What’s the inspiration behind Ayoba?
Ayoba was founded in my parents’ kitchen after we moved to the USA from South Africa. The idea came as we were not able to find our beloved South African meat snacks, biltong and droëwors here in the USA.
“Ayoba” is a slang term used to express agreement and approval. People say, "That’s Ayoba!" when they like something. This name allows us to celebrate our deep family bond in a fun and lighthearted way.
Has cooking always been important to you?
Meat is a very important part of the South African culture, particularly braai (or South African BBQ). A braai is a form of social gathering, where friends and family “meat” at someone’s place. It is always centered around a wood fire or charcoal grill, and at least one kind of meat is featured. Being the person in charge of braai-ing is regarded as an honor, which is typically performed by only one or two people.
Growing up, my parents were big believers in home-cooked meals. It was very common to have friends show up at our house for an unscheduled Sunday dinner. This inspired me and my brother as we founded Ayoba and became the brand value of our company. In fact, we only use ingredients my parents used when they welcome friends.
What's it like working with your brother?
Ayoba has always been a family affair. At the very beginning my mom helped by putting 1- 2K labels on clear bags for products almost every weekend, and my dad was the unofficial R&D lead. Of course, there are ups and downs when growing a business with your brother, but each of us excel at different parts of the business. We also don't hesitate to ask for help and cover for each other when needed.
Why did you choose to incorporate social impact into your business strategy?
Community and inclusion were an important of our upbringing, so we decided to give back to our local community in the Washington, DC area. We regularly donate Biltong and Droëwors to Martha’s Table and Capital Area Food Bank, and we hope to expand our donation program and form a more impactful relationship with our community through food drives, charity braai events, and more as the business grows.
How do you handle risk and competition?
Risk and competition are inherent aspects of building a startup. I have learned to do what I can to prevent risks, but more importantly, I try to be ready to handle them at any time. On a personal level, competition was a great challenge for me, but over time, I came to realize that it’s best to stay in your own lane and focused on what you’re doing. If you do it right, the competition will not be threatening.
What’s been the #1 (or two) top challenge(s) you’ve faced while launching your company?
Education. Biltong and Droëwors are new products to the market, so we’re essentially creating our own sub-category within meat snacks. Because of that, there's a strong learning curve to understand how consumers will respond to our products and how we can market them.
Aside from Biltong and Droëwors, what is an underappreciated South African snack you’d like to recommend?
Boerewors. It’s an uncooked sausage made of beef and pork, which is best prepped on a braai (grill). The African word "boerewors" means “farmer’s sausage” in English. Unlike other sausages, boerewors are bought uncooked and sometimes frozen, which results in the most authentic taste.
What is your superpower?
Ability to make new friends and build friendships.
What’s your kryptonite?
A project or timeline being held up by lack of communication.
Do you have any other hobbies/things you like to do in your spare time?
I really enjoy cooking and food photography. I could take 20 pictures in a row of the same steak from slightly different angles.
Do you have a(ny) mentor(s)? If so, what have they taught you?
Our advisor at Ayoba, Alan Murray, has taught me a lot about how to grow a business and a team while keeping your values at the forefront.
I also have learned a lot from my parents. They taught me so much about being compassionate, driven and goal-oriented. They also reminded me to stop chewing with my mouth open, stop slouching, eat more vegetables, not to wear a hat at the dinner table, etc. These are very important life tips.