Gokada plans to take on the Nigerian market, but it needs to conquer Lagos first

Nigeria’s tech-enabled motorcycled taxi, Gokada recently celebrated its one-year anniversary, launched a new office, with big dreams of evolving into a tech-enabled taxi, helicopter, aeroplane, bus and ship services in Nigeria, and possibly beyond. Meanwhile, the company is yet to successfully meet the demands of the Lagos market, and worse, is uncertain of its long-term survival in its only operations base.

People use motorbikes to get to their respective destinations because of its ability to manoeuver through busy roads, pass through narrow areas that cars and buses can’t, however, it becomes the prefered mode of transportation when the available one cannot help them beat traffic.

Unfortunately, motorbike usage has been criticized by many governments in different Nigerian states, saying that the riders of bikes or Okada as they are popularly called in Nigeria, are involved in series of crimes and are responsible for the high percentage of deaths and loss of limbs in parts of the country, a statement not proven to be true. A 2016 Road Traffic Crash (RTC) report stated that motorcycle accident ranked third after cars. As of the time, cars accounted for 457 cases (36 percent) of the 1,259 accident that occurred, next to mini buses which accounted for 243 (19 percent) before motorbike at 230 cases (18 percent). Despite this fact, the Federal Road Safety Corps proposed a nationwide ban on commercial motorcycles.

Quite alright, when it comes to road accidents, those likely to be killed are the most vulnerable road users: pedestrians; cyclists, motorcyclists. However, the World Health Organization, adds passengers of public transport to the list of the most vulnerable. Notwithstanding, many State governments in Nigeria restricted the movements of motorcycles from highways and major streets while some others have banned its use altogether, especially in major cities. Lagos is one of those cities that have restricted the movement of Okada on highways to ensure a safe means of transportation.

In accordance with the Lagos State traffic law, no commercial motorcycle operator is allowed to operate on 475 restricted routes including highways and bridges across the state and the maximum speed limit for motorcycles in a built-up area is 50km/hr. Motorcycles under 200cc are not allowed on the highways and expressways.

It is in this restrictive environment that Gokada hopes to thrive, providing easy, fast and reliable transportation for Lagosians who are plagued with serious traffic daily. The company is concerned with moving people with an average trip distance of 10km from one location to another without having to spend long hours in traffic; a problem associated with big cities.

With its on-demand services, the Green-branded tech-enabled bike company hopes to address the misconception motorbikes are responsible for the high percentage of deaths and loss of limbs in parts of the country and in time, successfully change the narrative. The company began by enforcing the use of a helmet for both drivers and riders, also hygiene is also a top priority for Gokada as it provides a hair net for riders to wear before putting on the helmet. For comfort and safety as well as to meet the required Lagos state standard, Gokada ensures that all the bikes it uses are 200cc and above.

With a motto, future is green the company sees itself as the future of reliable transportation in Nigeria and hopes to train about 500 Gokada drivers in its recently opened training school. According to Gokada’s Chief Executive,
Deji Oduntan, “motorcycles are the most functional form of transport. They are the only form of transport that can get you to your location as fast as you want.”

Riders may successfully reduce their traffic time but the company which is making it happen has not successfully removed the speed bumps along its ways as it banks on hope to alleviate technical and logistic challenges.

After about an hour of sitting in a green and white painted room, filled with drawings of Gokada’s big dreams, a very excited Deji Oduntan Chief executive of Gokada walks into the room and apologizes for lateness and goes ahead to give a background of his one-year-old company and its achievements so far. A brief introduction took place and the TheNerve Africa began a conversation with Deji Odutan on the numerous challenges the company is currently facing and how it plans to overcome them to fully capture the Lagos market before taking the Nigerian market with its future plane, bus and ferry transport plans, especially as Gokada is uncertain of its long term survival in Lagos with the restrictions on motorcycles.

The young chief executive noted that Gokada understands the reason why motorcycles were banned in the first place, crime etc, saying that the ban that happened in 2012 was necessitated because the traditional okadas that were plying the road at the time were given the free hand to ride across Lagos and as the time, it was not healthy because it was difficult to tell one from the other.

He explained that Gokada spent the greater part of 2018 communicating a positive appearance to commuters and the government. “We would not expect the government to shut us down, because we are the opposite of why the ban happened in the first place.”

Explaining further on the measures taken to reduce the impact should the government extend the motorcycle ban to Gokada, Odutan stated that the motorcycle is just an entry point for Gokada as the plan to diversify across the different verticals. “Though today we are doing the motorcycle, we could move outside Lagos or even motorcycle, and that also de-risks the platform. While we are very hopeful that the government understands the value that we bring to the market, understands that we have enforced safety in a way were people have it as a norm to wear helmet when riding a bike, we are hopeful that the government sees all we have done, we are also prepared internally should the worst case come up,” Odutan stated.

On the big Nigerian dream of diversifying across various modes of transportation, Odutan does not think transitioning from just a start-up motorcycle company to a 30-fleet ferry company would be a problem, especially now the G logo is a known one.

“We have invested hugely in our brand and we believe our brand is able to carry us across different products and services. We have spent the first year offering services via motorcycles. We have done more investment heavily in our brand and the brand communicates trust, safety and comfort. When you see the G logo, you understand that this is an alternative form of transport and when we decide to move beyond motorcycle, it is the brand that people would focus on. I strongly believe that moving across different products would not be a challenge.”

The company which runs on a three-part verification for drivers, where all drivers are only accepted based on their referral by other Gokada drivers, still struggles with inadequate drivers; proximity of drivers to riders who need to get to their destinations on time, an inefficient application as well as acceptance, especially in no-motorcycle areas like estates. Coupled with the demand and supply not growing at the same rate, the company battles finances and it looks to crowdsource to remove some of its burdens.

“We have a huge customer base but limited drivers; our major issue is demand and supply. We have experienced a very strong growth on the customer side and without doing customer acquisition campaign, we have over 100, 000 customers who have downloaded our app and it is growing but we do not have enough drivers, Moreover, financing has been a challenge because up until now we have been financing our motorbikes ourselves but in April we plan to crowdsource funds to let people buy bikes.”

With a bike, an application, a helmet and disposable nylon in form of a raincoat, Gokada has equipped its male-only drivers to take riders to their respective destinations during the raining season. From a 20-motorbike company, Gokada has grown into a 1000-motorbike company, with a N5,000 ($3.79) per bike running cost to paint the bikes and helmet green.

Gokada has achieved a one-year milestone and looks to achieve more in the coming years, adding helicopter and ferry services to its name. But to achieve this, the company has to focus or addressing any issues (be it operational, technical or imagery) that arise, even if they do not look threatening immediately. In the words of Thomas Parisot, the CTO of Dijiwan, a former digital marketing startup based in Bordeaux, France; “A good product idea and a strong technical team are not a guarantee of a sustainable business. One should not ignore the business process and issues of a company because it is not their job. It can eventually deprive them from any future in that company.