Brundo Market | Oakland, CA.
Brundo Market is an Ethiopian spice and product importer, store-front, and e-commerce shop, operated by Aderaw Yeshiwas.
When did you start your business?
Brundo has had a few iterations – initially it begun in 2009 as a local market and then slowly expanded into an import company that did physical products (baskets, coffee pots and other cultural items) and then to a B2B spice importer to now a direct to customer largely E-commerce company that focuses on bringing high end quality spices and herbs from Ethiopia. Brundo has been in its current iteration since 2016.
What inspired you to start it?
We discovered the lack of African based spices and flavors in the western palette. African spices and food goods are undervalued because there is not enough science and research as there are in western crops and goods. Having run a restaurant before – we knew there was a need and market for these unique and exquisite tastes, we just needed to do it.
Africa is constantly being exploited so we knew that if we did not do it ourselves, someone with less passion for the product would take advantage of the people and the product for profit. Our goal is to spread the knowledge and beauty of African flavors and spices.
What were some early challenges you faced?
We had to bootstrap the company for years because nobody would invest in something that was anchored or tied to an African good. We faced a lack of support for African businesses. In addition, governmental roadblocks would not allow us to export products from Ethiopia into the US.
Exporting continues to be a challenge due to the high cost barrier and high cash capital required.
What were you working on before the pandemic started?
Before Covid19 we were having steady growth and continuing to bootstrap our profits into the product. We were planning to increase wholesale as well as trying to expand our sales funnel with pop ups, cooking classes and ads to expand revenue.
“Our goal is to be in every household’s spice rack."
— Aderaw Yeshiwas
What effect did COVID have on your business in the beginning? What did you do?
We saw an immediate uptick in sales – more people are home and wanting to cook. We went heads down into operating mode just trying to cover the 2.2x growth in less than a month. We quickly realized we needed to focus more on the backend streamlining and we reinvested that initial growth profit into finding a co-packer and fulfillment partner to help our operations team.
How have you pivoted?
We are working more on our e-commerce presence, digital assets as well as overall design of the product. Most of our wholesale accounts have stopped and we are now purely focused on direct to consumer. We are spending most of our time on customer success, listening to our customers and engaging with them.
What’s on the horizon for Brundo?
Our goal is to be in every household’s spice rack – next year we envision new design and packaging, and then we see ourselves partnering and expanding to wet products in the US (hummus, ghee, more sauces) and also expanding into the European market. In five years we see ourselves in restaurant menus as a featured spice in dishes.
How has ICA helped you on your small business journey?
ICA has helped tremendously in giving us guidance with a top notch e-commerce advisor as well as helping us navigate fundraising. I found having an expert advisor in our field as a huge help- our advisor has helped us keep on track. As a small business with big eyes – it is easy to lose focus or focus on the wrong things. ICA has helped us understand our business and how to expand it properly.
What advice would you give to entrepreneurs running a business during this time?
Don't be worried to reiterate and take a risk – we are all struggling. Find some niche or way to expand in this climate and focus on it. In tough times there are also some opportunities that are hard to see clearly at first.
How can your community support you?
Please spread the word to anyone that might be interested in our mission, please give us as much feedback as possible on the product and how we can do better.
Shop online at brundo.com.
This article is one from a series of profiles featuring entrepreneurs from Cohort Five of the ICA Accelerator.