Interview: Alastair Sussock and Maxime Dieudonne

A buzzing multicultural office, with bolts of orange darting around. This is the home of SafeBoda, the Uber of motorcycle taxis in Uganda. Maxime Dieudonne from Belgium liked his work at the One Acre Fund in Rwanda, but he enjoyed exploring his neighborhood over the weekends equally. A couple of such sojourns in Kampala were what set SafeBoda rolling. He saw a huge difference in the boda boda industry in Uganda vs Rwanda. There was a huge market failure in Uganda. Riders were reckless, did not wear helmets. Passengers took bodas reluctantly. Riders didn’t have support mechanism, no professionalism. He noticed that Rwanda had laws and enforcement. Even Uganda did, but no one followed these laws, nor were they enforced. Over one weekend trip to Kampala, Max met Ricky Rapa Thomson, who was a local entrepreneurial boda boda rider and the chairman of Mish Mash stage. They started talking about building a company to solve this problem. Max had an idea about the technology – using an Uber-type technology to connect passengers to riders who were better trained, selected, and would be wearing something that they could be identified by (orange helmets, with unique numbers, and jackets with their name on the back).

The third addition to this team was Scotland-born Alastair Sussock, who knew Max in Rwanda, when the former was an economic advisor to the government there. He was travelling in East Africa, and looking for his next challenge after his stint in the US. Max and Ricky shared the basic business concept and Sussock was sold on the idea. “If you go to Mulago Hospital, there is an entire ward dedicated to motorcycle taxi accidents. It is estimated that over 1% of GDP is lost due to motorcycle taxis” states Sussock. But they were mindful that this initiative would be sustainable only with the help of locals. “You cannot be an expat coming in and expecting to be successful on your own. You need to understand the local issues and work with Ugandans, if you want to have any sustainability,” says the co-founder. And the plan seems to have worked.

From its official launch in January 2015, with thirty riders, SafeBoda now has 1,000 riders on the road. These riders are trained in things that customers want such as road safety, first-aid (by Red Cross), customer service and also sign a code of conduct. SafeBoda importantly introduced a mobile app and a hotline to make it convenient for customers to hail a SafeBoda. Furthermore, all SafeBoda riders wear helmets and have a helment for their passenger. They then added a Ghanaian, Kenyan and Nigerian to this equation; they constituted the onsite tech team. This team is headed by Jeff Whitlock, who joined the team as Head of Product last year. These are the experts responsible for the all-improved new SafeBoda Android application that was launched in mid February 2017. The app enables you to quickly request a SafeBoda to your location, paying with a fixed price which is low and then being able to rate the driver. In addition, they are adding a SafeBoda credit feature which allows you to pay electronically for your SafeBoda ride. After building an empowered driver community, the focus is now on getting Kampala residents to use the mobile application to hail a SafeBoda.