Tech and Teamwork

A Tunisian Immigrant's Journey to Building a Homemade Food Service Platform in Paris

Malek Cheikh Rouhou.jpeg

I started immigration at nine years old, moving from my home country Tunisia to Qatar, in the Middle East. That was the first time that I got out of my comfort zone. And then, after my baccalaureate, I decided I wanted to go abroad, to Europe, to do my master studies.
I spent five years in the north of France. And through these five years I was feeling a lot of pressure from inside me, from my parents, from the society that I was coming from, and of course pressure coming from the French society.

Pressure makes you run fast

Being between these kinds of pressures, at some point, you try to satisfy everyone, and you end up not satisfying yourself. People in Tunisia think that you are very lucky to go outside of your home country, that you have the privilege to go abroad, that you have a very easy life and because of that you cannot complain. On the other side, in France, people also expect you not to complain. I remember one day, I was in the classroom, and to one of my friends, I told: “look, the weather is not great”. Her response was very direct. She just told me to go back to my country if I did not like the weather. It's the kind of situation where you just laugh because you don’t know what to say.

I wasn't really convinced by my studies. That's also one part of the equation. Because I was under a lot of pressures I just wanted to graduate, and I didn't even look to what I was studying. 

I studied Mathematical engineering.

When you are abroad, you start thinking less about yourself and you just want to show that you are capable of doing things and achieving what you promised. I was in engineering school. I was good with math and I was doing everything to graduate quickly and to show people that I was able to do things. But once I finished university and that energy to satisfy people drained, I had this big motivation, huge motivation to start sharing, migrant stories. I started a digital media outlet, where I wanted to host migrants from different backgrounds and give them a platform to tell their stories. 

This digital media, we called Eliens. I wanted to start something of my own when I finished university.

Regular job and a regular life

But again, you find yourself, between brackets, directed to be like everybody else. So, I started looking for a regular job. I started looking for regular things to do. This is why I started a job in a consulting firm, but there was always something missing.

I had this entrepreneurial side of me that wanted to do something else.

The first web series we have done with Eliens, it was during COVID-19, during the lockdown. We became a little bit popular, just a little bit. So, we had NGOs from Germany and from France contacting us and telling us about public European funds. 

So, we have done a second round and then the third round. The second round was also a web series with webinars about immigration. And the third one was a hackathon for migrants and a concert made of migrant stories.

Each round was for one year. By the end of the third year, I was a little bit disappointed, to be honest. I wanted to create a positive impact on migrants. My motivation at some point was to share my story and to give a space to people to share theirs. But by the end of it, I found out that these kinds of funds are not enough to help you get the impact you want to achieve. 

So, at that point, I took a break from this digital media and from NGO initiatives.

The start of KULUWAK

And that's how I started my business, which is the business that you know me through SINGA, which is KULUWAK. I was simultaneously working my full-time job in consultancy and having the incubation with SINGA. And then at some point, I was ready to dedicate my full time to KULUWAK. 

I spent six months having two jobs, and then six months full time on the project. It's going very well, to be honest. We have started a new phase one month ago, which is the growth phase.

KULUWAK is a marketplace that connects homemade food vendors with clients.

We provide a la carte services to our users. Any client that wants to order homemade food can connect to the platform, where they can order food that the vendors offer through the platform. 

The other side of the business is that we give services to the vendors to help them structure their business and grow their sales. Structuring the business means that we are helping them get all the certifications to be able to sell food. We give our vendors business intelligence expertise on how to run a restaurant, or how to have relationships with a client.

Most of the vendors that we have on our platform now are migrants. Our acquisition strategy was based to first go look for these migrant talents that have a knack for cooking. Our clients are people who would like to order something different. A great thing about Paris is that there is big diversity there. People love to try new things. We are helping people discover food from other places.

When we started doing our business model, we discovered also that migrants miss their home country food. So, they would go and order from our app. 

We launched our platform in February 2024. We have registered 10 vendors already. We are in contact with 100 vendors just in Paris area. There is a huge informal market. Many people sell food through social media. 

We didn't do big marketing efforts because we are focusing on the supply aspect right now. The idea now is that once we stabilise the offer part of the marketplace, we go to the demand part. For now, the numbers look amazing.

The global team and larger aspirations

I was mainly never alone on the project. People would come and go until I found my co-founder. 

My co-founder has been with me for a year now. For one year, we worked together without physically meeting. She was based in Tunisia, and worked just as a part-time job, then it became full-time.

After working together for a year, I wanted her to become my co-founder so I asked her and she accepted. But before she came, I had some friends helping and pushing with me in France. Today, we are a team of three people. And we have freelancers that work on the development of our mobile application. 

One of the reasons that I am in Tunisia right now is that we started an incubation program here, which is designed for the Tunisian diaspora.

I am back in Tunisia after 20 years of being away to work on the project for a period of six months. This is one of the advantages of a platform business model, you can move from one country to the other. In Tunisia, we are developing our excellence centre, our technical team. And in Paris, we will have our sales team.

People who did not try it don't know this, but migration can bring you a lot. One of the most important things is that you get to know great people everywhere and hear about opportunities others wouldn’t know.