Country Manager for Bolt, Mr Femi Akin-Laguda, shares thoughts about what makes Bolt the biggest player in the ride-hailing space in Nigeria, amongst other topics, in an exclusive chat with NIPC’s media team. NIPC is Nigeria’s apex investment promotion agency saddled with a mandate to encourage, promote and coordinate investments in the country.
Technology-based ride-hailing is relatively new globally, maybe a few years older than a decade. In Nigeria, the concept started gaining traction from mid-2014. Fast forward to today, many foreign and local players are pioneering activities in that space, navigating through the hurdles of localizing a product that appeals to the Nigerian demographic, innovating along the way to meet the rising demand for convenient, efficient and safe transportation. In return, they have gained wide acceptance as a reliable means of transportation to the extent that companies like Bolt (formerly Taxify) have become a household name.
The Estonia-headquartered firm made entry into the Nigerian market in 2016. In less than 5 years, they have secured a market leader position – with the largest city network (an expansion into 29 cities and counting) and the largest number of drivers using their platform to connect people with rides. Mr Femi Akin-Laguda, Bolt Country Manager, elaborated to the NIPC media team about their journey to becoming market leader, attributing their unprecedented growth to being people-centric, focusing on product improvement and implementing a data-led strategy
“It’s been an amazing ride, one of the stories that we should be speaking more about because when we arrived in the country in 2016, there were other players and platforms in the market. Many joined about the same time, but fast forward 4 years plus, we are now the leading player”, he said.
“The core of our story is people. The amazing team we have been able to put together in Nigeria has been the core of the success that we have had. Our team is one of the best I have worked with – a group of young people who are focused, hungry, passionate and smart.”
“We have a structure that is flat such that everyone can take ownership of what they do; everyone can see the result of their hard work. Also, being focused has helped us to achieve things with more limited budgets than other players, and we do it more effectively.”
“In a business such as ride-hailing where the margins are extremely narrow, you need to be extremely efficient in the way you operate your business”, he said.
Speaking on how the firm navigated during the difficult period of the COVID outbreak and eventual lockdown in 2020, Mr Akin-Laguda stated that they lost 95 – 98 % of their business during the height of the lockdown. It was challenging to keep all active staff on board, yet they ensured that no one’s job was laid-off.
“The advantage of what we did is that when the lockdown ended, and we started recovering, we had all our resources available to be able to kick off right away. And there was a huge recovery for us and our drivers in the months that came after. Within six months after the worst wave of the pandemic, we edged full recovery and by the end of the year surpassed the numbers that we had before the pandemic.”
“So, in the end, it was a good year. It was a tough year, but it was a good year for us, and that was because we were always looking at the situation and looking for ways to improve the value proposition to our customers constantly,” he said.
Mr Akin-Laguda further disclosed that they are currently operating in 25 States and the FCT in the Federation (i.e. in 29 cities) with plans to expand further. “We would love that one day we can be everywhere, but we will let the data decide. The data has to back up our plans and thought processes,” he said. “We have good relations with the Ministry of Transport across the different States. We don’t enter without their permission or approval so there are some States where we haven’t gotten to a point where we can move forward; however, we’re still engaging with them until we get to that point.”
To make it easier for more people to drive and earn on their platform, they recently collaborated with Sterling Bank Alternative Finance to launch a vehicle financing program. “This is the first of many deals. We have a couple more deals in the pipeline”, said Mr Akin-Laguda. They also rolled out a ride-hailing insurance program to mitigate risks and improve user experience on their platform that covers all drivers and passengers in all cities.
Regarding their return on investment in the country, Mr Akin-Laguda stated that the ride-hailing business is a long-term game. “I will say that the industry is still in its early stages. We are not yet at the point where we are looking for those returns yet. What we are looking for is growth, and we are still in the investment stage to drive the growth of the market in Nigeria.”
“Since we launched in Nigeria, we have invested more than €50 million in the country into everything from campaigns to technology and our people. And we have only scratched the surface of what the ride-hailing sector will be in Nigeria. So, there is still a long path for us. We do have confidence that in the next 5 to 10 years when the market becomes a lot more mature, the revenue will be there to set a solid return on investment. Still, every company I know in the market that is successful is focused on growth and not returns on investment yet,” said Mr Akin-Laguda.