am thinking about moving to HR. I am very people-oriented. My goal is to do two more years as GM so as to understand the business and figure out how to make HR work.
Isn’t that moving up the ladder then sideways downward the ladder?
Maybe I will have a bigger scope. I think I’ll thrive more in a space where I’m working with people. And then by the time I am 45, my plan is to do my Ph.D. and become the head of HR. That is my retirement plan. It is good to have an open mind. Who knew I would be in e-commerce? If there is an opportunity, grab it. As long as it is in line with your values and how you see your life.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
People management is not as easy as I may make it look. It is very important for a manager to understand that you have different personalities within your team. Are you familiar with the four colour energies? Red, Yellow, Green, and Blue?
Yes. I have heard of this test.
Just appreciating that everyone, and how they do things, is also different, and how you, as a leader, have to custom-make your approach. Sometimes, it is important to not just care about the work stuff. Just care if they are ok. Maybe there is something you can do, and experience you can share to improve the situation.
Does this actually really work? Does the team listen and then share their own experiences?
Trust is two-way. In order for them to trust me, I have to trust them. I talk about myself a lot. And when I talk to them, it is possible to find someone who says they have been in a similar situation and thank me for sharing it and they will be able to do better. When I open up a bit, I find others open up to me as well.
About this colour test. I don’t know how accurate it is because I came out as purple.
I’m a Yellow and a Green. When I walk into the room you’ll know. I am also the kind of person who would likely have a hard time firing someone because I care too much. But I am aware of this, so I use it to my advantage. Before I let you go, I make sure that I have done everything possible to support you. When you are leading a team, I think it is possible to lead a team with care. You don’t have to be authoritative. There was a time I was being pushed to be tough on people. I realised it works against you in the long run. People are more motivated if you care.
This article was first published in the May 2021 edition of CIO Africa magazine.