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Inspiring Conversations with Moses Iku of Common Cookery

Today we’d like to introduce you to Moses Iku.

Alright, so thank you so much for sharing your story and insight with our readers. To kick things off, can you tell us a bit about how you got started?
I consider myself to be a transnational citizen. I was born and raised in Nigeria and have made the U.S my home for over 20 years. I have been fortunate to have traveled to many countries, where I have enjoyed cuisines from different cultures. So, on any given day my dinner may be the Pepper soup I ate growing up, the Biryani I came to love from my business travels in Southern India, or the regional American specialties like Seafood Gumbo from right here in Houston. Houston takes a lot of pride in being the most diverse city in America. Yet Houston’s vibrant and growing multicultural population still lacks convenient digital ordering and delivery access to Food Creatives who cater to their tastes; Byt he way, at Common Cookery™, Food Creatives is what we call chefs and food businesses, and Eaters is what we call foodies and customers. Often, these Food Creatives are small, family-owned independent businesses that operate on tight margins and low budgets; thus, unable to highlight their unique cuisines. I wanted to address this digital divide by connecting diaspora and adventurous Eaters to these mom-n-pop food creators of hard-to-find and regional foods through a curated digital marketplace. So, I started working on a concept in 2018 that materialized into a business plan focused on tackling the challenges specific to Food Creatives who cater to this growing multicultural taste profiles. And so, Common Cookery was born! I chose the name Common Cookery because we wanted to convey the message that any cross-cultural cuisine on our site may seem foreign, but it is commonly eaten at home, on-the-go, or at celebrations by the folks native to the culture that food originates from.

In the process of developing the business plan, I quickly realized it wasn’t enough to only build a three-sided multi-party online marketplace to take orders and make deliveries. But that more offline resources needed to be provided to these Food Creatives for them to sell profitably online. Especially as many of them were getting creamed by the high fees and commissions charged by the major online food delivery apps and limited by physical locations with restricted on-demand delivery radius; so, unable to reach a lucrative customer base predominantly located in the outer ring of Houston and surrounding cities. Therefore, the business plan included deliveries across Greater Houston and the surrounding cities for low fees to Food Creatives and Eaters alike. At the same time connecting Food Creatives to different resources, such as pooled supply purchasing to lower ingredient cost.

The desire to address this convenient digital access gap turned into a sense of urgency, when COVID-19 became a health and economic crisis. A crisis that hit the food service industry particularly hard. Dan Wu, owner of Atomic Ramen in Lexington, Kentucky, truly captured the challenges currently faced by food businesses owned by those from unrecognized communities when he said, “What I’m afraid of is the people that are the least likely to survive are going to be these small, single-location, immigrant-run, women-run, people-of-color-run operations. Because we’re the ones that don’t have the infrastructure like the chain restaurants to survive this.” So, we leapt into action! I assembled a network of business advisors and resources, a working team, app development team, built a database of target Food Creatives, and finished my business plan revision between April 2020 and August 2020. We began designing and prototyping the online app internally in September; then, we began a controlled testing of online ordering and delivery in October 2020. I left my full-time job with Schlumberger in October 2020 to fully focus on the development of Common Cookery. We did our first full public test during Thanksgiving and went live in December 2020 for holiday orders and deliveries. Since our full launch in December 2020, we have been steadily expanding our menu offerings to cover more cross-cultural foods, while adding more Food Creatives. We have expanded our app features and continue to work on tech improvements. We are expanding our sales and marketing team and finessing our back of house operations. Our goal is to expand into other Cities in Texas by the 4th quarter of 2021. Common Cookery from concept to launch, to ongoing operations has all been 100% self-funded. We have been very strategic about how we spend money, focusing on value-added activities, while being creative, and learning on our feet to perform other tasks.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
The journey has been amazing, a lot has happened quickly between October 2020 and now. Every waking minute of my day for the past six months has been entirely devoted to Common Cookery. There’ve certainly been challenging moments, particularly with learning in real time to deal with vendors, marketing effectively, being attentive to my family, and all the other aspects of running a boutique startup. My wife is still with me and very supportive, for me, that’s a win already🙂. The most challenging has been the tech development piece. We experienced unforeseen obstacles that delayed launches; we had to pivot and used an alternative tech platform to launch our app. Moreover, we have learned that the tech continues to evolve as we grow.

We are continuously iterating to make our app user friendly for Eaters, Food Creatives, and our team. Another challenging piece has been marketing, we have learned that effective marketing is time consuming and can be unnecessarily expensive, if not well thought out. But we have adapted and put a marketing strategy in place. Much like the tech, our marketing continues to evolve with our growth. Like other businesses, we have pivoted to thrive in this COVID-19 crisis environment. Such as when we moved the build date of our online app forward. As we adapted to unforeseen changes in real-time, we still stuck to our core focus of making hard-to-find regional dishes accessible, connecting Food Creatives to new markets of Eaters in the process; and building a resource sharing structure among our partner Food Creatives, delivery, and other service providers. This is why our online app had to launch in 2020, compared to our original 2021 timeline.

Great, so let’s talk business. Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
Common Cookery is a small business incubator and food delivery service that partners with independent Food Creatives to share global cuisines with Eaters. We celebrate diversity in flavor and showcase the harmony of cross-cultural cuisine. We unite these small, independent Food Creatives to deliver a global dining experience to your doorstep. Our scheduled deliveries, service the entire Houston Metro Area and surrounding suburbs. Through our online platform, Eaters can order niche cross-cultural heat n’ serve meals, yummy snacks and desserts- crafted by small food businesses. We are particularly proud of bridging cultural connections through hard-to-find regional dishes; by making them accessible, and thus connecting food creatives to new markets of Eaters; while also building a resource sharing structure among Food Creatives, delivery, and other service providers. Therefore, we connect our partner Food Creatives to resources that can help them grow like subsidized commercial spaces. Similarly, we are proud of the diversity of our core team. We are a digital multicultural food hall, that serves you the world in a plate.

Networking and finding a mentor can have such a positive impact on one’s life and career. Any advice?
Oh yes, I do! Look at your local community colleges and universities, these tend to have entrepreneurship programs packed with free resources, including mentors. Houston Community (HCC) College Office of Entrepreneurship Initiatives has been instrumental to Common Cookery in this regard. Also, familiarize yourself with your local SCORE chapter, they have phenomenal mentors with outstanding credentials available to serve startups and small businesses. Through HCC and SCORE Houston, I currently have mentors who are retired CEOs of Fortune 500 firms and thriving small business owners. Also, do not look past community economic development organizations like Baker Ripley for on ground networking opportunities. In the business community, we often overlook the broad expertise of nonprofit leaders; they can teach you a lot, they can make important connections for you, and they can vet whether your product or service is impactful to the local the community, i.e. your market. Build the connection with the local nonprofits in your target community. To further boost your networks, I strongly recommend forming an advisory board for your business. This has worked phenomenally for Common Cookery.

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Image Credits

Brazilian Churrasco Food Truck and Catering

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