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The Tanzanian Who Aims To Dethrone Uber

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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.

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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

Farmer Forays: ‘Creating A New Line Of Business’

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Shola Ladoja; image supplied

Nigerian agripreneur Shola Ladoja, the founder of Simply Green, says the pandemic-induced lockdown brought with it logistic adversity, but also more local sales.  

With the marauding coronavirus disrupting lives and businesses in Nigeria, the financial stability of a majority of the country’s 200 million inhabitants has been severely affected.

The significant toll it has taken on economic activities has forced many small and medium enterprises to reimagine new ways of staying afloat. Covid-19 is also set to radically aggravate food insecurity in Africa. In spite of Nigeria’s dependence on oil, agriculture remains an important cornerstone for its economy, providing employment for millions especially in the informal sector.

The threat of starvation is so present that in a public address in May, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari, urged Nigerian farmers to produce enough for the country to eat, saying that the country has “no money to import” food.

But every cloud has a silver lining. The food shortage has presented some agripreneurs in Nigeria with serendipitous opportunities.

Shola Ladoja is the founder of Simply Green, which is a farm-to-table company specializing in vegetables, fruits, juices, spices and herbs. The border lockdown has meant that many of the retail and supermarket chains can no longer import foreign produce into the country.

But this hurdle created a new opportunity for Ladoja.

“[Previously], I tried to get my juices into local stores in Nigeria but they all turned me down and most of them wanted to buy imported juices. The lockdown meant that they had to buy a local brand like mine because they could not get them from abroad anymore. We are now able to sell a lot more during this time than previous years,” says Ladoja.

On the logistics side, however, Ladoja has also felt the pinch of the pandemic like most business that require consistent movement of goods and services. The lockdown scenario prevented his workers from coming in and as a result, the company’s daily delivery of juices, has come to an abrupt stop.  

Ladoja has had to start thinking outside the box to make ends meet.

“We have come up with a fruit and vegetable box, which we sell directly on our website to our customers. So, they can now buy lettuce, kale and carrots, which we have never done before. So, this period has forced us to think about how we can expand the business and this time we actually created a new line of business, which was not in the plans for this year,” says Ladoja.

According to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), even before the Covid-19 crisis, farmers had not been able to satisfy the demands of Nigeria’s population.

“I feel like the government should give out grants and loans and support for small businesses so that they don’t crash. I have friends who have complained they are going to shut down their businesses because they haven’t been paid for two months. A lot of people cannot sell their produce in Lagos because the markets are closed which is going to affect a lot of farmers at this time,” says Ladoja.

Nigeria used to import over a million tonnes of rice from Thailand annually. That number has been significantly reduced with the implementation of high import taxes. This has led to an abnormal increase in food prices in Nigeria since the onset of the coronavirus with the UN estimating the number of people facing acute food security stands to rise to 265 million globally in 2020 as a result of the economic impact of the pandemic.

Nigeria has substantially increased domestic rice production in the pandemic but is still a long way from reaching the levels needed for the country to sufficiently feed itself. Coupled with the decline in global oil prices, it is safe to say the adverse economic impact of Covid-19 on Africa’s most populous country is going to be felt for a long time to come.

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All For Grooming Future Leaders

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Katlego Thwane has had to dip into his own savings, with the Covid-19 crisis, to fund his noble cause, teaching the underprivileged in a South African township.

He is in his twenties, yet turning around the destiny of underprivileged young people around him.

Katlego Thwane, a 28-year-old born and bred in South Africa’s lively township of Soweto, is an educator and founder of the Atlegang Bana Foundation here that caters to primary school learners who struggle to keep up at school and need additional help.

“Our foundation also provides for needy learners from underprivileged backgrounds. One of my biggest campaigns at the foundation every year is to give confidence and motivation to learners for the year ahead,” says Thwane.

He has bagged numerous awards and accolades for his work, as a 2017 Young Community Shaper, 2018 Lead SA hero and featuring on live television show Big Up on SABC Mzansi in 2018.

Growing up, he was a “naughty boy”, as he describes himself, but says many are now astonished at the serious, ambitious young man he has become.

“Teaching has always been a passion of mine. I love seeing change, transformation and grooming leaders, and value their education while being innovative in taking our country forward.”

Thwane has recently established a clothing brand, BANA, under the Atlegang Bana Foundation. He is also currently handing out food parcels to the needy in his community, in partnership with Hollywoodbets.

“The virus has affected us immensely with many parents losing their jobs or taking salary cuts, we are not receiving the financial support as before. This has led to me [dipping] into my own personal pocket and [using it] to buy tutors data for teaching virtually,” says Thwane.

Most schools continue operating online because learners haven’t as yet returned to school, however, this has come with its share of setbacks.

Makosha Masedi, a parent of a Grade 4 learner, says her challenges come with network issues and understanding the tasks given to the child.

“Some of the programs that the work is loaded on to is not friendly for all devices, so submitting and retrieving becomes a problem, as also understanding some of the work,” rues Masedi.

But Thwane powers on, hoping for a better tomorrow, for himself and his country.

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The Mother-Daughter Duo Behind A New Inclusive Community Teaching Budding Professionals How To Better Engage At Work

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Mother-daughter cofounders Edith Cooper and Jordan Taylor launched Medley to help young professionals gain the skills they need to bring their most authentic selves to work. COURTESY OF MEDLEY

Edith Cooper, who spent more than 20 years as an executive at Goldman Sachs, knows what it’s like to stand out in a workplace. Being one of few people of color in a sea of white faces over the course of her career hasn’t been easy. But rather than dwell on this reality, Cooper, who now sits on the boards of Etsy and Slack, has championed her differences. That’s what helped her rise through the ranks at the bank to eventually head its human resources department, an accomplishment she says was a result of her ability to connect with people of all backgrounds.

That quality would continue to work to her advantage: As Goldman Sachs evolved, so did its staff. Diversity was reflected not only in employees’ skin colors and genders, but also in their ages and geographical origins. Cooper was awakened to the fact that if the company was going to thrive, it would need to create an environment wherein its multifaceted staff could feel comfortable embracing their differences and, in turn, learn from them. 

“If you can figure out an environment where people can thrive together, it’s powerful,” Cooper says. But it’s a process that takes time, especially if newer, more inexperienced employees aren’t equipped with the proper skills to navigate this balance between professionalism and open expression. 

That is in part what inspired Cooper’s new startup, Medley, which she launched with her daughter Jordan Taylor, a former chief of staff at Mic and Harvard Business School Baker Scholar, to provide a community in which young professionals can gain the skills they need to bring their most authentic selves to work without fear. In light of the heightened tension surrounding ongoing racial injustice that’s inevitably seeping into workplace communication, it’s an ideal time to learn this skill.

Taylor has also had her fair share of experiences being the “only one in the room,” but as an emerging leader, rather than an established executive like her mother. Graduating in the top 5% of her class and being one the first 20 Black students to be named a Baker Scholar meant she was constantly figuring out how to relate to peers in predominantly white spaces. She figured it out, but Medley is a platform she wishes had been around when she was finding her voice among people whose backgrounds were much different than hers.

Medley groups young professionals in their 20s and 30s with other like-minded members whose workplace values, concerns and priorities align. The professionals that make up these eight-person groups differ, however, in terms of gender and ethnic background, which Cooper and Taylor hope will translate to increased empathy that members can apply within their respective workplaces.

“This idea of people being able to bring their true selves to work and to be able to talk through what that looks like is at the core of what Medley is offering,” says Cooper.

In addition to full access to workshops, panels and conversations led by experts across industries, members commit to a 90-minute virtual meeting each month, facilitated by a Medley-certified coach and focused on addressing and reflecting on ongoing experiences in their personal and professional lives. Cooper credits Medley’s robust network of coaches to the guidance she gained from Merche Del Valle, former global head of coaching at Goldman Sachs and a certified lifestyle, nutrition and wellness coach.

Merging personal wellness and professional development in group discussions is a priority. “You can’t just look at your career in a vacuum,” says Taylor. “In order to meet your potential, the ability to have a more holistic approach is incredibly important.”

To ensure that people of all socioeconomic backgrounds have the ability to join the community, Medley offers a sliding scale fee ranging from $50 to $250, depending on the financial situation of prospective members. Cooper and Taylor are also in conversations with companies interested in partnering with Medley to give their staff reimbursement for membership. 

With the help of investors including Away cofounder Jen Rubio, dtx company founder and CEO Tim Armstrong and MIC cofounder and former CEO Chris Altchek, who contributed more than $1 million to the project, Medley was ready to launch in May 2020 as an in-person membership hub in New York City. Shelter-in-place mandates halted the launch, but also presented an opportunity for Medley to instead be virtual and incorporate international members. The more springing corporate workers that can benefit from the community’s aim to build the next generation of confident, communicative professionals the better, the mother-daughter team notes.

“Medley gives people an opportunity to be a better human in relation to the people they work with and quite frankly in society,” Taylor says.

Brianne Garrett, Forbes Staff, Leadership

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