Connect with us

Entrepreneurs

The Tanzanian Who Aims To Dethrone Uber

mm

Published

on

Godwin Gabriel has always had the gift of the gab. At 17, he closed the biggest deal in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, supplying food and beverages to a five-star luxury hotel overlooking the picturesque Indian Ocean.

As he recalls, it all happened in a flash: one minute he was a youngster looking for extra income and the next, he was sat across a table, suited and booted, having lunch with the food and beverages manager of the hotel and her team with only $55 in his pocket.

“I was scared I could not afford the bill. When the bill came, it was literally 55bucks. I remember sweating and I was literally getting ready to prepare to wash dishes, but it all worked out in the end and I got the deal,” he says of that meeting.

Then came the hard part. With no money to pay suppliers, Gabriel had to rely on his gab yet again to get the trust of suppliers to deliver on credit. His natural flair for business made his parents uneasy; fearing he would not return to school, they shipped him off to the United States (US) in an attempt to get him back to his books, but it was too late: Gabriel had already caught the entrepreneurial bug.

For the next three decades, that gift of the gab combined with grit, self-confidence, and perseverance would serve Gabriel well, driving him beyond personal and professional setbacks to create a business that would compete with giants like Uber and Lyft.

Gabriel is the founder of Moovn, an app that seeks to capture a piece of the billion-dollar ride-sharing market and that he hopes will eventually dethrone Uber, which, over the past few years, has experienced significant challenges. The company suffered several scandals and allegations which led to the #deleteuber campaign and the resignation of CEO Travis Kalanick. In South Africa, Uber drivers have had several clashes with taxi drivers, some deadly, prompting the company to hire private security forces to protect them.

Despite these woes, Uber still has an imposing 74% of the ride-sharing market with operations in over 633 countries and a valuation of $72 billion. Regardless, Gabriel remains unperturbed.

READ MORE: These Are The Top African Tech Startups You Need To Know About

“We are in our own lane, and before the end of the year, we will be a complete threat to them. They are studying us, and they know who we are. We know this because in the search words or key words on Google, when someone types in Moovn, you get an Uber or Lyft ad and it is something that is in their metadata. So they must have put our company’s name in their metadata,” says Gabriel.

He believes the key to any ride-sharing service’s success is taking care of its drivers. To avoid the mistakes made by other ride-sharing apps, he has redesigned his app’s user experience to empathize with the driver, a trick he learned in his early days in the hospitality business.

Gabriel’s journey has been a natural evolution marred by a series of ill-timed events. Like the time he came close to fulfilling his childhood dream.

“When I was younger I dreamed of being a pilot; I was actually hired by American Airlines to become a junior in their flight-training program. Everything was lined up to make that dream happen but just before I reported to the job, 9/11 happened and that was a wrap. I went back into a different industry and never returned.”

Then there was the time he was working as an asset manager. Gabriel had spent a significant amount of time building his expertise in the hospitality industry, acquiring an enviable clientele that included Marriott and Starwood hotels. But just when it seemed like the world was Gabriel’s oyster, disaster struck.

“It was a very strong area for me, but it wasn’t until 2010 when the aftermath of the economic recession was really felt and a lot of these real estate portfolios went belly-up. It was a really tumultuous time in terms of most industries and I found myself constantly working long hours and getting burned out. So, by the time the last assets were taken off my hands, I wanted to change my career,” says Gabriel.

The US subprime mortgage crisis that sparked a nationwide banking emergency left most of Gabriel’s portfolios in receivership. Portfolios previously worth billions of dollars were now being sold for about $100 million, and with that, it was time for Gabriel to yet again look for a new industry and start all over again. But luckily, he had stumbled on an idea to provide a cab service to the guests of the hotels he managed.

“Back in 2006, I started a luxury car hire business with a chauffeur in Seattle for business executives, because I had already made access to these hotels. It was a little side hustle that turned into a big deal. I went from a couple of cars to 15 to 20 cars, and I had to outsource a large volume of demand to independent operators.”

“It was one of those things that I was always interested in, so when Uber came, and they were doing what we did back in the day with technology, I said to my partner what if we had that technology when we were doing our business back then?”

For Gabriel, an MBA from the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business would prove instrumental in helping him to spot the potential of technology.

“Towards the end of my course, we did a consulting bid for Microsoft for an education software for two of the largest economies in the world, India and China, and I led that project. I was exposed to technology and I thought this was amazing. I had no tech background and never worked for a tech company before. I was just amazed at the margins and I thought this is the industry for me,” says Gabriel.

And that was how he began to look for opportunities in the tech space. He initially approached several developers to build an app for him, but getting people to buy into his vision proved difficult. So instead of giving up, he decided to build it himself. Hours of YouTube videos and discussions in chatrooms later, Gabriel developed a working prototype which he used to test the viability of his idea.

“We had the clientele; we had the relationships; and we had the drivers and so I sent out a little survey to some of them and the clients I had and asked ‘what if I created something like this, would you be interested?’ The response was overwhelming. At around the same time, It was also at the time that some of the drivers were complaining about being mistreated by some of these larger platforms, about not being able to earn a decent living and working long hours.”

That was when Gabriel decided that he would go the B2B route instead of chasing the consumer market that Uber was already dominant in. In addition to being the mastermind behind Moovn as well as its chief executive, Gabriel sees himself as an activist fighting to give the forgotten driver a voice.

Moovn differentiates itself by taking a 15% commission per ride instead of the 25% or more its competitors take. The rationale: if you take good care of your drivers, they will take good care of your customers.

Gabriel demonstrates how to use his app called Moovn.

Gabriel began by targeting hotel partners who wanted to book rides for their guests, which helped to drive revenue and get the platform to where it is today. Another way Moovn set itself apart is through a strategic alliance with Vodacom in Africa, which helped offset the operational costs of launching the app. Lastly, there is Gabriel’s personal touch which he uses to recruit his drivers.

“I was in the airport parking with my laptop recruiting drivers, and sometimes I have lunch with our ambassadors too. So being able to connect with people and speak to them and find solutions to their issues is where I get most of my juice. You get to hear things firsthand. This is where we fly, and we are different from other platforms. We don’t have to wait to hear via email but hear it firsthand and that helps us. Whether it is via improvement in the app or improvement in our processes, it is easy to make decisions right there and then without the hierarchy.”

The company already has a presence in nine states in North America with the planned addition of three more states, and an employee count of 150 people across its various divisions. The company has also expanded into Africa with a presence in Tanzania, Johannesburg and Nairobi. It is also present in Dubai.

READ MORE: Under 30 2018

The ride-sharing market has been plagued in recent years by several challenges, mostly from local taxi drivers who meet the invasion of technology with animosity, often leading to violent clashes in some African countries. Gabriel, however, believes it’s a matter of negotiation.

“One of the things I often say is that taxi cabs have long existed in most countries. Taxis cannot fulfill the public demand on their own, however, and they depend on the informal sector to offset some of this demand.,” he says.

And with that, the old gift of the gab has managed to successfully bridge the gap between the two parties.

Next up, the Herculean task of getting the world Moovn.

Entrepreneurs

Why This 48-Year-Old Woman Is Building Ghana’s Biggest Solar Farm

mm

Published

on

By

Chairman of UBI Group Salma Okonkwo. UBI GROUP

For more than a decade, one 48-year-old entrepreneur in Ghana has been quietly building up a multimillion-dollar oil and gas outfit called UBI Group. Salma Okonkwo is a rare woman to head up an energy company in Africa. “I don’t stop when the door is being shut. I find a way to make it work,” Okonkwo told Forbes. “That’s what propelled my success.”

She’s now expanding her reach across Ghana’s energy industry, working on an independent side project that may become the biggest in her career. Okonkwo is building Ghana’s biggest solar farm, called Blue Power Energy, slated to open in March 2019 with 100 megawatts of energy. It’s set to be one of the largest in Africa.

“Most of the multinational companies that come to Ghana don’t put in infrastructure. They operate a system where they invest very little and they take it away. They sell their products and leave,” Okonkwo says. “I’m hoping to provide employment and add to Ghana’s economy.”

Okonkwo grew up in Accra, one of 14 children born to a real estate agent and developer mother and a cattle dealer father. She often visited her grandmother in her family’s ancestral village. She’s a member of the Akan clan, whose women often sell products they make, like sandwiches or smoked fish, to make sure their children are provided for—and that left an indelible mark on Okonkwo. “The women didn’t know how to read and write, but they knew how to make a margin,” Okonkwo says.

After graduating from an all-girls boarding school with little running water, Okonkwo moved to Los Angeles for college at Loyola Marymount University. (Her family was able to pay her tuition.) She graduated in 1994 and briefly worked in California for a food brokerage company. Then oil and gas company Sahara Energy Group recruited her; Okonkwo returned to Accra in 2003 for the job.

Within a few years, Okonkwo realized that the firm could grow by opening up retail gas stations. She presented the idea several times over the years, but each time she was rebuked. Executives told her they wouldn’t change their business plan because it would be too political and would require too much of an investment in infrastructure.

At 36 years old in 2006, Okonkwo decided she’d heard “no” too many times and quit to try it herself, focusing on bringing liquified petroleum gas to the hard-to-reach region of northern Ghana, where many families still rely on burning firewood for energy. Because Okonkwo’s father was from northern Ghana, she knew firsthand how the business could change lives there. “It was just too hard to pass up the opportunity,” Okonkwo recalls. “It looked quite lucrative.”

But Okonkwo hit an early snag when she realized that she didn’t take into account a complicating factor: The North had few storage facilities for the liquified gas. To get it to the remote region, she’d have to build the storage herself, and she was already struggling to secure funding. So Okonkwo pivoted and started trading diesel and petroleum wholesale. A contract to supply fuel to Dallas-based Kosmos Energy came in 2007, followed by one with Hess in 2008. In the early days, she financed the operation by mortgaging some properties that her family and husband had inherited.

A UBI Group retail gas station in Ghana. UBI GROUP.

By 2008, UBI opened its first retail gas station. It soon owned 8 outright and managed another 20 through partnerships. That caught the eye of Singapore-based multinational firm Puma Energy, which had 2017 sales of $15 billion from operations in 49 countries. Puma acquired a 49% stake in two of UBI Group’s subsidiaries (retail gas stations and wholesale fuel distribution) in 2013 for about $150 million.

After the partial acquisition in 2013, Okonkwo says, she started developing her solar company. She estimates the company will spend about $100 million—financed by roughly $30 million in loans—to create 100 megawatts of solar power by early next year. Construction started earlier this summer. The plan is to add another 100 megawatts by the end of 2020.

Despite all the sunshine in Africa, solar power isn’t a prominent energy source on the continent. Most farms are concentrated in South Africa and Kenya. In 2009, Morocco announced plans to build one of the biggest solar farms in the world. The first of the project’s three phases opened in 2016. “I don’t know of another large-scale project like this in Africa that’s led by a woman,” says Arne Jacobson, who has been studying renewable energy with a focus on Africa since 1998 and is now the director of Humboldt State University’s Schatz Energy Research Center. “Power is fairly expensive in countries like Ghana. If they can keep costs low, this is will be a profitable venture.”

The project is also personal for Okonkwo. Half of the solar farm will be located in her father’s village in northern Ghana. The rest will be spread out throughout the North, which is Ghana’s poorest region, according to Unicef. The organization says the area has seen the smallest progress in terms of poverty reduction since the 1990s.

There are so few employment opportunities in the north of Ghana besides farming that most women migrate to Accra looking for work. Many can only find jobs as “kayayo”—working in markets carrying goods for customers, sometimes known as “living shopping baskets.” They live in slums and regularly endure harassment, theft and even rape. Okonkwo, aiming to create a better alternative for some of these women, says Blue Power Energy has already created hundreds of jobs in northern Ghana and that more than 650 will be created upon completion.

Okonkwo’s ultimate goal is to bring cheap energy to northern Ghana through the solar farm, which she hopes will incentivize companies to create lasting jobs there. In the meantime, she is opening a day-care center in Accra for children born to kayayo women, where, as she explains, they can “get educated and hopefully break the cycle.”

“I want to bring support to my people in the north,” Okonkwo says. “Then there will be more Salma’s all over the place.”

 

– Chloe Sorvino

Continue Reading

Entrepreneurs

The Bloodless Battle Against The Malaria

Published

on

With Africa having a big share of the global malaria burden, technologists are developing new, cost-effective ways to detect the disease – minus the needle.

(more…)

Continue Reading

Entrepreneurs

The Nigerian Who Runs His Business On Luck

mm

Published

on

Don’t tell Akin Alabi there isn’t enough time in the day to do everything. He just might tell you off.

At 41, he has built multiple businesses and is making money and time for more.

Alabi is the founder of NairaBET, Nigeria’s first and leading sports betting platform, a company he started in 2009 after he identified what he calls “a starving crowd”.

By that, he means a customer base willing and able to pay for services enough for him to make a sizeable profit.

Besides NairaBET, Alabi owns a small football club, has a book-writing business, is into digital marketing, business coaching and seminars, and is also contesting for a seat in parliament in the 2019 Nigerian elections.

The entrepreneur-investor likes to spend his days identifying specific gaps in the market and providing solutions to address them.

READ MORE: Nigeria; Where Football Is Life

Over the years, he has identified many ‘starving crowds’. He found the first one just after completing a diploma in business administration in 2001. At the time, there was a growing desire for Nigerian youth to travel abroad, especially to Canada, in search of greener pastures.

According to data from the Canadian immigration service, as many as 27,625 immigrants from Nigeria were residing in Canada by 2011.

Alabi tried his luck too.

In 2001, after his visa got rejected, he decided to collate his experiences navigating the complicated visa application process and sell that knowledge online to first-time applicants.

“So anything I learned, I created the information pack and I put it online and sold it,”

“I started downloading information tutorials and videos about the Canadian application process. I put all the information together and said some people will be interested in this so let me put it out there for sale. So in January 2003, I launched my first business, which was selling information products, and the first information product was this Canadian visa package,” says Alabi.

The guide was an instant hit. Alabi was selling it at N10,000 ($28) per copy and over 100 copies later, he knew he had struck a gold mine. It was time to find other crowds. Alabi decided to share his experiences making money online through his new startup in another how-to guide, which also found demand. After the success of the two digital products, Alabi decided to register his company at the Nigerian Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC).

“I went there myself and I did everything myself and I was surprised I didn’t need a lawyer. So I created another information product – how to register your business with the CAC without a lawyer in 21 days or less. I put that out and people were buying. So anything I learned, I created the information pack and I put it online and sold it,” says Alabi.

He had stumbled on a booming industry. According to Stratistics MRC, the global e-learning market accounted for $165.21 billion in 2015 and is expected to reach $275.10 billion by 2022 growing at a CAGR of 7.5% during the forecast period. The flexible learning, low cost and easy accessibility of the market bolstered by the increasing proliferation in the internet during the dotcom boom, presented Alabi with a hungry market eager to grab anything offered online.

Akin Alabi. Photo provided.

Alabi’s story is one of organic growth. Setting goals and achieving them is a prominent theme in his new book Small Business, Big Money: How to Start, Grow, and Turn Your Small Business Into a Cash Generating Machine, where he presents a practical guide for startups looking to scale.

“As early as I can remember, I wanted to be rich. I was fixated on wealth because I did not experience wealth growing up. It is something I believe gives you freedom. Freedom to do things you really wanted to do and freedom to impact this world. You can help the less privileged and also give your family the basic comfort of everything they want,” says Alabi. “I know money is not the most important thing in life but it is reasonably close to oxygen in terms of importance.”

After the success of his digital offerings, business began to slow down, but Alabi wanted more growth. He decided he would venture out of Nigeria to the land of milk and honey, in search of that elusive wealth.

“I got to the UK and wanted to work. I looked at the potential of what I could make and after four months, reality dawned on me. I didn’t want to become an illegal immigrant and felt I was better off doing what I was doing in Nigeria. So I said ‘I had something going for me, it might not be big but there was potential’. I said ‘let me go back and make it bigger’. I was not investing in the business so it was time to do it properly.”

But before leaving the UK, a chance encounter with the bookers would lead to the serial entrepreneur’s most lucrative venture yet. His brother called him from London while he was in the town of Milton Keynes to make a bet in an online sports shop for a football game so they could win some money.

“So I played and I made some money and then I played again and I lost and I played again and I won. And I said ‘wow, anybody can do this and people in Nigeria will love it’. So I wrote down on paper, how to make money from football betting. It was just 14 pages and I put it online and I called my friend in Nigeria to help me go and run an advert in the local newspapers,” says Alabi.

He invested N200,000 ($555) in the advert and made N450,000 ($1,248). That demand was going to progress from online content to a new customer base wanting a platform to bet on sports.

READ MORE: Success Is In The Bag For This Entrepreneur

“So those that bought the information product from me started reaching out to me that the website I recommended they should bet on did not work in Nigeria. And I was like ‘wow, you people are actually taking this seriously’. They wanted to place bets from $100 to $750. So I got thinking, these people are actually sending money to me abroad to place bets for them. Isn’t there anyone in Nigeria that has a business like this? And there was no one. So I said to myself ‘I have to create this platform’.”

That was almost a decade ago. He could not afford the software to create the platform at the time, which cost almost $1 million so he used a local developer to create his first platform. Today, NairaBET, a major player in the online sports betting market, has steadily transformed itself from just a football betting platform to a 360-degree sports booking platform covering digital, SMS, apps and retail betting. And, they have a new million-euro software upgrade in place, according to Alabi.

The total value of the global sports betting market is difficult to estimate because of the lack of consistency in how it is regulated in some parts of the world. Betting makes up about 30% to 40% of the global gambling market, which also includes lotteries, casinos, poker and other gaming, according to a report in Reuters.

This has led to challenges regulating the sector in Nigeria with issues arising from double taxation from the Lagos State government. But Alabi is hopeful these issues will be resolved once there is proper legislation of the sector. In the meantime, he is betting on a career in Nigerian politics and the corridors of power.

Continue Reading

Trending