Adefola Amoo, founder and CEO of Intercab and Grid, in this interview with BusinessDay’s Frank Eleanya on the innovation that is helping many Nigerians, in real time, reduce the risks they face getting to places they have never been before. He also spoke about why many businesses in ridehailing market are not living up to expectations despite demand in the market.
Tell us about Grid and InterCab
The parent company for InterCab is Mini Taxi Company. InterCab is actually my second rideshare on the store. The first one was called MiniTaxi. It is a rideshare I designed and have built for me based on my structure. We are currently deploying it in Port Harcourt. We are also getting reasonable response from the people. In coming to Lagos, it became apparent that the market in Lagos was much more matured than MiniTaxi. I had to pivot to get market standard product specifically for the market in Lagos. That was how InterCab was born. So the parent company for InterCab is MiniTaxi.
For Grid, having finished all the establishment processes; concept, development, testing, alpha beta and the patent we got from the US patent office and registration from Nigeria, it was then time to go corporate. I set up the company Akutari, to own Grid.
What is the value-proposition of Grid?
It is very simple; we make finding you very easy. Grid makes customers showing up at your doorstep independent of any phone calls to you.
What you made you believe this was a need that needed to be filled?
Two things; I was fortunate to be moved out of Lagos to Bayelsa state. Second when I was building another one of my apps called Jobmoney – an app to put artisans at your fingertips. The artisans include plumbers, electricians, technicians, head dressers, tailors among others. While I was building it and it was necessary to locate the artisans, it then became apparent to me that we can extend it to businesses and everyone. Staying in Lagos you would have thought that the standard mapping functions on your app was sufficient for you to navigate your way around. But there are lots of places in Nigeria, in developing countries, across the world where there are no addressing systems and I happen to live in one of those places. That sought of heightened my awareness about the need for reliable addressing. From Jobmoney I pivoted from that and just focused on building the system that codifies locations – that’s the Grid.
How does it work?
A lot of us are familiar with zipcodes and post codes from Europe and America. You go on your phone, stand in front of your house and get your Gridcode. That Gridcode becomes a live reference to you.
What’s the revenue model for Grid?
If you don’t have capital for the backend, you will not survive. If you are just a frontend and you think that just because you have that you can make the backend work, if it is cash intensive it doesn’t take away the need for cash. If on the other hand you have a business that doesn’t have a cash intensive requirement you have a better chance of surviving. It is like Grid; we built Grid and have invested in it already. It works of its own and on its own. We don’t have any cash heavy backend to sustain. Hence the question about revenue model is a relevant question but it is not a life or death question for us.
As long as we can survive the gestation period and the awareness becomes prevalent to users, we then have a business from which we can make cash. As long as online platforms are alive, Grid doesn’t die. It is not going to stop working just because we didn’t have a cash inflow. We have our annual cost for the presence we have online, for the marketing and pushing the products. Those costs are there but they are not life and death for us.
You recently spoke about the knowledge economy. Is Grid part of the solution to the knowledge economy?
Grid is a solution for an infrastructure problem we have in Nigeria. It is not a solution for the knowledge economy rather it is a demonstration of what is possible. Being knowledgeable about technology and being in an environment where there are problems to solve using that knowledge, Grid is a demonstration of what can be achieved when knowledge is in the hands of those that can use it to solve problems that in other parts of the world don’t need solving but we have that problem here. Look at GSM phones, wireless telephony helped Nigeria to leapfrog the time, the investment and complexity of deploying land wired phones across the country. If we had attempted to build a wired system, we wouldn’t have been able to achieve what we have today. It is too expensive and it takes so long. But what happened with GSM, with moved from 40,000 lines to 60 million lines in two administrations. These kinds of things take lifetimes.
Looking at the tech ecosystem in Nigeria, what are the problems you think require urgent attention?
We are yet to understand that everything is not about money. The technology itself, the business around the technology, the penetration of the technology or whatever innovation you are making, and the funding cycle, all of that is very important. Not untypically, we are approaching the problem from the head. So we see the successes of all these technology and we are running after them without understanding the underlying principles that led to the success. Hence, a lot of people are getting programming knowledge and proprietary knowledge on different things but they are not getting educated on the business side of things. Which of the schools are teaching it? Is any school teaching the development cycle or business cycle? There are not many of them. Under those circumstances the startups end up groping for the levers that are not in the direction that they need to grow. The people that have money and fund some of those processes eventually have tried to do so and gotten burnt. When people get burnt they run away and others that have seen them get burnt will stay away as well. You have a loop that is closing in on its self; the knowledge is not yielding the result and the young men are getting frustrated and disillusioned and the funders are excited in the beginning but end up running away.
Something we don’t understand in Africa is that development is deliberate and not accidental. It is a deliberate effort of somebody; individual, government a group private people or advocates. We have a lot of people dabbling in and out of the market. Until we can synthesize that deliberate action we are still going to struggle. We are on the path, it is not as though nothing is happening. Human beings learn from mistakes. It is when things are bad that people learn. If you are in a situation that is bad what is happening is that you are building the lessons of how not to do it. Eventually, that knowledge of how not to do it will become the basis of asking “How do we do it?” when we get to that point we will get it right.
There are about 50 ridesharing companies in Nigeria. What do you think puts you in the same position with the likes of Uber and Bolt?
There is something that we see and we can get indicators. One of our competitors has lost market share in almost every single major market across the globe. They lost the market share to local players. It is an indication that local players can succeed. For us, that is a motivation. No one understands an environment as good as local person. The other rideshares have all mostly been local, 95 per cent of them, they are not big today but that does not mean the opportunities are not there. The opportunity is there and we are committed to taking a share of the market. We are focused on getting a share of the market. The only people that succeed are the people that don’t stop. We are not going to stop.
You will agree that part of succeeding depends on how you manage your drivers. What are the incentives that are there for drivers?
Yes you have to treat your ride providers very well. We start from just the fact that we don’t call them drivers. Who is a driver? A driver is a person you employ, at a fixed rate of income, to do a single job, provide service to single client and he has fixed working hours. Our guys do not fit any of these characterizations. Our guys are not employed, they risk takers, they have taken assets, used their funds or their integrity to acquire an asset in the vehicles and they use the asset to provide service to multiple customers at a rate that is driven by market economics and during hours that will enable them meet their expenses, pay off their financial responsibilities and come back and look at what profit if left for them. They also have a mindset to expand their business because a lot of them want to have a second vehicle and employ someone to drive it. You will agree that is not a driver, that is an entrepreneur. So we call our guys Autopreneurs. We have that name trademarked so that no one else can use it. You can see mentally how differently we are approaching these gentlemen that are providing these services. That underscores the entire ethos of how we treat them. We have a lot of challenges too those are not things we can solve overnight.