SafeMotos, an on demand ride hailing platform focusing on motorcycle taxis in Kigali has officially launched in Kinshasa, DRC and rebranded to CanGo.africa to bolster its super app ambitions, TechMoran authoritatively reports.
Speaking to TechMoran, Barrett Nash co-founder and CEO SafeMotos said, “CanGo is just one letter off of Congo, while not limiting us to Congo but an opportunity to launch FoodGo, AlcoholGo and everything CanGo. To many people ‘safe’ means slow and expensive while ‘motos’ is not recognized in many markets. CanGo is a more mature brand we’re getting behind, with better flexibility. We’re still SafeMotos in Kigali for a few more weeks, then will rebrand there too.”
“We are excited to be a first mover in Kinshasa, Africa’s third biggest city, and believe that we can grow into being a single app that provides many on-demand services in one. Think Glovo plus Lynk but CanGo,” Nash added.
According to Nash, him and his Kenyan cofounder Peter Kariuki were roommates in Kigali before they launched SafeMotos as they would often take motorcycle taxis to meet at their favourite bars.
“We’d always jump off and go ‘wow, that guy almost killed me’,” Nash said. “As aspiring entrepreneurs at the time we decided to do something about it: let’s make motorcycle taxis safe to use. We made a pitch deck, were approached by a startup accelerator, managed to get some seed money and we were off to the races.
On why they chose motorcycles and not cars, Nash says it’s a question about what do they want to grow into: cars on demand are a great service, but what they are very motivated by is how they can bring additional services to their users from within a single app. As soon as we decided to orient our future towards multiple on demand services, then it’s a natural choice to focus on motorcycles as they are such a flexible way of moving a huge variety of goods and people.
“As soon as we decided to orient our future towards multiple on demand services, then it’s a natural choice to focus on motorcycles as they are such a flexible way of moving a huge variety of goods and people,” he added.
Peter Kariuki and Nash met originally in Kigali as roommates. Nash was living in Rwanda renting a room from a friend of his and one day Peter showed up asking why Nash had stolen his room as their mutual friend had been renting it to both of them while Peter was at university.
They decided to get a bigger house and became friends. Anchored on their passion for entrepreneurship and problem solving and a strong belief that they are stronger together than independently, they chose to work together and have been the crazy entrepreneurship ride together.
On why they chose Kigali over Nairobi apart from meeting and studying there, Nash says one of the things about doing a startup is one learns a lot as they grow their business.
“What we learned in Kigali is that one needs to solve real problems. We say ‘we need to be a painkiller, not a vitamin’. In Kigali, transportation is quite good already, and with the limited size of the market it means that we’d set a relatively low ceiling for our ambition. What we also learned was that the opportunity for disruption of on demand companies in African cities is bigger than we expected,” Nash told TechMoran. “We decided we wanted to go to where we could have the biggest impact and fight to own the biggest piece of the economic pie: for us this is Kinshasa, with 14 million people, good 3G/4G, no startups of note and some of the most challenging transportation factors in Africa.”
Kinshasa and Nairobi are very different and Nash says that while Nairobi is, to him, the king of African startup ecosystem right now, where CanGo keeps its technology team, Kinshasa in many ways still feels pre-tech for him. To Peter, Kinshasa reminds him of the Nairobi of his childhood. In terms of opportunities, the two are hoping that they can turn Kinshasa into a Nairobi even though the startup ecosystem hasn’t been defined and there’s very little support infrastructure.
Though CanGo has been involved so much in women empowerment initiatives, it’s a fully for-profit venture. Their SafeMotos Institute aims to allow the company to have positive social impact. The institute is still early in it’s impact but it has already trained a cohort of female drivers in Kigali, and are investigating opening a school for drivers in Kinshasa.
SafeMotos has examples of drivers getting married and buying houses due to the stability that being with the company allows them. As the firm goes fullblast in DRC, its now focused on turning Kinshasa into a ‘castle’ by first creating a defensible ecosystem of services . On the way, there is a major strategic challenge for on demand companies in that it’s just too easy to have competitors undercut another player but CanGo wants to nail a defensible ecosystem, then look at the dozens of cities in Africa with more than a million people that don’t have a developed on demand player yet and turn them into castles as well.
With discipline and focus, CanGo says it’s sure to nail the core customer experience before looking at widening the suite of services it can provide.
“We believe that making our drivers recognized as being of a high caliber, as well as getting to the right level of trip volume, allows us to leverage stakeholders to allow access. At the end of the day, SafeMotos is a positive thing for a city as it professionalizes a highly informal marketplace,” Nash told TechMoran adding that he was a billionaire overnight, he’d put it into Zeppelins, which he believes would be a highly viable solution to African intercity and intracity transportation challenges than the two wheeler motorcycles.
For entrepreneurs who want to follow his journey, Nash and Peter advise entrepreneurs to have technical co-founders like Peter, CanGo’s CTO, as it makes it very hard to build a tech team from scratch. CanGo is watching Lagos.
“We’re watching with a lot of interest, specifically with how Lagos has boomed over night. We are very interested on a different subset of markets though than the ones that we already peceive as crowded. As a startup we’re always raising money and are always on the prowl for strategic investors who share our vision,” he said.
CanGo believes its well positioned compared to its competition because it’s still in the pioneering days of transportation disruption in Africa.
“We believe if we can excel in Kinshasa, then we are very well positioned to expand into other challenging markets that have been underserved by technology providers. As with everything in startups, timing is a huge factor, right now we feel like the window of opportunity is open, but we need to move fast if we’re not wanting to miss it,” Nash concluded.
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