Getting a gas cylinder filled most times gets households thinking, particularly when there is no mobility and someone available to do the stress because cylinders can be heavy. MODESTUS ANAESORONYE in this interview with KACHI SAMUEL, founder, GasPAL, unveils how this app is helping people refill their domestic gas cylinders without leaving their house. Excerpts:
How did you come about this idea of deploying technology to make cooking gas available to people on demand?
I think it will be fair enough to say that the idea chose me and then I chose to work on the idea. The idea behind GasPAL came by paying attention to my personal experiences. Turning an idea into a product that people now use also required that I pay attention to details. Pre-GasPAL era, when my family had to refill gas, we had to schedule a refill a day before or we had to go refill by ourselves at the gas plant. Going to refill by yourself was always stressful because we had to drag those heavy cylinders.
In 2020, the pain hit me differently and this reinforced my desire to create a solution. Sometime in 2019, I was working on solving a problem in the service industry. The solution was to connect service providers easily with people who needed the service. On this fateful day, I was in the midst of some folks, a bike passed and immediately an insight came to me. In my mind’s eye, I saw a gas tank the size of a tricycle coming to deliver gas to my doorstep. I said it aloud and my folks said, ‘crazy, you’re thinking of getting into the gas business, right’? Then, I was not thinking of getting into the gas business; I was simply thinking of a way whereby people could get their gas cylinder refilled easily.
I realised that there had to be a marketplace where customers could come, knowing that they will have a gas supplier to come help them refill their cylinders
You may wonder why I had this thought that day. The answer is that earlier that day, my sister was cooking and gas finished. She needed to refill the cylinder and she knew that if she waited for the gas suppliers to come pick up our cylinder themselves to refill, she was going to wait for a day so she came to knock at my door and asked me to help her refill the cylinder. I had to go and it was a stressful experience. Solving my problem meant that I will be solving the problem of other people in my neighbourhood. So, I had to validate this idea and be sure that it was a product market fit, then I realized that there is a large number of people in Lagos who struggle when it’s time to refill their gas cylinders. The good thing is, my time creating a solution in the service industry became fruitful when I spotted this idea. It was then easy for me to use this same solution in solving the problems of people who needed to refill their gas cylinders.
I spotted that there was a problem that needed solving, and so I proceeded to design the GasPAL app in detail, fixing each puzzle and finally developing the mobile app. I realised that there had to be a marketplace where customers could come, knowing that they will have a gas supplier to come help them refill their cylinders when they need it and on demand, and, so GasPAL was created.
How much will this initiative help consumers manage their domestic gas supply in terms of efficiency in delivery?
In terms of delivery, we built two apps, one for customers who want to order gas and another for gas suppliers. But then when we first launched, we realised that depending on gas plants to make the deliveries themselves wasn’t going to work because most didn’t have a delivery system in place; most were too busy attending to people who come to refill themselves at the plant and so that model didn’t work.
Seeing that, we discovered that in order for us to be able to deliver effectively to customers right exactly when they need gas, we have to have our own internal delivery system in place. Seeing how this was going to make us more effective, we invested into acquiring delivery bikes to ensure that we have a joyful experience right from when the customer places an order on the app to when they get their gas cylinder picked up, refilled and delivered back to their doorstep without them stressing. So right now, GasPAL has delivery bikes stationed in various locations across Lagos state. When you place an order, you will find our nearest delivery agent to you who will come pick up and refill your cylinder.
What is the size of this market considering your target area of coverage? Is it only Lagos based?
Talking about our target area which at the moment is Lagos state, there are over 80,000 households in the state of which over 30,000 households rely on cooking gas to cook. There are over 7,000,000 singles living alone and over 1,500,000 of them rely on cooking gas. This tells you that the size of the market is huge and when we expand to other states in the country, we will have an increased market share. The good thing is that our business model is set up in a way whereby it can be replicated in other locations outside of Lagos and in other African countries. We are currently serving over 3,000 customers on our mobile platform within the Lagos Metropolis.
I am sure you are not the owner of all the gas plants serving your customers. What is your relationship with gas plants?
Our relationship with gas plants is transactional. Gas plants need to sell their gas and we help them achieve their aim by bringing in customers (cylinders) to refill at gas plants in various locations. So, we are an intermediary between the gas plants and customers.
What mechanisms have you put in place to ensure that consumers are not short-changed in terms of quality and quantity of gas supplied to them by vendors?
We recognize that there is no business without trust, so to get our customers’ trust; GasPAL’s delivery agent refills the cylinders only at licensed gas plants. Upon delivering the cylinder back to the customer, GasPAL’s delivery agent weighs the cylinder with a scale so customers see that their cylinder has been tightly filled. We can attest to the fact that customers trust our service because we have had repeated orders from various customers.
Nigerians have been buying gas at very exorbitant prices for the last one year. What in your opinion is the cause of this problem, and how soon is it going to abate?
It is not just gas, in every other industry, the cost of things are getting high. Whatever the cause may be it is not within our control, but we at GasPAL are working on a way to ensure that customers who refill their gas through us continue to get gas at a cheaper price. Now, we are giving a 15 percent discount to first time customers and we are planning a long-term solution to keep prices down.