The transportation industry is one of the thriving businesses in West Africa. From Lagos to Accra to Abidjan, millions of commuters rely on buses, both private and public, to move to work, markets and other places.
However, because the sector remains largely informal, investors keep dragging their feet as they do not see it as viable. One entrepreneur, Onyeka Akumah, has taken the gamble to revolutionize the mass transportation sector in Nigeria and West Africa.
He has developed a bus-hailing app called Plentywaka that functions like Uber to connect commuters to mass transportation buses in Nigeria.
He got the idea to develop an Uber for buses when he boarded a bus in Lagos and got a panic attack. According to him, the bus was in very poor condition, and he wondered how people patronize such buses to work.
“I had this strange encounter in January 2019, I had to get to a meeting and leave my car and take two bikes and I got on a bus and I had a panic attack. I could see all the metals sticking out of the chairs in the bus. I held on to the rails in the bus and the driver was sweating so profusely it was crazy,” Akumah told Forbes Africa.
“I hadn’t entered a bus in 15 years and I couldn’t imagine that people had to go to work on a daily basis with this form of transportation in this state. They are overworked and with about 70,000 buses in Lagos, it just didn’t make sense that people moved that way,” he added.
After some initial market survey, he linked up with his partners and launched the uber-for-buses model connecting commuters with buses via an app.
According to Akumah, they launched the Uber for buses with 18 buses and only six passengers. Akumah said when he started, many people did not understand what he was doing.
“Within six months, we got to a point where we had moved about 100,000 people and we were very excited about it and then Covid hit and everyone had to go home and we were just staring at our buses and had no revenue coming in,” he recalled.
Funding was challenging for Akumah and when the pandemic hit Nigeria, he converted his buses into food delivery buses because they were the only items allowed to move about during lockdown.
“As soon as the lockdown was eased, we got back on to the road where we could also move at about 60% capacity so we went out to then raise funding. We raised $300,000 to sustain us to get us to grow and towards the end of the year, we went through a series of due diligence processes and by the first quarter of 2021, we were selected to join the Techstars [accelerator] in Toronto where we raised another $1.2 million,” said Akumah.
Plentywaka recently acquired one of Ghana’s leading mobility startups, Status, expanding its operations to Ghana.
Before starting Plentywaka, 36-year-old Akumah was into web designs while in the university. According to Forbes Africa, Akumah built over 300 websites for businesses and used the funds to finance his university education.
His web design skills landed him a job with a software engineering company. He also had brief stints with organizations such as British Council, Wakanow and Konga before launching his startup Quick Gist.
He subsequently founded Farmcrowdy, the fintech solution empowering farmers with technology and now boasts of over 500,000 farmers on the platform with over $17 million raised using the crowdfunding platform, according to Forbes Africa.