Architect of A Successful Woman-Led Tech Startup
Samrawit Fikru is the creator of Hybrid Design, a company behind the most popular taxi hailing app in Ethiopia, Ride. Samrawit is always trying to identify problems and respond accordingly. It was likely this quality that was the key to her success. Transformed from an SMS-based on demand service to a mobile app, Ride is now used by more than 1,300 drivers and has been downloaded over 50,000 times. EBR’s Samson Berhane sat down with the 29 year old entrepreneur to learn about her journey to success and the challenges she has faced so far.
By 4:00 am on a work day, most offices have long since closed their doors. But for Hybrid- the company behind the first Ethiopian taxi hailing system, Ride, it is rush hour. In fact, this is the time when activities reach their peak. Eager to respond to what their customers want, some staff members try to stay active, while others focus on daily routines, or casually chat with their customers.
Samrawit Fikru, the creator of the Ride app, oversees the activities from her office in Sheger Building, in Bole District. It is from this location that the 29 year-old entrepreneur tries to make a difference in the lives of the residents of Addis Ababa by providing transportation alternatives. In doing so, she is also addressing the city’s main concern, which is a lack of transport facilities, especially at peak hours.
Samrawit, who was born in Assela, is among the few individuals that are trying to solve a problem and recognize a feasible business opportunity at the same time. For the tech-savvy entrepreneur, this ambition was the basis of success. Her experiences at the beginning of her career were a reflection of this. In her early 20s, she was working in a shop that sold music CDs. While there, she found it difficult to handle the daily sales of the company as there was no mechanism to record each sale.
“As there was no mechanism to know exactly what we had in our inventory, I remembered facing frustrated clients, who used to be annoyed because we failed to fulfill our promise to provide what they want,” she tells EBR. Bearing this in mind, Samrawit, who was an undergraduate student at HILCOE College at the time, created a point of sale system, which enabled the company she working for to efficiently manage its sales and inventory.
“The owner of the company then bought the system from me,” Samrawit recounts. But not all businesses are the same. It was so difficult to sell the system to other businesses.“ In fact, some were questioning my ability because I was a young woman,” she says. But such challenges did not break her, let alone changing what she dreamed of- creating a successful tech company.
But like any entrepreneur, Samrawit has had her fair share of highs and lows in her path to success, from being ignored by her clients, to building trust using her brand. There is more nothing difficult than winning the hearts of clients as a startup. “Although I was amongst the pioneers who come up with point of sale system, the level of acceptance was almost non-existent.”
The optimistic Samrawit was then employed by CNET Software Technology as a systems analyst, which helped her develop her software development skills. Shortly after CNET, she joined Cyber Soft, one of the pioneer software companies in Ethiopia. In 2014, she established Hybrid Design Plc along with three friends with a capital of ETB 40,000. At first Hybrid was just like any start-up company that struggled to cover its fixed costs and stay afloat.
But just like before, she was not successful in selling her products to customers. But the reason was a bit different now. “Although I had a new product (SMS lottery system) and manage to win some hearts, we were not able to sell it because of the government’s rules,” she explains. “The National Lottery rejected our project, claiming that it is busy with raising fund for Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam through lotteries, although it was legal to launch such service.”
Samrawit had to work tirelessly. Stressbecame her new normal. Spending nights in the office became part of her daily routine. But, in doing so, she discovered something new. “Whenever I left the office, I used to constantly find myself challenged to find transport when I was heading home. I always felt I was compromising my safety when I used cabs to go home at night.”
With that in mind, Samrawit undertook a small survey to know what other people felt when leaving their offices late at night. “Unsurprisingly, many went through similar experiences, and it encourage me to get involved in the gap I identified,” she says. It was then the first Ethiopia’s taxi hailing app, Ride, was incepted, albeit a little differently in form.
When she first came up with Ride, it was just an SMS-based taxi hailing system, which connected customers with registered cabs. To get the service, customers would text their location to 8200, the system would recognize it and contact a driver who was willing to provide the service. If the driver accepted the offer, the system would then provide the customer’s phone number and allow the two parties to negotiate a price.
But with the growth in popularity of smart phones, coupled with the decision of the government to allow cab drivers to import duty free meter taxis, Samrawit decided to upgrade her system. Thus, she developed an on-demand application which was later called the Ride App. Although Ride is similar to Uber, an app-based ride hailing service that is used in many countries across the world, Samrawit says she hadn’t heard of the latter when she decided to develop her app.
She also upgraded her web portals, and call center facility. The number of employees grew astronomically from just three to 52 now. To access the service, users only have to dial 8294 or download the app. Once people realized the utility, it did not take long for Ride to become very popular.
The app has now been downloaded by thousands of individuals, corporates, embassies and several businesses. Specifically, more than 50,000 people have downloaded the Ride app, whereas its nearest competitor ZayRide’s app, has been downloaded 10,000 times. It is also used by dozens of taxi associations, comprising more than 1300 taxi drivers, which makes it the largest taxi hailing system in the nation. The average cost of using Ride is ETB18 a kilometer. The fare is calculated based on the distance and the length of time it takes to complete the trip. The company receives 10Pct of a driver’s total earnings.
But behind the success stories, there are also challenges. “The government has neither the skilled manpower nor the institutional capability to regulate taxi hailing providers, she says. “That has an adverse impact on our business.”
One such case is the recent feud between Samrawit and the Addis Ababa Transport Authority, in which the latter threatened to shut down her business because she allowed Code 3 vehicles to provide service using her app, while they have no legal right to provide taxi and transport service. But this did not hold her back. She spoke to Takele Uma, deputy mayor of Addis Ababa, to discuss the hurdles the Ride transport service was facing. She said that the deputy mayor was sympathetic to her issues and said that Ride is serving the public, adding that the transport service should be left to the private sector.
And now, although competition is growing as more taxi hailing companies join the sector, taking this as an opportunity to grow, she plans to expand her business. “We have already begun piloting a service for luxury cars and mini buses. I have also finalized preparations to begin an air transport service in cooperation with aviation companies, using Ride.”
8th Year • Mar.16 – Apr.15 2019 • No. 72