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.

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