Powered by 25,000 motorcycle taxis at the start of 2020, Safeboda was at its peak, transporting thousands of passenger passengers to cities in Uganda and Nigeria. And then the covid pandemic hit, throwing everything into a spin. Containment measures such as work-from-home directives have led to a slump in business, which has been compounded by shutdowns, curfews and bans on public transport, dragging motorbike taxi business into a lull unprecedented.
While this pause has hit SafeBoda hard, it has fueled the startup’s shift in strategy from a single service provider to an integrated platform of multi-service and digital payment technologies.
The startup, which was co-founded in 2017 by Ricky Rapa Thompson, Alastair Sussock and Maxime Dieudonné, recently secured a payments license from the Central Bank of Uganda, officially marking its debut in the fintech space and adding to a list of new services it has introduced over the past two years.
“When we entered the space, we realized that people needed more than rides. People who interacted with the app kept telling us that it could do more. Listening to them and by taking their feedback seriously, and researching, we have been able to provide a number of other services in addition to rides…and that will help the business be more sustainable in the future,” said SafeBoda co-founder Thompson told Tech Crunch.
Using its new SafeBoda wallet, users can send money to each other free of charge (other providers in the market, such as telecom operators, charge transfer fees) – a service that allows operators taxis to also receive cashless payments – as card payments remain very low across the continent. Users can also pay partner providers using the wallet and withdraw money for a fee from over 200 agents across Kampala. Savings in the SafeBoda Wallet also earn 10% annual interest.
In a way, the wallet has contributed to the growth of financial inclusion in the country, as runners, most of whom are unbanked, can now generate an income history that can be used to assess their creditworthiness for the loans. It also paves the way for the introduction of new services.
“These drivers were actually making money, but they don’t even have access to loans and other financial services. And we actually know that to drive inclusion, we need to find the right partners to work with, but we also need to have our user history. With the help of our platform, we are now able to generate revenue history for runners and this is a game changer right now.
Thompson said the company is lining up new products in the near future — continuing its strategy of continuously re-evaluating and improving its offering, while providing much-needed convenience to customers. He said the new products were designed for a global audience as SafeBoda wants to launch them in new markets.
“We are building a global product that will be available in cities across Africa…and SafeBoda will continue to build better services that will allow us to better serve the people and expand beyond Uganda so that anyone in Africa will have access to services just by clicking a button. We will also ensure that the lives of our drivers are improved,” he said.
SafeBoda, which recently became the first to benefit from Google’s $50 million Africa Investment Fund, is looking to leverage its user base (over 1 million downloads) to grow its new business and keep its remote competitors. Its other investors include Allianz X, Unbound, Go-Ventures and Gojek, the Indonesian multi-service super app.
In the range of businesses that SafeBoda has recently, there is an e-commerce platform, which was launched in April 2020, its log runners being used to carry out last mile delivery. The e-commerce business, in addition to the start-up’s package and food delivery services, ensured that as the need for on-demand transportation service diminished due to closures, passengers were busy, effectively ensuring business continuity. It also marked the start of the startup’s journey as a super app.
By adding more value options for its users, Safeboda should remain competitive in an environment characterized by the presence of well-funded ride-sharing operators like Uber and Bolt, as well as e-commerce platforms like Jumia.
Two weeks ago Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni lifted the curfew for motorbike taxi (bodaboda) operators, in effect since 2020, paving the way for call services to resume by SafeBoda and Uber and Bolt .
“We are the leading transport company in Africa for motorcycle taxis. We went through waves of different competitions; big players have entered our market and we still remain the market leader in this field. We will continue to grow and stay very competitive,” said Thompson.
The effects of the Covid pandemic on the mobility industry were not unique to the transport industry in Uganda. Around the world, transport services have been hit hard by travel restrictions and shutdowns, leading to the collapse of some companies in the transport sector, including airlines and taxi companies. But slowly the industry is coming back to life, and overall, the global ride-sharing services industry is expected to more than double over the next seven years to $98 billion, with an expected CAGR of 10% from a year on year according to this report.