Tag Archives: motorcycle

Sendy: Digitizing Motorcycle Deliveries

Motorcycle couriers in Timau, Kenya

Motorcycle couriers in Timau, Kenya

This year at Pivot East I had my first look at Sendy, which does for motorcycle courier deliveries and customers in Nairobi, what Uber did for taxis and passengers in San Francisco. At its heart, Sendy is about bringing the vast and growing motorcycle courier and delivery network in Africa into the digital and networked world.

Motorcycles in downtown Monrovia, Liberia

Motorcycles in downtown Monrovia, Liberia

This is a big deal, because those of us who live in large African cities know just how inefficient driving a car around the traffic-plagued metropolises can be. With the bad roads, traffic and high cost of fuel, motorcycle deliveries are a natural path.

Indeed, in almost every city, from primary to tertiary throughout the continent, you’ll find thousands of motorcycle guys sitting by the side of the road, ready to courier a package or serve as a taxi. They ride inexpensive $800-$1200 Chinese and Indian motorcycle brands, are generally not trained very well, have little safety equipment and are some of the most reckless riders I know.

When Alloys Meshack, Sendy’s CEO, stepped onto stage for his 7-minute pitch, I was hooked. It sounded like the right team, a good business plan, and one that could scale well beyond Nairobi. I met with him again this month, and got into a lot more details around the business, and this encouraged my thoughts on both him and his team, as well as the broader scope of the business that they are building. It is truly impressive.

How it Works

Sendy delivery - Android app screenshot

Sendy delivery – Android app screenshot

I also signed up for the service, and then used it.

It’s as simple as this:

  1. Download the Android app, or sign-in to the web app at Sendy.co.ke
  2. Click the button that you have a delivery (or pickup) to be made.
  3. You can see the map for where the rider is – my wait was approx 5 minutes for the courier to arrive
  4. Give him the package and directions

There is a GPS transponder on the motorcycle, and you get an SMS update when the delivery rider gets withing 50m of the delivery zone. Once the package is delivered, there is another confirmation that the rider sends to Sendy, that comes to you as well. Payment is then made automatically by either credit card or Mpesa.

My delivery took about 25 minutes, from first Android app entry, to delivery about 5km away. At the end, you can rate your delivery rider, so that the best are known and get more business. I found my particular rider courteous and patient. He also told me that he makes about 5-6 deliveries a day with Sendy, and loves the service.

Challenges and Opportunities

The Sendy opportunity in eCommerce

The Sendy opportunity in eCommerce

With Africa’s growing need for logistics around eCommerce, Sendy presents a natural option for everyone from Jumia to your local supermarket. Motorcycles are already an accepted means of delivery for non-traditional business and large enterprises alike. The idea of capturing a large portion of this, without all the baggage of a normal courier company setup, is good for both Sendy and the everyday bodaboda/courier guy.

There are a couple hurdles to overcome to make this a simple process to onboard new customers, receive payment and then send payment to the courier riders. Unlike the US or EU, not everyone has a credit card, and the mobile payment options don’t allow for “pull” billing (instead, the customer has to “push” a payment to your service), which is clunky.

Sendy has corporate accounts (which is now used by both BRCK and Ushahidi), and for businesses, finding a good payment process isn’t a problem. However, there will need to be some creative thinking for individuals and small businesses in order to make Sendy as painless as it promises to be.

The service verifies the courier riders, keeping their records on file, and providing the necessary technology for both tracking of motorcycle and communications with the rider. This means that qualified riders are picked, lessening the chance of getting robbed, and the ability to rate a courier creates a system that builds trust over time.

The opportunities that Sendy represents are staggering. I encouraged Meshack to get Nairobi right quickly, then scale up and move beyond into other major cities in the region.

Sendy is raising a seed round of investment. If this opportunity is interesting to you, you should reach out to them.

A Suswa Excursion

BRCK Excursion: Mt. Suswa from WhiteAfrican on Vimeo.

We took a day ride out past the Ngong Hills into the Rift Valley and up Mt. Suswa. Here’s a (very) short video where were playing with a DJI Phantom 1 and a GoPro to do some flyovers of the vehicles. We went with 4 motorcycles (2 KLR 650s, 1 Suzuki DR650, and a BMW 650GS Dakar), plus a Landrover Defender 90. A good grouping of bikes and a backup vehicle, and a day with some fun dirt riding. The rocky road up to the top of Mt. Suswa is a lot of fun, and I was glad there had been rain the day before in order to reduce the dust.

The Masai live on Suswa, and though it looks bleak and unforgiving from down below, once you get to the top there is a lot of nice land for grazing and for growing crops. There’s also an extensive network of large lava caves. We explored through a few of them with our guide Jermiah (pictured below).

For this picture, we’re standing in the “Baboon Parliament”, a huge entrance to a cave, with it’s own skylight. The baboons live above, and they congregate, play and have meetings in the area where we are standing. It smells horribly, as all of the beautiful colors on the rock are from baboon urine, and all of the dirt below is baboon crap. If you go further inside, there’s a bat colony.

Here’s the BRCK sitting on the top rock in the baboon parliament’s cave.

We came back by the satellite dishes in the valley, through Mai Mahiu and up the Lower Road. Luckily we didn’t get any rain, though we did have to contest with cars deciding to come towards us on Waiyaki Way, when there was a jam going the other direction. It’s quite a shock to face oncoming traffic when you’re on a road with a wall between you and the other lanes…

Style and Swagger With a Renegade Trike Hacker in Nigeria

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I’m a motorcycle guy, so anytime you put a motor on a chassis with something less than four wheels, then I’m interested. This week I’m at Maker Faire Africa in Lagos, Nigeria. This is the 4th installment, after Ghana 2009, Kenya 2010 and Egypt 2011.

The creation below is by a young man called “STA”, who’s got a lot of swagger and a double teardrop tattoo under his right eye. In many ways STA is a one-of-a-kind character, unlike anyone else I ran into in Lagos.

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Let’s put it this way, anyone who rides such an eye-catching bike without a license plate, and who has no worries of the cops hassling him because of it, is certainly cut from a different cloth. When stopped, STA simply points to the Nigerian flag flying on the front and explains that it’s all the license he needs. (I kid you not)

STA spent about 4 years in Holland where he was inspired by custom motorcycles and trikes (tricycles). When he came back to Nigeria he decided he could build his own here. STA International’s first bike is the long-forked trike.

Due to using his own funds, it’s a little underpowered with only a 250cc engine and a 10 liter tank. STA scrounged around and found the different parts, and put it all together himself. All total, he spent 300,000 Naira ($1,600) on it.

The bike has some very comfortable seating, a nice big sound system, 4 big silencers in the rear and drink holders for both driver and passengers. He can carry two passengers in the back, and there’s room under the seats for a little storage.

The bike is kickstarted, which I wasn’t expecting at first as I’m used to bikes this big having an electrical starter. Makes sense though, as this is a small engine bought off of a used engine reseller. The trike also has a reverse gear, which comes in handy when the bike is as long as this one is, for maneuvering out of difficult spaces.

STA and I hung out a bit over the last few days. He’s got a real passion for modding bikes, and his next big plans include an even bigger trike, though he hasn’t fully fleshed out the design yet. I showed him some of the cool, retro, modded designs on Bike Exif and we talked a while about what a custom bike for African cities might actually look like.

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Note: I’ve been blogging most of this on the Maker Faire Africa blog, so go there to find more posts on the stories from Lagos, Nigeria and the innovative and fun products made there.

Geeking out on a Motorcycle Trip

Today I had a lot of fun, one of my old schoolmates (Markus) from here in Kenya asked me if I wanted to get out of Nairobi and hit the trails on our motorcycles. Of course, the answer was yes. We headed out towards Naivasha early this morning and then took a side road off towards the escarpment.

The roads are dirt and with the recent rains they’re really quite rugged and beyond most normal vehicles. Markus is an experienced trail rider on a KTM 450 (kitted out), I’ve ridden a lot of trails, but years ago and not nearly as experienced as Markus – and I’m riding an offroad/onroad Suzuki DR 650 (stock).

We ended up having to run through, and beside, a lot of 5-10 acre farms that sit at the base of the escarpment in order to find a road up to the top of the escarpment. A lot of this was on cow paths and required some fine-tuned leveraging of our bikes through gates and streams. The road to the top of the escarpment, when found was a fun ride, minus the part where I wiped out on a simple turn (the one below)…

Bruises (and bruised ego) aside, we kept going up into small-farm, where quite a few more people live, and which is almost entirely denuded of trees that were there just 15 years ago.

After talking to some of the local community, we were advised to head down a certain road, with assurances that it would lead us to the bottom of the escarpment. It did, eventually, but not until we had backtracked, sidetracked, followed animal trails (in buffalo country), and then realized that the washed out gully we were in was supposed to be the road.

3.5 hours of wrestling a mammoth 650cc bike through this terrain left me exhausted. This type of bike is not made for that level of technical riding down boulder strewn gully’s and game trails. However, it was also hugely rewarding when we finally found our way to the bottom of the escarpment and much easier riding.

Mapping the Malewa Motorcycle Trip

I also brought my Android Nexus One along for the ride, hoping that the battery life would allow me to use it for tracking our trip. The Nexus One has a GPS, and there’s an Android app called My Tracks, that tracks your trip, allows you to add waypoints, then easily shares it to Google’s MyMaps.

Here is the result:


View Malewa Motorcycle Trip in a larger map

It doesn’t look very exciting like that, but it does give you the exact data for having your own challenging ride if you’re in Kenya.

Traffic Updates by SMS in Nigeria

eNowNow is a service in Nigeria where anyone with a mobile phone can sign up to receive updates on traffic conditions in different areas around Lagos.

How it Works

Traffic via SMS in Lagos Nigeria - mapArmed with a mobile phone, a team of 4-6 motorcyclists ride to different, pre-designate parts of the city. They take pictures of the current traffic conditions and MMS that image to the central office. That image is then geolocated and given a score of “slow”, “moving” or “free”. Anyone who has signed up for SMS or email alerts is then sent a message with the traffic update.

Challenges

I asked Simon, one of the people putting the service into action, what some of their challenges are. His reply:

“Collecting information in this way, although not that technical (lots of people have said why not use stationary webcams it would be technically superior), is turning out to be more difficult than we expected. Finding people who can grasp the concept behind the service, ride well through the crazy Lagos traffic, and are reliable has been tricky, added to that we’ve had lots of issues around harassment and even arrests from the police (many police officers apparently believe you need special police permission to take photos of traffic) and just recently the weather has been in our way as the rainy season has just started in Lagos making operations more difficult and a few phones have been dropped in puddles! “

The business side

eNowNow doesn’t see much value in charging premium SMS rates for their services. They believe margins are low, and they don’t think the uptake would be high enough amongst their target market to make it work. Instead, they have plans to subsidize the service with revenues from licensing traffic information to Sat Nav providers and logistics companies.

“In Nigeria the networks will take anything between 40 and 75% of a premium SMS’s cost to a subscriber for themselves (pull or push) leaving you a tiny margin for profitability and driving the industry standard (and therefore what the networks will allow you) per SMS cost higher. Most people think that traffic only affects those in cars and they can therefore afford to pay for a service, but most of Lagos’ population aren’t in that bracket and those on public transport still have choices about which buses they take, which routes and what time they leave work.”

Thoughts and ideas

Maybe it’s because I’m a motorcycle fan, or maybe it’s because I have a deeply ingrained detestation for being stuck in traffic in Africa’s mega cities, but this application hits the sweet spot for me. I’ve been wanting just this type of thing in Nairobi for a long time…

One additional idea, to make this even more dynamic, and spread it over the whole city is to create a way for ordinary drivers to text into the system when they come across a new or growing traffic problem. I imagine that Lagos has areas with traffic that is not on the pre-designated points that eNowNow operates in currently.

This is a classic locally grown tech initiative, and I hope that they can pull it off. If so, it can definitely be replicated in other major metro markets across the continent.

The Rise of the Motorcycle Taxi in Africa

“Piki piki” is motorcycle in Swahili. That’s how I think of them, it’s what my daughters call them, and it’s what I want to write about today even though it has nothing to do with African tech… :)

motorcycle-taxi-stand-liberia

The Rise of the Motorcycle Taxi in Africa

There has been a massive increase in the number of motorcycles in Africa over the last couple years. As an example, the story I got from more than one source in Liberia last month was that a year ago there were only a few motorcycles on the road. Now the country is covered with thousands of “peen peen’s”, their local motorcycle taxis.

My (rented) bodaboda

As I travel, I like to test out the local motorcycles. Usually this means me finding a local motorcycle taxi driver and renting the bike off of him. It’s questionable whether a guy my size is going to fit onto the back of one of these 125cc cheap Indian and Chinese bikes. Plus, most of the drivers are horrible and there’s no way I’m putting my life in his hands. Here is a video of me testing out a “boda boda” in Kenya, and in the middle (1:38) of this Liberia video I test a “peen peen” out briefly.

The Business Side

Liberian motorcycle taxi drivers

Whenever I’m in a new country, I take the time to sit down and talk to the local motorcyclists. I’m curious as to when the bikes started showing up in numbers, how much they cost, and how much they charge to drive people around. I’ve started to wonder if it’s the same Indian and Chinese suppliers all over the continent, since you can buy the same models from Kenya to Liberia with the same average pricing of $500 – $1500. You know when someone has some money, since they ride a Yamaha, Honda or some other Japanese motorcycle.

On the business side, the motorcycle is bought by an entrepreneur who has some capital, who then rents it out to a taxi driver who pays him a daily rent on the bike. Anything he makes above rent, he keeps, and then one day a week (Saturday) he doesn’t pay any rent and keeps all the profits. Meanwhile, the owner has to cover maintenance, insurance and registration costs, fuel costs are covered by the driver. The owner’s goal is to get a small fleet of 4-10 motorcycle taxis on the road.

Here’s a breakdown for one owner/driver in Liberia:

  • “Nafa” Chinese motorcycle cost: $750
  • Daily driver revenue (avg): $22
  • Daily driver rent: $8
  • Daily driver fuel costs: $3
  • Daily driver profit (avg): $11

Maintenance and Modding

I’m also intrigued by how they keep them running and how they get modded by the riders. Sometimes you’ll see radios strapped to the handlebars, stickers, signs and tassles. Helmets, when worn, are a hodgepodge of any type of hard head covering that can be found, from construction to racing helmets, they’re all there.

In West Africa, fueling is done via roadside stalls that sell gasoline by the jar or bottle. In East Africa they generally get filled at normal stations or via drums in the more rural areas.

Gallery

A Typical Motorcycle Garage

A Liberian motorcycle taxi

A Kenyan motorcycle taxi - Bodaboda

Gas station in Liberia

Motorcycle billboard in Liberia

My Bodaboda Motorcycle Excursion

I had a couple free hours this afternoon and decide to take advantage of it.



(higher quality version here)

Bodaboda’s are motorcycle taxis in East Africa (getting their name from the original bicycle taxis near the border of Kenya and Uganda). I decided to ask a guy if I could rent his for the day. 500/= Kenya shillings later ($7), and I was on my towards the Nairobi game park, to a reserve where one of my old school teachers now lives.

It didn’t go very fast, being 125cc and a cheap Chinese contraption, but that wouldn’t be advisable on these roads anyway. I got dusted a few times by a big lorry or bus, but was okay once I got beyond the main roads. There were quite a few animals around as I got closer to the reserve, nothing exciting, but fun none-the-less: giraffe, wildebeest, monkeys, ostrich and a bunch of Masai cows.

Best part: cutting the bike off in the middle of nowhere and listening to the wind blow through the bush. This is the Africa I miss.