Bolt Founder and CEO Markus Villig, visited Nairobi last week to meet the local team as well as government officials.
During his visits to Kenya and South Africa, he wanted to gain firsthand knowledge of local experiences from both employees and products.
Capital Business held a candid conversation with the Estonian business leader.
An excerpt from the conversation follows:
Bolt currently operates in big towns such as Nairobi and Mombasa. Are you also eyeing other smaller towns in Kenya?
Markus: I was actually born in a city with 10,000 people in Estonia. And today, Bolt operates there as the leading mobility company. So, we absolutely see that the service also works in very smaller cities and that is something that we are looking to expand into in the next couple of years.
You announced that you will be investing nearly Sh70 billion in Africa. Out of this, how much will be pumped into the country?
Markus: This is a very competitive market and Kenya is one of our biggest and fastest growing markets across Africa, so it will get a sizable chunk of the investment.
What investment and expansion opportunities do you see in Kenya in 2023?
Markus: A key area that we are looking to focus on is how to get more drivers on the platform because there is an ever increasing demand from customers. Every single year, about a million customers sign up on our platform and they need to be serviced. So, we need to match that demand by adding more drivers to the platform. One of the ways to achieve this is through vehicle financing for drivers.
What was the purpose of your Kenyan and South African visits?
Markus: First of all, was to meet the local teams; the ones who are actually building the business on the ground and hear directly from them on what is working and what’s not and how we can improve as a company.
Second thing is that we always want to try the products on the ground. So I can get to experience for myself how the product works, from the customers’ perspective.
And the third reason was to meet with the relevant industry stakeholders including government officials, and local media, in order to share with them what Bolt stands for and what our vision for the future looks like.
Why did you pick Kenya and South Africa and no other African countries during your visit?
Markus: Actually, we visit different countries every other time, but as mentioned Kenya is one of the fastest growing countries right now in Africa, and so we decided to make the trip here first as one of the many expected in the coming year.
Did you sign any Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) with government representatives in Kenya?
Markus: These were the initial meetings with the government officials and we did not get to sign any commitments yet. However, we are very hopeful for future collaborations as we have identified shared interests with the government, including tackling issues such as youth unemployment in the country. So we shall look to identify how we can work together to create more job opportunities for the youth.
Since you launched the ‘women-only’ category, how has it empowered women drivers?
Markus: First of all, when we talk to women drivers the number one issue they usually have is safety. So, they want to make sure that they feel safe on the platform and so is the case with the women passengers. The women only category was therefore launched to enhance the safety of both female drivers and passengers while also empowering and motivating more women drivers to join the ride-hailing industry. So far the feedback we get is extremely positive. So, it is something that we will continue to roll out.
Some drivers have been complaining of huge discounts that lead to lower earnings. What is your view on this?
Markus: Actually, there is a misconception there that the discounts are covered by the drivers. Bolt always covers the total cost of the discounts offered to the customers; the drivers always get the full earnings made on every trip. This is why we have raised so much funding as well, as we are investing greatly every year into marketing. These discounts incentivise the customers to use our services, thus ensuring that drivers have sufficient demand to earn more. This is because what drivers want is to get more trips, so we invest more in marketing to ensure this is possible. So for example when a customer gets a 50 percent discount on the ride that cost is covered by Bolt and not the driver.
Is the startup looking to embrace drone deliveries?
Markus: There is actually a whole world of robotic deliveries but we haven’t seen anything yet that is commercially viable and that will actually have prices that are attractive to customers.
What is your parting shot?
Markus: Overall, I am very excited that we had fruitful engagements with the government officials especially in sharing that Bolt stands for better cities. Our mission is to make cities that are focused on people and not cars. We had a great meeting with the Governor of Nairobi who actually shares the same vision with us, and believes that cities should also be designed for pedestrians, cyclists, motorbikes and they shouldn’t just be designed for highways and parking spaces. We believe that Bolt is the best company to actually help in realizing this vision for Nairobi and Kenya as a whole.