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2022-03-22

SA’s first rural online grocery store Kuloola brings convenience, growth to communities

As grocery delivery apps become the main channel through which people get their household products in urban areas, underserviced communities in the rural parts of the country are now part of the digital lifestyle and convenience, saving them transport costs and limiting the spread of Covid-19.


Jessi Wesson | Retail Brief Africa

KZN born entrepreneur from Eshowe, Siyanda Mthethwa (34) has developed South Africa’s first rural online grocery store powered by a sophisticated app called Kuloola (which literally means “it’s easy” in Zulu language) that maps out rural households and provides a delivery service for homes and spaza shops.

 

Shoppers can simply place their grocery order on the app, or via alternate means such as SMS, WhatsApp, or a phone call. Groceries are delivered within 24 hours depending on the distance and the number of items ordered.

In November 2021, Siyanda Mthethwa walked away with the SAB Foundation Social Innovation Awards grand prize of R1.3 million to invest in his business. 

This awards programme is an initiative that supports and scales social innovations that address socio-economic and environmental challenges in a unique, scalable and financially sustainable way. It is focused on improving the quality of life for youth, women and people living with disabilities and people living in rural areas. 

Here we get to know more about Siyanda and the inspiration behind the innovative e-tailer. 

Siyanda, congratulations on the recent SAB Foundation Social Innovation Award win! Tell us about yourself and your journey prior to launching Kuloola. 

SM: I was born and raised in rural KwaZulu-Natal, Eshowe by my grandmother. I was fortunate to attend boarding school from the age of 13 years until Matric in 2004. During this time away from home I met people from all walks of life at a young age. 

I went on to study at the university of KwaZulu-Natal until 2009. From January 2015 to December 2021, I lived in Oslo, Norway where I started Kuloola. 

How did the idea for Kuloola come to life? What was the biggest inspiration behind it? 

SM: My Grandmother owned the village Spazashop. I noticed from a young age how expensive and challenging it was for her to get stock from the nearest town. 

Secondly, we lived opposite a bus stop, and I would always see community members, especially elderly women carrying heavy bags on maize meal, rice, potatoes on their heads after being dropped off by taxis. 

I guess it never sat right with me, and it has always stayed in my subconscious mind. My grandmother and many members of her community represent millions of rural South Africans who for decades have been grossly underserved. 

These challenges inspired us to bring about the necessary solution, which is Kuloola. 

What challenges did you face during the product development process? 

SM: We launched Kuloola while I was still living overseas, and for two years I operated it remotely. This was a huge challenge. A Startup needs the founder to be in close proximity because every single day presents intricate challenges that must be dealt with immediately. 

Secondly, there is no benchmark for rural last-mile FMCG fulfilment, so we had to build everything from scratch which poses challenges and opportunities at the same time. 

How has the SAB Foundation Social Innovation Award helped develop the business? 

SM: The SAB Foundation Innovation Award has brought us a lot of recognition. 

We have had a lot of large FMCG manufacturers, retailers and wholesalers reach out to us for potential collaboration. Internally, the awards bring a lot of validation to our resilience and our business as an impactful solution. 

Tell us more about how Kuloola is creating new workplaces, boosting growth and empowering communities with access to digital services.

SM: South Africans in the lower LSM are becoming more tech-savvy and are also beginning to understand the convenience that come with technology. 

At Kuloola, we are putting ourselves in a position that leverages this development and merge it with our in-depth understanding of rural communities which represent a one third of the South African population. 

We are opening new branches in rural towns that no one even would ever think of and creating much needed jobs and empowering local youth by employing within the communities that we serve. 

We are saving a lot of rural people, especially pensioners time and money by delivering groceries and stock to their doorstep at reasonable prices and a fraction of the delivery price they once paid. 

By simply having a smart phone we are putting the power in their hands. We are not only digitising rural last-mile delivery of household groceries and Spaza stock for the first time ever, but we are stockpiling extremely important rural consumer sales data that will prove to be insightful to FMCG manufacturers in the near future. 

In your opinion, why should the youth look into exploring careers in technology? 

SM: By having access to a computer and internet you can build anything you can ever imagine. Technology has a great multiplier effect which can lead to tremendous scale and can be more affordable to build than hardware. 

More young people, especially black youth should be looking to technology as a gateway to opportunities. 

South Africa also has a shortage of skilled programmers and developers which present a great opportunity for employment. Also, those looking to be “technopreneurs” have a great opportunity to disrupt traditional South African enterprises and the status-quo through technology. 

What inspiring message do you wish to share with budding entrepreneurs in South Africa? 

SM: Find out what you are good at and what your passion is. The difference between success and failure as an entrepreneur is consistency and resilience. 

You can never be consistent and resilient without being passionate about what you are doing.


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