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In March, I spoke to the country manager of “the world’s sexiest startup“, Uber, on how the company is faring in Nigeria. Among other things, Ebi Atawodi said the company is planning to introduce a carpooling service where individuals can use an Uber ride, consequently lowering cost. This is basically what Nigeria’s latest transport Jekalo is all about.
The founders launched the company on 28 May mainly through a newsletter and social media. Its apparent novelty really got a lot of people talking about it, including social media influencers making me wonder how many of those that talked about it are so-called “organic”.
Simply put, Jekalo is an online platform where you can share a ride with someone going along the same route as you. Whether you are a ride-owner or a passenger, Jekalo is pitched as a convenient and affordable way to get home in the evening, to your next meeting or for after-work drinks.
Here’s how the system works
If you want a ride, all you have to do is to enter your trip information and click on the “search” button or join any of the already displayed rides. Available rides that match your route will be displayed which you can join. However, if none matches your route, you can choose to get notified when there’s a ride for that route.
The cost of the ride will be calculated and you will get notified once the ride owner has confirmed your request. By the way, the first couple of rides you join are free — similar to Uber.
To offer rides, you have to go to the site, click on the “Offer a Ride” button and enter your route information. Jekalo admin will vet your ride before it is published on the platform and once it is published, you will start receiving ride request notifications from users for you to accept.
As a ride owner, you earn points that can be used to redeem cash, fuel vouchers, airtime vouchers, mobile data and more.
Prior to the emergence of Jekalo, many stakeholders in the industry (including me) were getting fed up with the fact that only ecommerce was getting all the attention. The last time a non-ecommerce tech product in Nigeria got everyone’s attention was when the bride price app was quietly released by individuals in ghost mode. This shows that the tech industry in Nigeria can really support non-ecommerce products only that it must one product that solves a major challenge and that Nigerians really need.
Do Nigerians really need Jekalo or something like that?
I think the answer to this is a resounding yes. Yes! Nigeria needs a service that allows people to connect to join rides without a company like Uber, Afrocab or anyone else interfering. For the individuals who want to join a ride, they get to go with someone who is not really a conventional (corporate) taxi driver but is someone like them that does not want to ride alone.
Driving in Lagos could be very boring and lonely considering the long hours they spend at standstill and cars moving bumper-to-bumper. Drivers, especially private car owners are often annoyed with the fact that they are burning unnecessarily while lone drivers have to console themselves with any of the radio stations in Lagos. But with someone joining the ride, it could be less stressful – especially if the passenger is of the opposite sex. They also get something in return while the passenger pays less than what he or she would have paid for Uber ride.
The major concern with Jekalo is security because anyone with an ulterior motive could use the system to reach targeted unsuspecting users. To ensure the platform is safe, the developers said you need to sign in using your Facebook and LinkedIn accounts (yeah, you need both). Both processes are automated which means well designed fake accounts could easily go through.
No sensible Nigerian lady would choose to join that ride with three guys at 9pm.
There is also another serious risk posed to the owners of the ride. On the platform one can see names and pictures of individuals offering rides, at least two of them are very notable startup founders while one of them was very active on social media in highlighting the sins of the outgoing government.
I often sleep off when on my Uber ride in Lagos without fearing getting robbed because I trust the system. Even as trustworthy as Uber is, the India rape incident is an eye opener to the fact that you can never be too safe.
There is a lot of work for the developers to do in ensuring security. Partnering with security agencies to keep track of each ride, hooking the passengers and the driver of the cars with panic alarm button is another option. Perhaps putting up cameras within the cars can be helpful.
While Jekalo is a potentially disruptive innovation, the risks might be too much — especially in a country where 911 does not work and criminals are ubiquitous.