SafeBoda Nigeria: The road to launch

Babajide Duroshola
SafeBoda Nigeria
Published in
5 min readMar 18, 2020
L-R: Obafemi, Ismail and Yinka, Okada riders who were some of our first hires.

On the 3rd of May 2019, I told the world that my watch with Andela was finally over. This was one of the turning points in my life. Being at Andela was a great experience, moving to SafeBoda was a terrifying one. Was I going to do a great job? Would I fail on the job? What kind of team do I need? How will I get the right people? What type of people will I deal with? What did I know about running a country?

All these questions were running through my head the moment I got appointed Country Head, SafeBoda Nigeria.

To be fair, they must have seen something in me that told them I could cut it, but a lot needed to be done to get us ready for take-off and that was the terrifying part. So, what did I do?

Building the first 90 Day plan

I resumed on the 6th of May 2019 and day 1 was actually at SoFresh Yaba. It became the home of Safeboda for 3 months and we still laugh about the chopping board sound during meetings with the global team. Back to Day 1. I was met by the VP of Expansion who had initially shared the “market Scoping Deck” with me. He had done an awesome job in highlighting Lagos and the company’s decision to expand to Nigeria. After walking me through the deck, we then started to put together a launch plan which centered around;

  • What would the team look like?
  • What were the moving parts (Getting the pieces of equipment like helmets, reflectors hairnets)
  • Stakeholder mapping (who should we be talking to)
  • What is the right entry point (for both drivers and customers)

By the end of the first 3 weeks, the launch plan was ready, then we began execution which meant building the team, looking for an office and corporate apartments, looking for riders and engaging stakeholders, then the Curveball came…

Should we be doing Lagos really?

Lagos is the commercial hub of Nigeria and as such, it made sense to look at her as the launchpad for SafeBoda’s entry into Nigeria. But upon engaging the stakeholders, we did not feel welcome (this was sometime in June). There was a level of disdain in how we were treated. I was once told: “Shut up, what do you know about building transportation for a megacity? Don’t come and give us investor pitch here” at a meeting before and then I thought, should we be really looking at this place after 3 weeks of active engagement?

“So if not Lagos, where then?”

Ibadan is an ancient city that holds the position of many firsts. From the first 24 Storey skyscraper to the first Teaching Hospital in Nigeria, and many more, it was never a question of “Why Ibadan?”, it was a question of “Why not Ibadan?”. This was one of the best decisions we made because we were justified when Lagos was hit with the Okada Ban.

How did we move into Ibadan?.

To break into a business, you have to know the business. You have to communicate with the man at the base of affairs. I’m pretty sure the Okada riders in Ibadan know me very well. I sat with them, talked with them, ate with them. I practically became one of them (except for riding a motorcycle, I still can’t do that).

Posing with a motorcycle at the Safeboda Nigeria HQ. Please always wear a helmet when on a motorcycle, it's for your own safety.

Building a community requires knowing the pieces that fit into the puzzle so, instead of hiring some suit and tie “experts” to be part of our Core Operations Team, we hired actual Okada riders( we started with 4 of them actually) and worked right out of an Airbnb. These amazing guys were people who had direct information about riders, about the okada industry, people who had lived it and could share insights. We talked about prices, insurance, opportunities and many more. We then entered over 400 Okada rides to map out the per kilometer charge and time.

After figuring out where to launch, I had to put together the rest of my team.

The Okada Geng 😃

From Customer Acquisition to Customer Success, Finance, etc. It was a struggle sifting through CVs, talking to different brilliant minds all in a bid to get the best fit for the company (some days we had 16 interviews). At a point, it went from Brilliance to Culture fit because all the people I spoke to had great talents.

To launch or not to launch

From December 2019 to January 2020 to “we’ll get back to you with a launch date”, it really seemed like we were wasting time. To be frank, I had reservations about the launch until we finally did it. When the day was set for March 2nd, 2020 and I told my team, we were as skeptical as we were excited.

And we are LIVE!

Launch Day was the most terrifying day of my entire adult life, no jokes. From making sure that we had enough riders for the projected rides to ensuring that these riders followed all they were taught at the Academy. At one point, I had to do a James Bond-esque road trip with my SB when one of the riders decided to follow “one-way”.

The first week was exhilarating, we exceeded even our expectations and it was just like I tell my team, “Tech business is a lot of code, preparation and a sprinkle of the Blood of Jesus”. That sprinkle came in handy countless times. We have seen a tremendous amount of growth which is showing early signs that the market does exist here and to be honest, I feel this is the best place to learn about expanding to other parts of Nigeria.

Was this a learning experience? Yes! Would I want to do it again? Maybe not, Would we be successful? Time will tell but the market has all the right ingredients for success.

The road to Launch was definitely something to experience and I’m excited to do great things in Ibadan and Nigeria at large with SAFEBODA. So till next time, Stay Safe. (Insert cheeky emoji)

SafeBoda! SafeOkada!