CanGo cofounder and CEO Barrett Nash explains what a startup is and if CanGo, a DRC based superapp active in Kinshasa, is a startup. This talk was for CanGo employees in Kinshasa, Kigali and Nairobi.
“Order anything you want”
Kigali, as an innovation lab for CanGo, is all about learning. The primary purpose of CanGo Rwanda is to track customer preferences and trends to learn which services are most popular, scalable and profitable. We also want to see if there is anything individual consumer sentiment surprises us with. While we were not the first on-demand delivery service in Kigali, we aspire to be the most innovative in bringing services that are tailored to the unique case study of a middle class / lower class African end user. What we asked ourselves was: what if customers had always wanted to order particular items on demand, but just never had the chance?
In light of this, we decided to launch a service where customers could order absolutely anything they wanted (as long as it could fit on the back of a motorcycle).
We quickly concluded that the easiest and fastest way to start collecting real user data was to allow customers to order through WhatsApp, since it demands no app install and is highly prevalent in both Kigali and Kinshasa. We subsequently set up a WhatsApp Business account, an alternative version of the WhatsApp mobile application that was released in late 2017 solely for small businesses.
The primary benefits of WhatsApp for Business include the ability to:
- Be seen as a legitimate business by customers
- Set opening times
- Create away messages and quick replies
- Set labels to each conversation
WhatsApp Business allows us to manage every stage of an order process seamlessly, whilst we are also able to offer extremely personalised customer service in comparison to a mobile application or website.
Here’s how it works:
- The customer sends us a message on WhatsApp telling us what they’d like to order
- Our customer service team enquiries about the availability of the item(s) and tells the customer the total cost of the order
- A WhatsApp group is created with the customer and a delivery pilot where both are asked to share their live locations
- The pilot rides to the store and pays for the item in cash
- The pilot delivers the item to the customer, and the customer pays the pilot for the cost of the products and the predetermined delivery fee
So far, customers have been using us to order food from restaurants, groceries or alcohol from supermarkets, and products from other stores and markets around Kigali, such as electronics, clothes and beauty products. Many people and businesses have also been using us as a courier service to pick-up and/or send items to friends or customers.
But the real beauty of ‘order anything’, and of using a WhatsApp number rather than a website or mobile application, is that customers can order anything that pops into their head at that moment in time. There are absolutely no restrictions, as long as it can fit on the back of a bike!
Starting was easy. We hired several of the best drivers who had worked with us previously at SafeMotos and set up a small customer service team to handle orders. In terms of marketing, we started a Facebook ad campaign, showing off how customers could ‘order anything’ and posting photos of food, groceries and alcohol to wet their appetites. Our call to action seemed simple and effective: “WhatsApp us now on 0789397682”.
Gaining traction, however, was not so simple. Following our first week of operations, we had only completed 4 deliveries. We were also not even receiving many messages on WhatsApp, despite our Facebook ads reaching over 7,000 people and receiving hundreds of ‘likes’ each day.
So, we decided to offer a promotion. It read something like this:
“Today we’re giving away FREE cupcakes. Just send us a message on WhatsApp! Soon we’ll start charging, but for now we want to see if you like our service.”
Yet still only 4 customers asked for the free cupcake…
Who wouldn’t want a free cupcake?!
If I was in the U.K. and saw an advert on Facebook of a company giving out free cupcakes, I would definitely give it a go. What would I have to lose? It’s free! If it never arrived, then I lost absolutely nothing. Either customers didn’t trust us or we were offering the wrong gift.
Whilst I was almost certain that people didn’t yet trust our service, in this case it turned out to be the latter. On the weekend, I met a Rwandese in a cafe and asked him if he would like a free cupcake. His response: “What’s a cupcake?”
So instead, after a quick discussion in the office, we started offering free sandwiches. And just like that, people started messaging us. In fact, during our second week of operations, precisely 266 people reached out to us, and in turn, we completed a total of 114 deliveries to some very happy customers.
With all these new customers, we felt like we were close to unlocking the market in Kigali and gaining some real traction. But could we convert people who had ordered a free gift into repeat customers who would actually pay for our service? This is precisely the question we planned to answer in the following days.
One of the things the CanGo team believes is that the African technology and startup ecosystem is still in its infancy with best practices still being pioneered.
While as a company CanGo seeks to be a model in following business best practices, we also believe that making use of our existing experience via lessons learned by our practical experience in Kinshasa, Kigali and Nairobi markets can be catalysts in unlocking the maximum economic and impact opportunity for the company.
The following are sets of concepts CanGo brings in our business approach that we feel others working on business success in the region may find helpful. If you have any disagreement or pushback we’d love to hear from you, feel free to drop a line to [email protected]
In no particular order:
- Whichever company listens / builds closest to users will build better products
- Jumia has their tech team in Portugal. Most technology approaches execute on design languages pioneered for the Californian middle class. CanGo believes a tight feedback loop between user experience research and in market software engineers who bring their own awareness of local realities will make technology friendlier to use, minimize funnel loss and make the office an an engine of innovation. CanGo is practicing what we preach as we’ve transferred from an Indian / European tech back office to a Nairobi based team.
- The company with the best culture wins
- Talent is challenging to find anywhere in the world, but this is doubly hard in Africa with braindrain to the West and cities that are often expensive with a low ranking on international livability indexes. We believe that a mission driven culture can flip these realities on its head: by having a culture that empowers employees by prioritizing mission alignment between personal goals and business goals, employees will be happy, the company will be able to hire top notch talent and a company can rise above rivals in employee innovation and retention.
- For business opportunity to be unlocked the economic pie in Africa needs to get bigger
- CanGo seeks to be a part of building a greater economic business opportunity in Africa by building value rather than extracting value. Right now, the economic pie is very small in Africa. The economy of Seattle has a larger GDP than the DRC with almost 90 million people: it’s hard for businesses to decide to focus on Sub Saharan Africa when its opportunity is still so nascent. However, this is an opportunity as well, since it means that there is so much scope for longterm growth while the competitive playing field is still open. CanGo believes that businesses instead of focusing on winning the economic pie of today should focus on bringing / scaling new products to market so that they win the larger economic pie of tomorrow.
- Instead of ten companies providing ten services, one company should provide ten services
- Lean startup methodology focuses on narrow products that fit a market opening and scale quickly. However, in Africa where the services ecosystem is still by and large in its infancy, this is not an option. CanGo believes that this is not a challenge but an opportunity, as shown by our current strategy. We believe that controlling multiple logically connected services (IE anything that can move on a bike, digital payments, etc) ascan create efficiencies, create a more defensible market positioning and bring more value to customers who benefit from a one stop shop.
- Individual cities if won absolutely can be long term defensible monopolies
- While tech companies like the myth of genius, it’s quite accepted that the real secret to the sky high valuations of technology companies is discovering natural monopolies. CanGo believes that interconnected services scaled together quickly within a single city will be a defensible natural monopoly over the longterm.
- Continuous improvement needs to be in the DNA of every process
- CanGo believes that a company does not stay the same: it either becomes better or worse. Therefore, continuous improvement needs to be built into every process of the company.
- Technology is just one of many tools
- CanGo believes that technology is a disruptive tool that is unique in its capacity to scale products rapidly. However, CanGo is flexible to use other approaches if technology is not the right tool for a task at hand.
- The best startup teams right now are founded by a mixture of local
- Obviously we’re a bit partial here as CanGo is founded by a Canadian and a Kenyan, and we’re certainly not saying this is a rule written in stone. What we’ve experienced is that a local founder, who understand the market, brings connections and can place themselves in the minds of users, paired with an international founder who has seen other markets and doesn’t take entrenched consumer habit as inviolable means that when addressing the challenges of growing a business you’ve got multiple lenses to see the problem through.
- Business is war and it’s either win or be beaten
- The technology startup ecosystem in Africa can sometimes feel just a bit too cozy. If it’s the endless ‘pitch competitions’ or the fact that grants fund a disproportionate amount of startup it seems like often the animal spirits the drive the worlds greatest companys are missing from the DNA. This is a concern, since one of the biggest challenges for a startup is to validate a market or product then have a more primal company enter the market and eat that startups lunch. It’s time for companies to feel second place to no one and focus on winning as a binary challenge, with either win or be beaten.
- We believe that Africa’s most successful company will be the one which uses technology to make African bottom of the pyramid users make more money
- The bottom of the pyramid is defined by having low purchasing power and low discretionary income, which makes them not well suited to the consumer products that thrive in America / Europe. However, this segment of the population is enormously hungry for economic opportunity and whichever company unlocks this will be positioned to become Africa’s most successful company. The killer app for Africa is going to be the app that can open up the economic ladder.
For the team team at CanGo we believe that right now is the most exciting time to be running a startup in Sub Saharan Africa. The demographic future of the world is going to be centered on the continent and we believe that there is a unique opportunity to develop a culture of business that is an evolution rather than a dependency of global business best practices. We’ll be happy to see how many of the above hypotheses are validated, wrong or evolve as we seek to unlock success for CanGo.
One of the most common pieces of feedback the CanGo team receives when talking about making motorcycle taxi trips safer is if it is even possible. At the end of the day, so the thinking goes, a customer is being asked to be exposed on the back of a motorcycle: vulnerable to every other driver on the road, the very bottom of the vehicular pecking order.
Our response at CanGo is while we may never be able to guarantee 100% safety, we can do meaningful work towards increased safety. After all, car accidents happen everyday all over the world, but that doesn’t mean that ABS breaks, seatbelts and airbags haven’t had a transformative impact on decreasing the risk of car travel. We believe we can have a similar impact on motorcycle taxis.
What’s both a problem and an opportunity is that in Kinshasa, where the core of our current operations are, there are so many dangers to be aware of. Hospitals don’t have ambulances, assertive drivers treat intersections as a game of chicken, drivers are at risk of robbery from customers, customers are at risk of robbers / kidnapping from drivers and there are a worrying number of motorcycle taxi drivers that start the day at the bar.
CanGo’s launch value proposition in Kinshasa is: customers can get drivers who have helmets, aren’t drunk and won’t kidnap anyone. These are low hanging fruits that currently are not available in the city.
However this is just the starting point to making trips safer and more secure. There are several additional strategies we perform for increased safety and security:
- User reviews: One of the great things about an app experience is that customers can directly review drivers, and drivers can directly review customers. This gives a layer of accountability, it also gives easy data for direct action. A message like “this driver drives like a maniac” is easily the most useful data in the company.
- Smartphone sensor telematic data: In every smartphone there are gyroscopes, GPS and accelerometers. We integrate real time driver smartphone data with insurance industry telematic APIs so that we get risk scores on how drivers drive. The primary data in point is hard breaking, but the data has been surprisingly effective with trips customers flag manually for safety concerns having a strong correlation with telematic data. We communicate this telematic data to drivers in the app so that they can educate themselves, while we also take drivers off the CanGo system who have persistently low scores.
- Working with drivers with experience: We require at least two years of prior expereince as motorcycle taxi drivers from our fleet pilots (our internal name for drivers) with the logic that by the time a driver has a certain number of kilometers under his belt he’s mastered the ballet of Kinshasa traffic.
- Voice recognition for identity verification: This allows pilots and passengers to have a high degree of certainty that they know who they’re dealing with and that the person they are paired with is the real CanGo pilot or passenger.
- Shared information between pilot and passenger: Sadly robbery is a key challenge for both pilots and passengers, but with both sides being able to see key data like name, photo, number of trips taken with the system and voice recognition of identity it adds an additional layer of trust.
- Safety in numbers: Night time is dangerous for pilots and passengers, there’s no getting around that. However as easy hack to this is safety in numbers, where CanGo requires a minimum order of two drivers from 8pm to 6am so that there is never a time when a solo driver or single bike could be attacked.
We are proud of being able to provide options that increase safety, but know we’re just at the tip of the iceberg. If you have any ideas of additional ways to make motorcycle taxi trips safer feel free to share with me at [email protected] We love simple clever solutions that can have an immediate impact but are open to any and all ideas, we’re not trying to take credit or have a monopoly on innovation, we just want pilots and passengers to feel that going to the supermarket isn’t necesarily putting their life at risk.
Blog Post: A Unique Perspective: Technology Ecosystem Comparison Between Nairobi, Kigali and Kinshasa
As CanGo has operations in Kigali and Kinshasa, with a technology team in Nairobi, it means that I have spent a significant amount of time in each of these cities over the last several years. A part of the technology startup entrepreneurs mind is looking for pattern recognition between users and places with the idea of differentiating what is a great idea for a small number of people, then what is a great idea for a huge number of people. What has often surprised me, and not just with these three cities but many cities accross Africa, is how different the mindset and consumer behavior can be between places which, for the casual observer arriving by plane may seem largely similar. The purpose of this blog is to capture an outsider’s perspective of these cities in a way that sheds a bit of light on the different forms of technology ecosystem taking place in Africa.
First a caveat, while I have been based in Africa for most of the last decade, I am a Canadian. There is certainly no offence meant in any of these insights, my belief is that an outsider perspective can often bring certain insights that a local might miss, but than an outsider is going to always miss a lot of icebergs in terms of insight.
Another quick caveat, what I’m primarily looking at here is city oriented for profit businesses that use technology as a scaling mechanism. This is just a limitation of the fact that this is the space where my own business operates, I am appreciative of the incredible innovations that have been focused on rural areas of Africa, as well as the exciting projects led by non profits who, somewhat surprisingly, have often been innovation leaders.
Let’s start with Nairobi. There can be no getting around the fact that Nairobi’s adoption of technology is in a class of its own, not just in Africa but globally. For the urban middle class of Nairobi, technology is not something people are wowed by, it’s something they adopt, embrace and take as a part of their daily life with staggering quickness. My cofounder Peter’s family is often a litmus test for the Nairobi mindset, they are not the early adopter young adopter crowd but more parallel to my own aunts, uncles and cousins in Canada. Where for my family AirBnB is still a wild thing and Uber is something you might use to get home from the bar if you’re desperate, in Nairobi it’s normal weekend banter to discuss where the best AirBnBs are and Uber’s vision of replacing cars is already realized by a huge subset of the population.
I would honestly say that of any city I’ve been to in the world, Nairobi has most fully embraced technology into their daily lives. People seem used to the disruption of technology and instead of being bothered by it, seem whole heartedly to take pleasure in riding the disruption wave. It’s quite remarkable.
What this means is that Nairobi’s reputation as a tech hub is wholly justified, and it really is a natural place for international companies looking to put a toe into Africa to treat as their beachead.
However, that naturalness has some downsides: it’s ease of tech adoption is matched by a typical lack of loyalty to products with consumers taking whichever product is the cheapest that day. A core part of success in a startup is to figure out competitive defencibility, but Nairobi is a nightmare for this as more and more companies pile in to get access to the incredible Nairobi early adopters, but no one seems to have a plan of how to win an incredibly crowded playing field. Off of the top of my head if you are looking for a food delivery service you could use Uber Eats, Yum, Jumia Food and Glovo, while if you want to take a ridehailing option there is Uber, Bolt (formerly Taxify), Little and SafeBoda.
While there is the obvious problem for myself and my company that it’s close to zero fun to enter into a price war in a crowded mature market place with better capitalized rivals, there is also the secondary problem that it feels that every service is trying to beat the other for the first low hanging fruit on the tree, without the strategic breathing room to think at a more macro level. For me there is an existential question for Nairobi of just how large the early adopter market is, are the trends experienced in Nairobi a town of innate early adopter geeks, or are the lessons scalable across Africa.
My personal belief is that the best way to roll out a startup in Subsaharan Africa – South Africa (SSA-SA) is to consolidate as many related services into one, have the largest and most engaged user base, and to have clear differentiation from the tech goliaths prowling any market that looks promising. Mpesa is a great example of this, it is an organic monopoly with incredible natural network effects. For my personal area of expertise of on demand, Nairobi is a battle for the startups there where I believe if any victory is going to be possible it will be very pyrrhic. It is a great place to hunt for future opportunities on the level of a next Mpesa, I just believe there is a warning for future entrepreneurs that they need to consolidate the market and not let anyone else in. I’m still scratching my head how Uber and Taxify left the oxygen for all these other startups.
Kigali is a fascinating place. The stats that come to mind for Rwanda and Kigali are things like it is the fastest improving place on a human development index for the last 25+ years, that Kigali is often ranked the cleanest city in Africa and Rwanda has the highest ease of doing business in Africa outside of South Africa and Mauritius. This is the city that I had the privilege to call home longer than any place outside of my childhood home in Canada.
But fascinating is an interesting choice of words. What took me longer than it should have to realize is that Rwanda has put the cart ahead of the horse: instead of creating a vibrant and innovative tech ecosystem, Rwanda has branded itself as the capital of a vibrant and tech ecosystem, and is hoping by and large that the ecosystem catches up. What seems to be largely missing in Kigali is the ‘animal spirits’ that typically are core in unlocking business opportunity. In most places the metrics are easy, people want money and are okay using money as a measurement. In Kigali, what most business people say, it they’re shocked by just how little anyone actually talks about money, it would seem that money isn’t the goal. While I’m not going to dive into what alternative motivations could be, and whether that’s a positive or a negative, what it does mean is that Kigali is not anchored as a normal place.
Let me give you an example, the much touted high ranking Rwanda experiences on the ease of doing business index. The way this model typically works is academics look at a small basket of indicators on an economy that can be used to be indicative of the whole, an example might be how you can test a Mexican restaurant by the quality of its guacamole (or a Kigali restaurant by the quality of a brochette). However, the powers that be understand that mindset and have, to use the framing again, put the cart ahead of the horse: the entire economy of Rwanda is oriented around ease of doing business indicators. Children are taught it in school, businesses are measured on them and ministers sweat over them in every project they oversee. Now why is this a problem? There is a mindset that if it’s measured, it’s important, if it’s not measured, than it may as well not exist. Going back to the Mexican restaurant analogy, let’s say they have great guacamole but the service is poor, the kitchen isn’t hygenic and other things on the menu are not at the same level: even if a Mexican restaurant can usually be measured to some level by its quality of guacamole, that is a proxy, and a good guacamole can hide some serious gaps. Such is the way with Rwanda, where unfortunately the gaps (specifically in education and speaking an international language of business) though may be unmeasured, often can be canyons.
That being said Rwanda is incredible for some things. The fact that there are visas for technology entrepreneurs, you can register a business in a day and it’s considered safe to visit does make it attractive for a certain stage of development for a startup. For CanGo, we use it as a ‘showroom’, where we can use the public relations engine to our advantage.
Last, but certainly not least, is the mega city of Kinshasa. I have to be very open with the fact that we are betting my company’s future on Kinshasa, as well as the fact that I am personally fascinated by it. It is the most I can say a place is my home since I was a child and, with fairness to the unpredictability of life, I would be more than happy for this place to be my permanent home.
There are some obvious macro things that makes Kinshasa so positive a place for myself and CanGo: it’s a city of somewhere between 10-20 million people with good mobile internet and no startups (outside of CanGo!) of note. In my opinion this is the perfect environment to attempt a v2 of Nairobi, where the same incredible empowering forces of technology can be unlocked, but avoiding the brutal segmantation and price wars of Nairobi by working to consolidate the ecosystem into a defencible fortress before competition arrives. Shhhh, don’t tell anyone.
There is a secondary reason that Kinshasa seems to me so remarkable, I personally believe it can provide more scalable lessons in tech for good than any other city in Africa. The rationale for this is a couple of steps so lend me your patience. In most of the world technology startups are firmly focused on the middle class since this is where the greatest purchasing power is. This mindest has largely followed into technology startups strategic direction in Africa (with many notable exclusions), a great example is the recent billion dollar IPO of Jumia, a company seen as a leader in the technology revolution in Africa, yet a company that to me still has quite a bit of daylight between who they think their users are and what the mass market of Africa actually is. An easy example is the fact that Jumia demands login via email when a huge number of smartphone users don’t have active email addresses, largely excluding them from Jumia services. In my opinion the company that will be most exciting in Africa is not the company that localized international products for the middle class of Africa, but rather whichever company creates the ‘killer app’ for the unfortunately still broke African mass market. I believe Kinshasa is an ideal test case to develop this killer app, its challenging business dynamics, giant population, relative isolation and unfortunate levels of poverty mean that the sort of product that will flourish here cannot be the same product that flourishes in Silicon Valley, it needs to be a new approach entirely. However, for a product to pass this threshold would mean that it would have practical lessons learned for the rest of the African mass market.
As a company CanGo is looking to have its cake and eat it too, we are not just idly noting the differences between these cities but using them to our advantage. Our tech team is based in Nairobi, where we are harnessing the engine of its tech visionaries. We have our head of innovation based in Kigali, where we are using its best in class capacity to launch new ideas to be our new products factory. Then, we are making our growth engine Kinshasa: a giant city where we are working to be its introduction to the life changing potential of technology at scale. Every place in the world has something incredible to offer, you just need to know what you’re signing up for so that the different puzzle pieces fit together.
With CanGo being situated as a first mover in on demand services in Kinshasa, we’re uniquely placed to have a pivotal role in the development of the technology startup ecosystem in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Kinshasa is a megacity with some ten to fifteen million people, yet technology has still by and large not arrived. Sure, 3G and 4G fills the air and you can buy super cheap Android smartphones for twenty five dollars at the market, but technology has only become integral to a very small number of people. Walking down the streets sometimes feels like a nostalgia for the mid 90’s, before technology’s prevalence transformed cities. Smartphones are surprisingly prevalent at social functions and restaurants.
CanGo aspires to be a catalyst for the growth of the technology ecosystem here in Kinshasa. The lack of a developed technology ecosystem, in our opinion, is an incredible opportunity: it allows ourselves as tech pioneers to help nudge the ecosystem in creating empowering products for the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
We see the primary positive impact we can have as by leading by example. Right now in the DRC there are no self evident success stories for a startup to be inspired by. There has not been an Mpesa, an Andela or a Jumia in the DRC yet, which means that while many youth are inspired to dream of and build startups, they’re not quite sure what it takes to be successful. At CanGo we believe that if we can make success for ourselves, then we can trailblaze a path for others to follow. We hope our lessons on data led decision making, inhouse tech team, user experience research, raising capital, hiring awesome teams, putting culture in the heart of everything (and an over focus on warm lighting) can be practical examples for others to follow.
Many startups in Africa worry about copycats, we aspire to inspire them. The reason is not just altruism, but also in our strategic interest. In the United States and Europe, where the technology ecosystems are fully mature, the biggest challenge an entrepreneur often faces is coming up with a novel idea with a clear market opportunity. In Kinshasa, it’s very much the opposite: ideas are easy, there are so many unique challenges for entrepreneurs to make solutions for, however, there is so little supportive infrastructure that it is exceedingly hard to grow a startup. By working to bring more startups together, making more access to money, working to bring investors into the market we can put Kinshasa on the map. This will benefit CanGo and this will benefit every aspiring technology entrepreneur in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
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.
SafeMotos is investigating the building of a group of physical agents to act as an ordering party for new users. This will be a way to avoid the limitations of low smartphone penetration and low data usage, while being an effective tool of customer acquisition and brand awareness.
Low smartphone / data usage penetration rate in Kinshasa
While Kinshasa is a mega city of ~15M people with a fully distributed 4G network, smartphone penetration and internet usage is nascent.
|City||Facebook Ad (Q3 2018)||Google Ad (Q3 2018)|
|Dar es Salaam||2,100,000||1,400,000|
By using a network of agents it will give access to SafeMotos services to users who don’t have smartphones or active data connections.
As SafeMotos has learned in Kigali, even if someone has a smartphone with data, they are often very new to using technology and are unfamiliar with installing applications, registration of services, user flows and city maps.
In Kigali, the highest retention of users were those acquired via a physical third party (SafeMotos street team) since they were able to answer questions in a level of detail that normal client acquisition channels are unable to specify.
Agents will work as a way to explain SafeMotos services to customers and onboard them in a sensitive way.
Speed to Scale
A distributed agent network will be a fast way to make initial scale progressing in Kinshasa and is hypothesized to be a rapid way to kickstart the network.
This spreadsheet shows a hypothetical but reasonable acquisition projections and how they can translate into trip volume.
|Month 1||Month 2||Month 3||Month 4||Month 5||Assumptions|
|Agent Number||20||50||100||150||200||Daily new user acquisition||5|
|Monthly Acquisitions||3010||7525||15050||22575||30100||Retention rate||25%|
|Total retained users||752.5||2634||6396||12040||19565||Weekly trip / retained users||5|
|Total trips from agent users||16179||56626||137519||258860||420648|
|Daily trip volume||532||1863||4524||8515||13837|
Who Are Agents
Agents can be:
- SafeMotos drivers when idle as another revenue stream
- Local mobile internet (Vodacom guys) who want to have another revenue stream
- A secretary or employee at a B2B partner
- A SafeMotos customer who has hit some threshold of trips and applied to be an agent (think someone at a bar recruiting SafeMotos customers to pay for a next beer)
- Recruited individuals to fill coverage gaps (eg late night areas)
- Part of SafeMotos branding campaigns (like Redbull style street team)
Each agent location is also a verified location that a customer can be dropped off at night or in risky areas.
Agent compensation will be linked to triggers such as:
When agent is idle:
- Guarantee engine (for certain times / certain locations with prior approval)
- List of slipping away users (recruited by this agent)
- List of slipping away users (recruited by other agents)
- List of users who never took a follow on trip (recruited by this agent)
- List of users who never took a follow on trip (recruited by other agents)
- Raise awareness actions in local community (eg fliers)
- Recruit more agents
- Manage recruited agents
When agent is with a customer:
- Install app on smartphone
- Register with digital payment
- Put in facial recog
- Share SafeMotos with friends
Payment rationale should be clearly communicated to agents and tied to business objectives.
Some agents will be able to pull money out as physical currency (super agents) where some agents will be able to use the funds as in app credit.
There will need to be a modification of the existing SafeMotos technology that results in a hybrid of driver functionality and savings functionality.
Login: There needs to be a login to setup shop at this specific location. Would assume Smile Identity facial recognition, as well as this being at a location that the agent has been approved for in the past by the SafeMotos team.
Homepage: Can be a summary of agent earnings data (based off of driver app). There can be a big NEW TRIP button for starting a new trip. Managing ongoing trips can be a swipe style interface (eg when ordering two drivers) and at the bottom of the home page is an infinite scroll dynamic box (like Uber News) under a heading “Make More Money”.
Make More Money Page: This will an interface actions the agent can do to increase earnings while being idle. The interface will be a series of lines listing the task and how much compensation the agent will get for accomplishing the task (perhaps on a per hour basis). When the agent clicks a job there will be a details page explaining what needs to be done and what the verification will be verify the task.
New Trip Page: When clicking new trip the first thing that will come is to enter the clients phone number (or facial recog) for two step verification. If the client is a returning customer it will go straight to ordering a SafeMotos service. If it is a new customer it will go to a registration flow for this customer. While the bike is enroute the agent app screen will switch to the ‘Make More Money Page’ where the agent will work to get additional details from the customer.
Manage Trip Page: This will be a simple page where the agent can track an ongoing trip. There can be a way to reach out to either the customer or the driver via chat to communicate in case there are any issues.
Agent Management / Recruitment
Agents can be recruited via the app, via physical advertising and via existing agents.
There can be techniques borrowed from multi level marketing where agents can be incentivized to recruit additional agents by getting some commission for their success and also have certain managerial responsibilities over the sub agent.
Dashboards will need to be set up to monitor agent efficacy. The dashboard will be borrowed from driver dashboards to see data such as:
- Agent location
- New registrations per agent per day
- Avg trips taken by acquired user (at network level abd per agent level)
- Total trips taken by acquired user per agent (at network level abd per agent level)
- Retention rate of acquired user per agent
- Average cost per retained user
- Agent satisfaction
- Agent earnings
FreeMotos for Agents
SafeMotos has developed a technology system that allows for subsidized trips to users when the user goes to a specific location (eg an event, a bar, a restaurant). The business owner pays SafeMotos for the customer acquisition.
This system would work well with the agent network.
A SafeMotos user could select to go to certain sponsored agents, but when the trip ends the agent needs to verify the reception of the user and is responsible to make sure the user going into the sponsored business.
This could also be inverted, where a business partner could run a promotion that would allow users to go home at a price subsidized by the business (IE buy 3 drinks go home for free). The business would have a series of promo codes they pay for that would be entered into the app to bill the trip to their corporate account.
Building an on transportation on demand network is extremely challenging, as supply of drivers and demand of customers are often not in balance. This means that customers can be disappointed, as they cannot be paired with an available driver, and drivers can be disappointed, as they may be missing non-SafeMotos business to wait for SafeMotos trips, yet none come in.
A payment guarantee is a way to resolve this ‘chicken or the egg’ conundrum. What it does is guarantee a supply of drivers so customers are not disappointed. These drivers are guaranteed because they are paid a set amount to take into account potential low activity timeframes and stick with the SafeMotos platform instead of performing non SafeMotos trips.
The system will be effective different cohorts of drivers in different ways, with the goal that guarantees are a carrot in front of drivers they are always motivated to reach, but the company uses business intelligence so that drivers very rarely get their ‘theoretical goal’ of getting something for doing nothing.
This would mean that some drivers will be on full time guarantees, some drivers will be at peak hours / low acceptance rate hours, some drivers will be positioned in certain geographies and some drivers will be ‘on call’ for when there are new dips in acceptance rate.
While eventually supply side movement would be expected to be automated, in the beginning it is expected to be manually measured from business intelligence dashboards and driver criteria physically set.
From a budgeting perspective, the system assumes that a certain percentage of trips will go towards driver pricing guarantees, a higher proportion close to launch then decreasing over time.
Driver Visual Messaging
The drivers should clearly understand their goals, commitments and expectations from the payment guarantee. One proposal would be to base a new screen off of the driver finances page from the SafeMotos Driver App.
What needs to be communicated is:
- Money that will be received (would be great to show what total amount is, then having money increasing over time making drivers feel ownership over money they’ve worked towards)
- Take home pay
- Fuel subsidy for amount driven
- Bonus (eg working late shift, working holiday, making incentives)
- Time commitment (YOU ARE ON DUTY, YOU ARE NOT ON DUTY), (I QUIT AND CAN’T GET ANOTHER GUARANTEE FOR THREE DAYS)
- Driver acceptance rate / fulfillment rate (goal vs reality)
- Inside / outside of geo location (direct them to where they want to go, can be like an automatic trip)
- Warning clock countdown (If you don’t do X you will not get the guarantee)
SafeMotos Driver Guarantee Dashboard
Drivers should be able to be grouped together in cohorts for shared rules settings
The following variables should be included:
- Money guarantee (may be an output coming from other criteria)(take home pay)
- Amount of money per kilometer of trip actually taken (fuel subsidy)
- Scheduling matrix: select days of week and hour blocks. (should allow for peak off peak selection, like booking blocks on an online weekly schedule)
- Geo fence location (maybe radius of pin? Commune too touch to select?)
- Target acceptance rate
Dashboard: High level (overall, or by cohort)
- Total number of trips taken while drivers working under guarantees
- Acceptance Rate
- Fulfillment rate
- Customer satisfaction
- All trips
- Guarantee driver trips
- Driver satisfaction
- All trips
- Guarantee driver trips
- Amount paid out to drivers vs total bookings
- All trips
- Guarantee driver trips
- % of money that was for guarantees
- All trips
- Guarantee driver trips
Dashboard: Demand Maps / Timelines
There should be a heat map of Kinshasa over areas of acceptance rate that can be played out at a per hour level over a 24 hour period, allowing management to position supply side of drivers.
There could be a predictive area of this too listing the top 10 areas (at a specific hour) for:
- Lowest acceptance rate
- Most money paid out to drivers
Dashboard: Per Driver Metrics
There should be a high level ranking of all drivers on payment guarantees with there being thresholds for all numbers, if driver outside a threshold should be able to be exported for follow up.
- Driver name
- Driver trips performed over time
- Acceptance rate
- Fulfillment rate
- Request nume
- Customer satisfaction rate
- ETA miss pickup
Dashboard: Counter Fraud
This dashboard can be refined with additional variables over time with individual drivers being added to the list (with system description of why issued) to be either investigated or cleared.
Initial reasons could be:
- Driver receiving multiple requests from same other user account / IMEI
- Low driver fulfillment rate
- Long average trip length
- Low average trip length
- How do drivers respond to various incentives
- What is most effective variables to influence driver behavior
- More (help!)
Appendix: General Pricing Guarantee For Driver Payment
In interviews with taxi cab drivers (note not motorcycles) it was identified the challenges drivers have with the unpredictability of their earnings. For example, on days when there are protests or rains drivers families may go hungry as there is no work demand.
Drivers indicated that they would take less profit if it would relate to more stable payment expectations.
Potentially some drivers could be permanently on the payment guarantee at a per day / week / month level, and this would no longer be about fringe demand elements but a permanent way for either all drivers or a subset of drivers to be paid, as well as increasing driver retention / loyalty / value.
The conservative estimate of 400,000 motorcycle trips currently operating daily in Kinshasa represent just a tip of the iceberg of total market opportunity. Increased night time trips can be a blue ocean opportunity to bring a strong value proposition to a currently underserved market.
Currently, there are very few available forms of transportation available in Kinshasa after sundown, taxi moto, car taxi or bus. While there are some cultural reasons for this with drivers still anchored to a single daily shift based around daily commutes, focus groups suggest that the far larger problem is fear of personal safety.
The issues can be summarized as one of the three following:
Driver crime to customer: Customers are unready to take a form of transportation at night because of fear that a driver could attack them. This is for all forms of transportation and is based on real attacks.
Customer to driver crime: Drivers are unready to take customers in the evening as violence and robbery against them is strong. A driver is aware that his vehicle is his most precious asset and that others would like to steal it from him. The money he carries on his body also acts as an incentive for robbery.
Third party attacks on customers and drivers: The streets of Kinshasa are tough places and crime is common. Both drivers and customers are aware of their vulnerability to attacks from third parties who are coming to attack them for financial motivation.
If SafeMotos is able to provide a safe form of transportation in the evenings it could be a revolution in the transportation market and a huge market opportunity as a company. Prices could be higher due to lack of alternatives increasing profit margins as a company and revenue to drivers. Trip volume could be extremely high due to the extreme sparsity of existing options and underlying demand of a famously fun loving city where many people without vehicles are excluded from festivities.
The purpose of this document is to identify strategies that could be implemented to enable the company to provide a night time product that would be both perceived to be safe and actually safe.
Safe Route Routing
- Impact: Reduced risk driver and customer
- Summary: Drivers will be routed to customer pickup location and destinations via Google Map style routing system that is optimized for the safest route, rather than the fastest route. If a driver deviates from the safe route, a mild alarm may go off in the app or a trigger at SafeMotos office to reach out to the driver.
- Problem resolution: There are certain high danger areas in Kinshasa that if avoided can reduce risk. These would be areas with known criminal elements, poor lighting, low traffic.
- Implementation: A routing layer in Google Maps where there are certain no go areas blocked.
- Impact: Reduced risk driver
- Summary: For trips from X:00pm to X:00am orders can only be placed by customers with a balance on their digital wallets, forcing trips to be cashless. There can be some visual signifier (think 711 in USA) informing that “this driver does not carry any money”. There would be an added benefit of this strategy by being a reason for users to top up their digital wallet.
- Problem resolution: A key reason drivers are attached is for financial motivation. If drivers are known to not carry cash and this is communicated in a clear way, then it reduces to risk to drivers being robbed for quick financial gain.
- Implementation: Use of existing digital wallet functionality, with a for force mechanism during night hours.
Deeper Review and Sharing of Information Customer <> Driver
- Impact: Reduced risk driver and customer
- Summary: Crowdsourcing feedback from customers and drivers then sharing it effectively allows customers and drivers to crowd source quality control and risk prevention.
- Problem resolution: A driver or a customer who causes problems once, will likely cause problems again. By using reviews from customers and drivers on their counterpart SafeMotos can take corrective action while also giving future customer and drivers a heads up (eg “this customer is often drunk)
- Implementation: The existing review mechanism for drivers and customers should suffice, though could use a few extra inputs. Communicating potential issues more quickly through business intelligence and also giving more information to drivers on negative customers (eg customer scores) would be easy additional steps to implement.
Customer / Driver Facial Recognition
- Impact: Reduced risk driver and customer
- Summary: Using facial recognition technology before a trip is started by using the drivers phone to verify both the customer and the driver will allow the customer and the driver to trust the identity of each other.
- Problem resolution: A concern for SafeMotos is criminals who borrow or hijack driver or customer accounts to be able to use the driver / customers record.
- Implementation: Installing a facial recognition API into the app and making sure drivers phones make use of front face flashes or other light source.
Verified Pickup / Dropoff Locations
- Impact: Reduced risk driver and customer
- Summary: For trips after a certain time, pick up location / drop off location can be set only to places in ‘green zones’ and / or to locations that have already been successfully used for pick up and drop off in the past by drivers.
- Problem resolution: One of the most common ways for drivers to be robbed is for criminal customers to choose pick up or drop off points to be somewhere that an ambush can be implemented from. By only going to past pickup locations chosen by customers that drivers themselves have reviewed as safe, and with the knowledge that the customer is familiar with getting picked up from the spot, both the driver and the customer expose themselves to less risk.
- Implementation: When a driver goes to a ‘new’ place during daytime hours, he can set instructions that follow on drivers can read and add too (IE, blue gate). The driver will also be asked to determine if this is a ‘safe’ or ‘unsafe’ place for evening pick up. The SafeMotos agent network can also be ‘verified’ places for customers.
Customer Verification of Safe Drop Off
- Impact: Reduced risk customer
- Summary: When a driver is finishing a trip at night, there can be an added step of either an additional facial recognition confirmation or a picture of the customer giving a thumbs up so the system confirms the customer was dropped in a safe manner. There can be an added benefit of this in terms of customers being nudged to share these images over social media.
- Problem resolution: Right now when a driver clicks end trip there is no way of knowing that the customer was dropped off in a safe environment. This way, there is an added protective step to make sure that a safe drop off happens and is captured for traceability.
- Implementation: Having a camera be triggered when clicking finish trip with the image being linked to the trip receipt.
- Impact: Reduced risk driver and customer
- Summary: If a trip is ordered late at night, it can be mandatory to order a minimum of two bikes (with drivers working in pairs) for the duration of the trip. For increased safety, a value added service could be the ordering of even more bikes or to hire a bike carrying a police officer. The mandatory nature of this can be an advertising opportunity to ‘gift your friend a safe ride home’. Additionally, one of the extra drivers can escort the customer to a safe point like a front door.
- Problem resolution: Criminals are usually opportunistic looking for the softest target, and an isolated driver or driver / passenger looks like an easy target. By having more drivers there is increased safety in numbers for both the drivers and passengers.
- Implementation: Using existing tech for ordering multiple bikes. There would need to be some way for drivers to work in pairs so drivers are paired the entire evening for more efficient logistics.
Redundant GPS / Kill Switch Built into the bike
- Impact: Reduced risk driver
- Summary: Less of a deterrent but more a way of asset reclamation, having 1 or (ideally) 2 GPS transponders with a remote enabled engine kill switch built into the bike will make SafeMotos bikes harder to steal and enable recovery of the bike if stolen.
- Problem resolution: This reduces the incentive for stealing bikes making SafeMotos drivers less of a target.
App Based Panic Buttons (driver and customer side)
- Impact: Reduced risk driver and customer
- Summary: In the SafeMotos app for both drivers and customers there can be a panic button. This button will trigger a call to all SafeMotos drivers in X distance from the call to go to the location the panic button. SafeMotos HQ will also be alerted to monitor the situation and possibly elevate the response. Drivers / customers can be ‘rewarded’ this option after X number of trips, and if the feature is abused they can be penalized.
- Problem resolution: In Kinshasa most acts of criminality are opportunistic in a low rule of law environment. This panic button would enable drivers and customers to quickly mobilize a helpful response.
- Implementation: This should be technically quite easy to build, as it would be a normal ‘order trip’ functionality implemented in a different way.
Driver Physical Defense Materials / Training
- Impact: Reduced risk driver and customer
- Summary: Drivers can receive training on conflict resolution like talking down a potential criminal or doing real time risk assessments. Drivers can also be trained and equipped with a defensive material, for example, pepper spray, in order to act in self defense.
- Problem resolution: Often the best way to avoid an at risk situation is to have a defensive viewpoint and be able to read situations. Sometimes, a worst possible situation will happen, in which case it is valuable for a driver to be able to act in self defense of himself and potentially the client.
- Implementation: This would require driver training, understood best practices and analysing the ramifications of any defensive tools drivers are equipped with.
Driver Physical Panic Button / Siren
- Impact: Reduced risk driver
- Summary: An alarm can be installed in the bike which can be paired to the drivers smartphone via bluetooth or via a physical connection (think like on treadmills or jet skis). If a driver is separated from his bike than the siren will go off attracting attention to the stolen bike.
- Problem resolution: Man thieves are after the drivers bike, this can be a system to make SafeMotos bikes more prickly to steal and raise attention to the stolen asset.
- Implementation: Installing a simple rip cord style panic button should be simple