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Eight months ago, Dire Dawa, a city in eastern Ethiopia and one of the two chartered cities in the country welcomed its first online food delivery startup.

Co-founded by Robel Alemayehu, Leul Dawit, and Nathnael Alebel, Blu Delivery enables users to order food through their phones and have it delivered to their doorstep.

Blu, which is the Amharic equivalent of “let’s eat,” currently allows users to browse menus and order from over 50 restaurants in the city, with plans to expand this selection by 20 more in the coming month.

Akofada (DFS Ethiopia)

The platform is readily available on both Play Store and App Store. Since its launch in September 2023, Blu has garnered over 5k app downloads on Play Store alone. According to Robel, the development of Dire Dewa’s only food delivery platform has taken their team six months.

Currently, Blu offers cash-on-delivery as a payment option. “But an upgrade is on the way,” suggested the CEO. “We’re working on integrating different payment systems for added convenience,” Robel told Shega. 

According to him, Blu takes up over five hundred orders per week with delivery fees starting at 60 birr. Due to Dire Dawa’s hot weather, most orders (nearly 60%) are placed at night. They currently have 23 delivery personnel working on commission. This differs from the common practice in the capital, where most delivery platforms employ their delivery staff with salaries.

In a nod to efficiency, they also embraced e-mobility six months ago by adding five e-bikes from Dodai, an Addis Ababa-based EV startup. However, most of their feet is made up of cycles, a popular mode of transport in the city.

What is even more interesting is the fact that the CEO himself can often be found delivering orders on his blue Phoenix Mountain bike alongside his co-founders. “First it was a financial thing, but now I enjoy doing it; I just delivered an order right before this interview,” he told Shega with a chuckle.

Robel, a native of Dire Dawa and a graduate of Addis Ababa University’s School of Business and Economics, has worked as a marketing and sales professional in the capital before moving back to his hometown.

“I found myself more and more drawn back to Dire Dawa due to my personal and financial circumstances.” He recalled.

After moving back, he joined the banking sector for a while, but it wasn’t a long-term fit. “Growing up, I was always hustling,” says Robel. “I had even become the ‘walking Netflix’ of Dire Dawa, selling movies door-to-door to make some extra cash.”

So, he started assessing potential business opportunities. The lack of a food delivery service particularly piqued his interest. “I then teamed up with two childhood friends who brought expertise in marketing and graphic design, and together we spent months researching the business model.”

Recognizing the novelty of online food delivery in Dire Dawa, Robel and his team adopted a hands-on approach. They personally visited restaurants, providing training on using the platform for both vendors and customers, ensuring a smooth experience for all.

According to him, Blu taps into Dire Dawa’s vibrant food scene, allowing users to order the famous street foods loved by locals and tourists alike.  The platform also offers special deals and discounts negotiated with registered restaurants, a feature that initially faced some resistance. “Convincing restaurants to offer discounts was a challenge,” Robel concedes, “but we’re happy to see some of them embrace the idea.”

Blu is one of the seven startups selected to join the second cohort of the Venture Meda Acceleration Program this month. 

But, Robel sees a big gap in support for startups outside the capital. He mentioned that his company was the only startup based outside the capital selected for the Venture Meda Accelerator program. 

Despite the challenges, Robel believes in technology’s immense potential in his hometown. “Dire Dawa has been neglected for too long,” he emphasizes.  “I envision a future where our city becomes a hub for transport, logistics, and a thriving startup ecosystem.”

And Blu’s next step? “Expanding beyond delivery to become a marketplace where local vendors can establish online storefronts and leverage the platform’s logistics network.”

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Daniel, a writer and radio host, has a keen interest in technology. Additionally, he has supported various organizations by enhancing their digital presence in his role as a social media manager.