Founder and CEO of Easy Taxi Nigeria, Bankole Cardoso, was born and raised in Lagos before moving to the United Kingdom to attend Rugby School from where he moved on to the United States to study business management at Boston College. The 25 year-old entrepreneur returned to Nigeria 12 years later to establish Easy Taxi, a free Smartphone application that gives users the ability to request a car on-demand at any time of the day. In this interview with Festus Akanbi, he speaks on urban transportation challenges and the quest to create a trusted taxi culture in Nigeria
Can you explain what gave you the motivation to go into transportation business and why is the focus on taxi services?
I noticed that there was a poor taxi culture in Lagos compared to other big cities that I have visited or lived in. When visitors come to Lagos or expatriates are sent here for work, taxis are hardly ever considered as a transportation option, instead they arrange private cars. For Lagos residents as well, taxis are often not the first option for a number of reasons. Through the Easy Taxi technology platform I believed that we could make taxis more appealing to people in Lagos and more importantly that we could contribute to the development of the transportation network in the city.
Which of the banks are you partnering with and what is your experience with banks given the fact that most Nigerian banks are risk averse?
We have partnered with Zenith bank and I must say that they have been great. We are working with them to integrate in-app payments in our application and it is clear that they are very professional and experienced.
Where did you source your initial capital from and do you have a prior experience in transport business?
Our initial capital was sourced from Rocket Internet, the world’s largest Internet incubator. They have a lot of experience having started up successful companies such as Jumia and they have an existing business network for us to tap into. I did not have any direct experience in the transportation business but I have learned very quickly.
Can you tell us why you have chosen Lagos as your base?
Lagos is my hometown so it was only natural to begin here. It is the one city I understand and know the best.
Lagos State government has come up with a couple of transportation guidelines, what do you think?
The new transportation guidelines that Lagos State government has come up with are fantastic. It is much needed and I am sure the guidelines will improve and revamp the transportation network across the state. It was a big moment for us to be included in the discussions with the Lagos State government as they recognise Easy Taxi as a key stakeholder in the transportation system in Lagos.
Do you have any fear that the current bad road system could affect business?
The poor infrastructure is certainly a challenge but we use our technology to work around this as much as possible. We are connecting users to drivers that are very close to them so while infrastructure is still key, we are able to minimize the effect that it has.
Is there any plan for partnership with corporate bodies in the form of transport services to them?
Yes, we already have some big corporate companies and we are officially rolling out a new platform called Easy Taxi Corporate, which we have designed and created specifically for Corporations. We believe that we can cut their transportation costs by up to 40 per cent in some cases; so this can be a really powerful tool for them.
How can we effectively tackle problem of youth unemployment in Nigeria?
We need a holistic approach to solve unemployment. We need to create more jobs but we also need more qualified candidates. The issue we have in Nigeria is structural unemployment; there is a mismatch in the skills that workers offer and the skills that employers need. To improve this, we need to focus on education and train people better. Both the government and the private sector are key to job creation.
I strongly believe that internship and apprenticeship programmes for university students will help them to get some sort of work experience before they are actually looking for full time employment. It would be wonderful if there were more opportunities for students to get work experience in their two-month summer holidays. The employers would not have to pay them much but it will be invaluable experience for the student in the long run.
What are the plans put in place to enlarge this organisation?
We have created a good foundation for our business in Lagos and we believe that we have a team that can help us expand to other cities in Nigeria. Easy Taxi is a scalable business. We have a network of around 700 drivers in Lagos and Abuja and we plan to expand to Port Harcourt, Ibadan, Benin and other cities in the next few months. We have also recently launched in Accra and Nairobi.
What are your projections for the rest of the year?
We have been achieving close to 100 per cent growth month on month and we hope to continue this impressive rate of growth.
Did you know you were going to be an entrepreneur all along, or did it happen by chance?
I always believed that I would start my own businesses but I did not expect to start one so soon. I gained valuable skills and experience working at big corporations but I never considered staying in the corporate world for the duration of my career. I have been buzzing with ideas for a long time, especially ones tailored to emerging markets like Nigeria’s because I am keen to support development in these regions.
What are some of the obstacles you have encountered in your business journey and how did you overcome them?
Opportunistic people. There is nothing more frustrating than people that offer nothing but have the sole motive of taking advantage; I am a patient person but I have learned to spot and stay clear of such people and organisations.
How do you describe your leadership style? And how do you keep the Easy Taxi team motivated?
I am a trusting leader. I believe in giving people responsibility and encouraging them to take ownership of their tasks so they can measure the direct impact of their role. I think this style has created a healthy competition within the Easy Taxi team and keeps everybody motivated.
How do you envision Africa’s growth in the next decade, especially Nigeria? What do you think about the e-commerce movement in Nigeria?
Today, I believe that Africa is already the most exciting place to work in terms of the opportunities. Over the next decade, Africa is forecasted to be the fastest growing region in the world and Nigeria is set to be a central part of this boom. The exponential growth is largely due to the commodity boom across the continent but I strongly believe that the main driving factor is now and will continue to be the small and medium-sized businesses that are springing up all over the continent.
I think Nigeria’s population is our biggest asset and policies such as the Central Bank’s cashless economy and the democratisation of the Internet all contribute to the e-commerce growth in the nation..