Creating Safe Transportation in Urban Africa S14 Ep6

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Creating safe transportation on the African continent takes a unique approach.  The solutions of the Western world and Silicon Valley simply won’t work.  Colonial cities have grown into major urban environments. The infrastructure doesn’t sustain the growth.  Traffic jams, broken-down vehicles, bad road conditions are endemic.  But there are individuals making a difference in creating safe transportation.

creating safe transportation

As our guest Barrett Nash says, “The best way to make a solution is to solve a problem you yourself experience.”

A death defying motorcycle ride through a crowded city and a question of safety.  Barrett Nash, Co-Founder and CEO of SafeMotos recalls the day.  He took a ride on a motorcycle taxi through Kigali, Rwanda to meet roommate Peter Kariuki for a beer.  The two men talked about the dangers of motorcycle taxi rides. This prompted them to imagine ways to make the motorcycle taxi ride safer.  That’s what it took to start the journey for SafeMotos.

Safety: An Obvious Assumption

Vehicle travel across an urban setting in Africa can be fraught with risk.  Sometimes the choice is waiting hours for a bus, sitting in traffic in a vehicle, or hopping on the back of a motorcycle taxi for a more convenient ride.  While the motorcycle taxi might get you there quicker, the risk is high. In fact, the #2 killer in the emerging world is vehicle accidents. Eighty percent of accidents in Rwanda involve motorcycle taxis.

You would think people would jump at the option for safer urban travel.  Not so. Creating safe transportation has its challenges. Selling it even more so.  Initially, SafeMotos followed the Uber business model. Customers could locate a safe ride via smartphone.  SafeMotos vetted and rated the motorcycle taxi drivers on driving practices and experience. For a higher price, people would get a safer option.

What the Customer Really Wants

What they quickly realized is price and convenience outweighed safety in Kigali.  To make their product offering viable, they had to consider the product/market fit and the pain points.  Their focus shifted.  Creating safe transportation became the by-product.  

Blind Luck and Help from Unusual Places

Barrett and Co-founder Peter have been at it since 2014.  Doing business in Africa has challenges. While there is a spirit of entrepreneurship, few startups succeed.  As Barrett puts it, blind luck put them in touch with an accelerator in Cork, Ireland. This helped jumpstart SafeMotos.

Barrett’s advice for startups, especially in Africa:

  • Make sure you are solving a pain point
  • Have a profit-making business model from unit economic perspective day one
  • Don’t launch too soon – get finance and story figured out
  • You have to go through the journey

Barrett welcomes you to reach out at info@safemotos.com.

If you’ve got a guest you think should be on the show, drop me a note.

We’re continuing trips across the country, talking to rural entrepreneurs.  If you’d like us to stop by your town to meet your entrepreneurs, drop a note at The Innovators Studio on Facebook.


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