Foucauld Peuchot (H.14)
Landing on his feet

Abidjan. We met Foucauld in the stark offices of Hellofood – Rocket Internet – in Abidjan. With inexhaustible energy, he grew Hellofood’s orders 15% MoM since he arrived by rooting the brand in the emerging digital-friendly community of Abidjan. There is no denying this man has a thing for Ivory Coast, that’s why the careful reader will catch glimpses of some hidden treasures of Abidjan in this interview.

Read full transcript…

HU: Hello Foucauld, we are going to start with a Chinese portrait, so if you were… a color ?

FP: Blue Steel

HU: An animal?

FP: That’s easy, I would be a cat. A big one though…

HU: A meal?

FP: Poached eggs. I’m just found of eggs, any kind.

HU: A song?

FP: JJ, Still Dre

HU: A movie?

FP: Armageddon

HU: A sin?

FP: Envy.

HU: An object?

FP: I’ll pass. Can’t be an object.

HU: A sport or a game?

FP: I’d be Jogging.

HU: A book?

FP: Heart of Darkness, Conrad.

HU: A hero or a superhero?

FP: I’d probably be Antman.

HU: Thanks a lot! So now, could you sum-up your professional background in 30 seconds?

FP: I worked at RBS in debt capital market in London. Then I worked at Deloitte in audit, I worked also at P&G in strategy and finally I worked, before arriving here, at Ogilvy & Mather in client consulting. I’ve been in Abidjan for 18 months and I’ve been working as a country manager for Hellofood, a food delivery service which belongs to AIG (Africa Internet Group).

“The most difficult choice I have come across was a few months ago when I had to decide whether or not laying off people”

HU: What does Hellofood offer?

hellofoodFP: Hellofood is a food delivery plateform for people who want to get food delivered to their place. We allow them to order through our website or the app and we give them the choice among the best restaurant in the city. It is a pretty famous model but I think we do it better and more efficiently than other services  because we are a worldwide company. Hellofood is established in 45 countries in the world. Under the name Foodpanda in Asia and Hellofood in Africa and South America.

HU: What makes you happy to go to work in the morning?

FP: Honestly, I am happy to go to work every day because I know I am not going to see any morons. I have hired most of the people in this team and it is just a pleasure to know that you gonna get there and you are not going to have some guys just bullshitting you around and not being enjoyable to work with. We have a young team, passionate people and the mood is just really engaging.

HU: Have you copped with a difficult choice in your professional life and what have you learnt?

FP: I think the most difficult choice I have come across was a few months ago when I had to decide whether or not laying off people for the sake of the company’s efficiency. When you’ve hired these people you realize how hard your decision can be on them. They’ve had a good job and the next day they won’t have it anymore. But I am convinced that while facing this kind of challenge you really have to think long term. In the end what is better for the company is better for the people because your company is people, you work with people, you deal with people, so if your company gets better it’s going to be better overall for more people.

HU: What are your usual tasks in your job?

FP: It changed a lot. When I got here a year and a half ago my task was to go in the city, bike around, speak to the vendors and tell them about our service :“it is something happening, in Ivory Coast, people can order food online and get delivered at their doorsteps” it was something very new for them at the beginning. Since then we have developed the business, the team has expanded and now most of my job is to manage the different teams: set clear targets, make sure these targets are hit and if not, understand why. So a lot of working with people, helping people and structure their work.

HU: What is Hellofood’s strategy in Ivory Coast?

FP: We are aiming at growing the business in the whole country, and we want to have all the best restaurants you can think of. It is all customer based, they want to have choices, they want quality and they want something reliable. One of my main priority is on the delivering aspect. Get the food extremely fast in a great packaging wherever the client is in the city. The target is to deliver anywhere within 40 minutes. And finally, my goal is to make sure all the employees here are happy when they do their job. It relies on doing recruitment the right way to have great people who know why they are here.

“A year and a half ago it was hard to hire people… I would interview students from the top universities in the country, tell them they would work on e-commerce and they would be like “what is it you do exacly ? Are you sure you will be able to pay me?”

HU: Do you have many competitors on your market in Ivory Coast?

FP: No, we are alone. You have to realize that when AIG arrived here you had no e-commerce website in the country. So 3 years ago Jumia opened, Hello Food opened, Jovago, Lamudi, Carmudi… There were all e-commerce websites and people had no idea what they were made for and we had to go through the whole educational part. We had to teach people how to use the app, we had to get them used to ordering online and get things delivered. After three years we still have no competitors but I am sure they are going to come and when they do I will be happy because it will mean that we were right to come here first.

HU: During your 18 months in Ivory Coast, have you observed a change in Ivorians mindset regarding e-commerce?

FP: Sure! First of all, look at the figures, we have had a month on month increase in terms of orders of 15% on average on that period. Then in a more personal perspective, it is much easier for me to pitch Hellofood to restaurants today. But what was even harder a year and a half ago was to hire people… I would interview students from the top universities in the country, tell them they would work on e-commerce, which means a lot of marketing and operations and these people would be like “what is it you do exacly ? Are you sure you will be able to pay me?” and that doesn’t existe anymore. Now the best students in the country knock at our doors for internships and jobs! I think it is clearly the effect of our communication and it shows how fast mentalities evolve.

HU: Appart from e-commerce, who are the other internet players in Ivory Coast?

FP: The blogging community is very strong, you also have many social influencers. You also have a few Ivorian website mainly about information, fashion and culture.

“We don’t have addresses in Ivory Coast. How do you deliver a Pizza or a Sushi when you don’t know precisely where a person lives?”

HU: Would you say digitalization is a trend in Ivory Coast?

FP: Sure! You can see more and more people using smartphones with data. We have 3G all over Abidjan thanks to MTN (ed. One of AIG shareholders). And it is not going to stop because the younger generation is digital native, just like what happened in developed countries with the millennial generation 10 years before. Internet penetration is only 5 or 6% in Ivory Coast but it is increasing in a very fast pace.

HU: As you said Hellofood operates in 45 countries. What are the specificities of working in a start-up that belongs to a big company such as Hellofood/AIG?

FP: You would think that because we are part of a larger company we are meant to replicate its model. It is partly true but what is interesting in our job is to adapt the model to the local realities. And of course we have great support from the main structure to achieve that.

HU: So, what are the specificities of Ivory Coast?

FP: One thing that will be very different from Hellofood or Foodpanda outside of Africa is that we don’t have addresses in Ivory Coast. How do you deliver a Pizza or a Sushi when you don’t know precisely where a person lives? It was a real challenge to get acquainted with the way people locate themselves. People use to tell us things like “I live behind the school, next to the church in a green building on the third floor”. So we had to come up with different ways to locate people.

HU: How did you do?

FP: Think about it, if you were living in Abidjan and you lived in a house your whole life, how would you tell to your friends to come to your place? You just get used to explain in a super simple and clear way where you live, and that’s just the way people do it. Funny enough it is not so much a trouble if you find the right writers to transmit the information. People that have a good knowledge of the city will know straight away when a name comes out about a particular round about or a specific building. So it is actually about getting the right writers in your team!

HU: Where do you hang-out on Sunday afternoons when Hellofood is fine?

FP: Actually our biggest day for Hellofood is Sunday afternoon… So usually I spend a little time here. But on a Saturday afternoon, the classic occupation in Abidjan is to go to the beach. The thing is I am not a beach guy at all, I don’t enjoy it so I have to find other ways to spend my time. I like to go to the Banko park for example. If you look at the map there is a huge forest in the northern part of Abidjan, 20 minutes jogging and before you know it you are in the middle of a dense tropical forest. I love this place.

Banko 1 Banko 2

“I really love the fact that in any kind of situation, if you talk enough, if you are empathic enough, if you just take the time, you are just going to end up when you want to end up”

HU: If you had only 24 hours left to live in Abidjan, what would you do?

FP: I think I would go to the Adjame market. It is such a huge chaos, people running everywhere, yelling, it is a mayhem, constantly. I think I would just go there for a few hours, enjoy the environment because that is something you don’t get to see everywhere. And the rest of the day I would do the thing you can only do in Abidjan: connect so easily with so many people. So I guess I would just spend the rest of my day speaking to random people, which is something I wasn’t doing that much back in France or England. And it is realy enjoyable. Sitting on the corners, speaking to street vendors and getting to know them a little bit better. So if I had to leave Ivory Coast I would try to connect the most I can with the locals.

HU: What do you like most about people from Abidjan?

FP: What I like the most is that no is never an answer. You can negociate and discuss everything. Ivorians are not stubborn. So I really love the fact that in any kind of situation, if you talk enough, if you are empathic enough, if you just take the time, you are just going to end up when you want to end up. Very often you are stuck in front of a locked door. You want to get somewhere, you want to meet someone, you want to try something and here you’ll always find a way, speaking to people, getting to know someone to arrange the situation. Ivorians are very flexible and this is very enjoyable.

Heard in Abidjan : “Hey man, sorry to bother you but I am very late, could you take me with you?” And the guy went “Yeah sure, I have class but lets make a detour!”

HU: Any example of this flexibility?

FP: I will tell you about one of the times I realized that I loved this country and that it was such a great place to build a business. I had a meeting with one of the best know vendor in town. A very famous fast food. I left my house, got in the cab, and I got stuck with traffic. That used to happen very often, it doesn’t anymore. I had 15 minutes to cross the city so I left the car and I saw a guy riding a motorbike. You don’t have that many in Abidjan but you have a few. So I just waved at him “Hey man, sorry to bother you but I am very late, could you take me with you?” And the guy went “Yeah sure, I have class but lets make a detour!” He took 20 minutes of his time and I arrived to my meeting on time. And I am still in touch with the guy. After that I used this trick three more times… before I finally got my own bike !

HU: What’s today’s Ivory Coast challenge that matters the most to you?

FP: I hate the traffic here, it is often stuck and very polluted. I wish there were more public transportation. You have a few buses here and there but you have way too many cars, driven by one single driver, polluting a lot… Have you seen how many cabs there are in the city? That’s good because you don’t wait a minute if you need a cab but on the other hand you have thousands of guys just running the whole town waiting for someone to pick a taxi up. This is where TaxiJet is amazing.

Investing in public transportation of any kind, train, subway, bus and creating more space for pedestrian and bikes would be an easy way to improve the city.

HU: Do you think Hellofood has a positive impact on the Ivorian Society.

FP: We have impact in three main domains.

  • First, and it is going to sound pretentious, but we are helping companies all over Abidjan to be more efficient. If you work in a bank for instance and you have to leave your building for lunch, you are loosing 1 to 2 hours for that. With Hellofood you get your plate delivered straight to your office and you lose less time. It is way better for you and for your company.
  • Then, and it is getting more interesting, we have a huge impact on our employees. At Hellofood they have the chance to work in an environment where everybody is available to share knowledge. Employees are formed here and then coached throughout their job by the teams in Paris. On a weekly basis we also organize local meetings, which are kind of trainings, in order to discuss about the different issues that happened during the week. Hellofood is a lot about coaching.
  • Finally, the people we are helping the most are the vendors. In Abidjan the restaurant scene is booming and most of the restaurant owners are entrepreneurs. They open a first restaurant and aim at opening a new one. And we are getting these people new clients, more orders and a top delivery service with no up-front investment.

So as a matter of fact I think we have an impact on the local economy.

HU: What is your favorite place on the HEC campus?

FP: It is going to sound redundant but I love the forest. If you cross it and you go past the golf there are castles hidden in the trees. It is a beautiful site. I love the area of the lake too. You can go at night around the caves, start a fire… Apart from that I really enjoyed the roofs of the AP3 buildings I was leaving in. I enjoyed sitting there on Sundays afternoon and looking at people passing by.

HU: What is your best memory from HEC?

FP: I have amazing memories of my teachers and classes, I loved it. But the best memories I have had are the ones I shared with my classmates. The whole class used to leave all in the same building: AP3. 30 people, 20 nationalities, coming from all different backgrounds and we were all really close. And one night, this guy, Clark said “it is interesting because each room is representing the personality of a country” – everyone had pimped out his room with obviously some touch of his home country – “so we could have a party in the whole building with a different mood in each room!”. So we organized this thing! There were 15 rooms participating and it was a complete mess, people running from a place to the other, dressed-up, and you couldn’t recognize anything… It was a beautiful mix of nationalities, culture, party, it was nice…

“I am so happy right now that I have failed before because it actually made me stronger and allowed me to try a variety of things”

Vache Campus

HU: Would you advise someone to go to HEC? Why?

FP: Definitely. The aspect that I loved the most was the campus. Being able to develop strong relationships with people because you live with them, you study with them, you do sports with them, you party with them, you eat with them… It is not only about what you want to learn but also who you want to be. I feel like the way of teaching, the way the integration is made, the way that the school provides so many services for people to get together is very symptomatic for what they want you to be. And they want you to be a strong network of people helping each other and being together.

HU: Talking about integration. How was the integration process in your masters?

FP: We went on a three day trip when we talked with coachs. Trying to figure out where we came from, where we wanted to go…

This was the vision of Benedicte Faivre Tavignot who is in charge of the Msc in sustainable development: before you start the masters you have to know where you want to go and why you want to go there. It was a really introspective week end, but paradoxically we learnt a lot about the flatmates too. Hopefully it was all done in a very light mood where we could also enjoy some free time after the workshops.

HU: What advice would you give to a young HEC graduate?

FP: What I have learnt, and what I would tell someone, is that you should not be afraid of failure. And that’s also what HEC’s moto is about. The French culture is only about success, and only success, when failure can bring you so much. So before coming to HEC I have had a couple personal failures, I got kicked-out from internships for doing a lousy job, I started companies that didn’t go well, all this things make you doubt in an environment where you think that only success matters. But after leaving HEC I was able to find a job where I could develop the skills I wanted. Which I didn’t think was possible because of these failures…I am so happy right now that I have failed before because it actually made me stronger and allowed me to try a variety of things.

HU: HEC’s moto is : “the more you know, the more you dare”. What is your own moto?

FP: “Toutes les choses ont une fin, sauf la banana, qui en a deux”

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