One of the most common questions we receive at CanGo from external parties is “Why are you launching with motorcycle taxis instead of car taxis?” It’s a really good question and something that the CanGo management put a lot of thought into.

The case for launching with cars was, frankly, our first choice for Kinshasa. Transportation in general is problematic in Kinshasa: public buses (where they exist) are nicknamed ‘Esprit de Mort’ (spirit of death) for their hazardous public safety, kidnappings with yellow car taxis are a serious problem and some of the cars on the street look like they just arrived off of the set of a Mad Max inspired Toyota commercial (though to be fair there are a lot of Ferraris). The launch hypothesis was to for our launch ‘beachhead’ users to be urban elites with smartphones who wanted more freedom in their city, then grow the market down pyramid from there. The hypothesis is still defensible.

Why the change of heart? We had been internally jumping back and forth for awhile. Solutions for the urban elite is quite a narrow market opportunity in Kinshasa, our personal history with operations in Kigali was with motorcycle taxis and it’s more bang for your buck for customer acquisition with motorcycles than cars. However, it was over coffee with a board member where CanGo’s cofounder Peter and myself really tied our destiny to a motorcycle taxi launch.

One of the best things about board members is access to engaged higher altitude thinking. When you’re in the trenches of operations sometimes you can lose perspective and this board member was able to summarize the problem with a simple question: is CanGo a ride hailing company or an on demand services company?

For CanGo we have an internal document we call ‘Top of the Mountain’ where as a team we anchor our ultimate dreams for the company so that every team member can understand how the work do today leads towards something transformational. In this document we talk about building a layer of connected services together linked together by a logistics backbone and a single app experience. In short, we aspire to be an on demand services company.

If we are an on demand company, then motorcycle taxis make sense for launch. If CanGo launched with cars then when it’s time to grow the roster of services on offer we hit a wall: cars aren’t great vehicles for on demand services where you want to deliver things like food, supermarket goods and professional tradespeople. Even if cars could be an easier start point we would be setting ourselves up for failure trusting that we could smoothly transition from taxi cars to motorcycle on demand services in the future, when in reality that sounds like the definition of a ‘hard thing’.

At CanGo we know the mountain we want to climb. Even if it’s steeper in the beginning, it is true that  motorcycle taxi drivers are harder to manage, users have less smartphone penetration and trips have smaller unit economics, it makes sense to be motivated by working everyday towards the real ambitions of the company. 

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