It started out three years ago in Kigali, Rwanda with two people who met as roommates. One is from Africa, the other one from Canada. During a night filled with beers they came up with a brilliant idea: Safemotos, an Uber like interface that consist of a mobile application to pair customers with safe and trained motorcycle drivers. A necessary tool, since traffic fatalities are, according to research done by the World Health Organization, emerging markets second biggest killer.
Although managing and building a start-up in Africa is tough, Safemotos has already proven its success with more than 25.000 registered users and more than 200.000 rides completed via their smartphone app. And now they are one of the nine Accelerate 2030 finalists. The co-founders will visit the Impact Hub in October during the Scaling Week. Impact Hub Geneva had the opportunity to speak with Barrett Nash, one of the co-founders of the company.
A Canadian in Africa
How I ended up all the way from Canada in Africa? Nash: “Well, it started with a volunteering project in Ghana, when I was looking for ways to find out what I wanted to do with my postgraduate life. I went and it was terrific. I have now been working in Africa for about ten years and I really appreciate the optimism of this place. In my opinion people in the West have the tendency to worry a lot about their rent, trying to be ambitious and successful. But how often do they ask themselves: is this world actually becoming better for our children? I feel that in comparison with Africa, we kind of lost the art of being ambitious in this.”
“I felt frustrated about the fact that a lot of people were having great ideas for addressing issues, but it was all talk. I was more of the idea: Let’s put our money where our mouth is and make it happen! Safemotos is co-founded by myself and my co-founder Peter Kariuki Wakaba three years ago. My friend Peter is a self-taught software developer, in my opinion one of the best ones in Africa. Together we thought about the transport problems this country is facing.
Being on a motorcycle is a big deal in Rwanda. A motorcycle is the primary way to go around the city but you have absolutely no idea if the driver is good or bad. What if we could fix this and come up with a safe solution? My initial concept was shoving a bunch of sensors in a driver’s helmet to track the drivers and make sure they are safe and responsible on the road, until Peter told me that all the sensors we needed were already in a smartphone: tools for measuring speed, acceleration, deceleration.
We used this as a basic concept and developed a mobile application for customers to link them with safe drivers. Unfortunately, we discovered that although customers are attracted by the safety aspect, they didn’t want to pay more for it. So we had to change the focus a little bit and started to think of specific values we could add to our service. Like for example late night pick-ups where people want a tracked and known driver.
Launching a business in Africa
Nash: “It has been the challenge of my life! Although it is very easy to get a visa and to launch and register a company in Rwanda, there is very low access to capital and it is challenging to get resources. To be honest, there are few companies who are actually successful. But then again, it is an exciting journey. We don’t really know where it ends. I would say you are not a real African start up if you haven’t been had zero dollars in your bank account at least once, and we’ve definitely had that pleasure enough times to give me grey hair. Africa has the highest youth population in the world but also the highest youth unemployment. I would say there is a lot of potential if we can find meaningful ways for these people to move up in society. Creating new businesses and start-ups by using technology is in my opinion the key way to do it.
The thing I am the most proud of?
Managing this start-up for three years and keeping the lights on. We are doing this our own way and other people noticed this. I am proud that we have been ranked by Fast Company magazine as Africa’s 7th most innovative company and that we are a leader in the African startup ecosystem. Instead of followers, we became pioneers in Africa. We are not a charity but a business that gives delight, makes money, gets customers, and therefore gets customers onto our safer platform. Hopefully our participation in Accelerate 2030 will give us the opportunity to meet potential partners. We want to be a part of the international social enterprise ecosystem, grow from a stronger place and make the company more investable to potential investors!
This article is one in a series in which we get to know the International Finalists of our Accelerate2030 program a little bit better. Accelerate2030 is a 9-month program co-initiated by Impact Hub Geneva and the UNDP, with a mission to scale the impact of ventures that contribute towards the Sustainable Development Goals internationally. All nine finalists will be present at the Impact Hub Geneva from the 6th until the 13th of October during the Scaling week.