Public Transportation in Africa, particularly Cote d’Ivoire is still heavily dependent on minibuses, shared taxis, the moto-taxis and cash. To ensure that riders have a smooth criss-cross around Abidjan and environs, Jean Claude Gouesse set up Moja Ride. Techawk had an exclusive interview with the Gouesse and he beamed a searchlight on his startup, challenges being encountered, expansion plans and much more.
Can you tell us about Moja Ride?
Moja Ride is a mobile app and a smart card solution that helps consumers find, book and pay for the most efficient ride in their cities. In our first phase of deployment, we are enabling digital payment for all mode of transportation in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire. In our second phase, which will be launched in the next few months, we will then leverage the payment data to help consumers plan their journeys across multiple modes of transportation. In the case of Abidjan, an efficient route can include a minibus “Gbaka” that connects to a ferry and ends with Uber-like ride from a provider such as Taxijet.
What was the motivation for establishing Moja Ride?
Moja Ride was born out of my personal frustration with public transportation in Cote d’Ivoire compared to the cities I have lived in the US. In the US, google map or Transit Apps can give me all my options for my daily commute. In over a decade, I have never been in a fight with a bus driver over lack of change. So, I wanted the same for Abidjan and other African cities where public transportation is still heavily dependent on Minibuses, shared taxis, the moto-taxis and cash.
When are you coming to Nigeria and how will you describe the reception of Moja Ride?
We launched in Abidjan, a market we know well. In Nigeria, we will be launching in Lagos. We are still working out some details, but we see similarities in both the problems and the culture. We expect to earn the trust of the local community of riders and drivers, one customer at the time. It is our job to prove ourselves to the market. We hope within 6 months, our customers can comfortably leave their cars at home and trust Moja Ride to get them to work safely and efficiently and that together, we can reduce the number of cars on the road.
Your firm was named among startups to pitch at the Africa Tech Summit in Rwanda. What do you expect have you proceed the summit?
We are honoured and humbled by the opportunity to introduce a major shift in public transportation in Africa to a global audience. We have had a chance to present at world class stage such as the Chicago Connectory thanks to our investors from the Sente Foundry Accelerator, but Kigali is particularly important because we will be speaking to an audience that can relate to the problem we are solving. The issue of inefficient urban mobility is being dealt with by traditional ridesharing and ride-hailing companies. We believe we can improve the operation of the minibuses and shared taxis, the backbone of public transport across Africa. Once we bring these operators into the digital world, we can then connect them to other modes of transportation to offer a seamless travel experience to our cities. This is the message we hope to get across at the summit. We, therefore, expect to build partnerships and attract investors to scale Moja Ride beyond Abidjan.
At the moment how will you measure success? What are your metrics?
Our key success at this moment is that we are making happy customers. Our customers love our service they would like to see us in more places. We are building up our networks of partners and investors and we will soon make a major press release to share those metrics. I will make sure to share it with you.
How will you describe the tech space in Cote d’Ivoire? Do you have plans to expand into other markets?
The tech space of Cote d’Ivoire is very vibrant and active. We have some great startup tackling many important problems. We plan to first cover the city of Abidjan and we will share updates on our expansion plans as we finalize the necessary partnerships in the selected cities and countries.
What are the challenges you face in running your startup?
Like any startup, raising funding is a major challenge. We do not have a very developed network of angel investors in Africa, so this creates an additional layer of difficulties. The second challenge is understanding and navigating local cultures. In our case, drivers of minibuses and their unions do not always have the best reputation, so building trust with this community is a major challenge that we have been successful at navigating so far.
If you weren’t building your startup, what would you be doing?
If I was not building Moja Ride, I would be a farmer. I will still go back to farming at some point. I am the son of a farmer and I owe a debt to the farming community to help them improve how they operate. I will build technologies help the rural farming community in due time to help them overcome some of the challenges that I saw my parents experience when I was growing up.
What advice do you have for young and aspiring founders or entrepreneurs?
The fundraising is a very brutal experience, especially in Africa or for startups operating in Africa. I would advise all entrepreneurs like me who do not have the rich uncles to consider a program like the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship program. This will help with their initial idea and then look globally for other accelerator programs. Finally, not having money forces you to get creative, so as not to give up and believe in themselves.