The entrepreneur and master shopper for the masses

Meet Vusi Mthimunye, chief operations officer of eButler – a grocery shopping service with a difference – which aims to reach every community in South Africa, from townships and inner-city precincts to rural areas and informal settlements. Mthimunye’s goal is to democratize access to affordable groceries and deliver nationwide.

We asked the 27-year-old entrepreneur, who comes from Randjesfontein near Midrand, some questions:

What makes eButler stand out from its competitors?
The business, which currently focuses only on dry goods, isn’t just a grocery shopping service, but also

Where and what did you study?
I went to CIDA City Academy, where I did a Bachelor of Business Administration and Network Engineering (IT).

Tell us a bit about your background?
I grew up in a very small mining town in Mpumalanga called Breyten. I have an 18-year old sister. We didn’t have much growing up, both parents were unemployed for most of my childhood, but they did their best to ensure we didn’t go to bed without food.

Tell us a bit about your involvement with eButler
I went online once to order groceries and saw that the only grocery delivery options that were available were from two major retailers and they only delivered in four to seven days as it was still new. So, I had an idea to build an online mall where you can get anything you want to be delivered to your door in an hour or less. eButler was first called eMall in 2013, and then re-launched as eButler in 2016 after we refined the model to focus on personal shopping for groceries only and deliver a personalized customer experience like a normal butler would for the household for which he works.
I focused on the business and operation side, with a partner who focused on building the tech. I head up Operations and Innovation at The Connected Retail Group, which is the parent company of eButler. It’s made up of three entities/partners, Lospepes Ibizo Group, Mmogo Media of which I’m CEO and Pule Mofaledi.

Do you believe the township market is ready for online shopping?
Yes, we believe the tools and infrastructure are there for the majority of the market to start enjoying the benefits of affordable online shopping. That doesn’t mean everyone has to download an app or go to a website. If you are on WhatsApp you are already online. It’s really about leveraging the existing tools the customers already have access to and not discounting the need for educating parts of the market. But that’s a gradual thing. We are still a long way from mass adoption of online shopping. The key to unlocking the local online shopping market is a clever and seamless integration of offline and online.

How have you overcome some of the challenges peculiar to the township market?
For us it was about firstly understanding the fundamental aspect of what we do, and that is we are not selling a platform (our website, apps, etc.), but rather value for money and convenience. Moving a product from a manufacturer to the consumer’s door, without the additional middlemen costs that come with being a traditional retailer- that’s our fundamental business.
The second thing was micro segmenting the market according to personas and the different barriers and limitations that are uniquely applicable to them when it comes to payments, because we have already addressed the logistics part. We arrived at the conclusion that we cannot try to change how the township consumer does things, so we rather integrate ourselves into their existing shopper journey and enhance it. Also, we are from the townships, our friends and families are there and we have the first-hand experience of how things work there.
We didn’t design a platform for another market and try to make it work in the townships, we designed it for the township, and it’s working even in the suburbs, based on our current sales data.

Go to: