Learnings From A Disruptive Startup — Gokada

Aderinsola Akintilo
Oct 8, 2018 · 6 min read

Gokada is an on-demand motor-bike hailing service in Lagos. Integrating technology with the existing “okada” service model to quickly connect customers with riders. In other words, it’s “Uber with motorcycles.”

I was responsible for “Product” at Gokada. Setting the business vision, tracking app performance, designing service solutions, regularly interacting with customers, and more. I am forever grateful for this opportunity and the incredible journey. Recently, I made the decision to resign from the company.

There are many reasons why I resigned. My hope, in writing about a few of those reasons, and my learnings, is to help others not make the same mistakes I made. It might even help them along their life journeys.

Why you should work at a startup…at least once in your life

This is my third time working for a startup, and definitely not my last. Startups have a knack of gathering many hungry, talented, and driven individuals who all want to make a difference. Gokada leadership did not understand how rare and incredible it is to have that collective of intelligent youths. All sharing the same goal, unbelievable energy levels, and passion, to move Gokada and Lagos forward.

We had the smartest and youngest group of people I’ve had the pleasure of working with my career. It blew me away to find out I was one of the older people working at Gokada. Even our flexible working hours was a thing of beauty. Yes, we had the typical general meetings throughout the day. But you could sleep in the afternoon, wake up in the evening, and get shit done.

When you work at a startup, you have more chances to see first hand how it impacts people’s lives. Interviewing our customers was a humbling experience for me. Some had issues with our services, but the majority were beyond jubilant about getting from point-a to point-b. Also, they no longer wasted hours sitting in traffic because of us. These customers had been riding okadas before our startup existed. Gokada provided a safer, faster, and convenient mode of transportation compared to okadas. Sometimes your okada driver is sound, sometimes, he drives like your lives don’t matter.

The first 150 Gokada drivers are the kindest, sweetest, most grateful people I’ve ever met. They would bleed for Gokada and wear our green and ride our bikes with pride. Aside those that work in operations, they are arguably one of the hardest working groups at Gokada. At the end of the day, that’s all you can ask for from your employees.

Why you should be careful when working with startups (or any group of people)

Gokada was a huge contributor in me moving back to Nigeria, and for that, I will forever be grateful. I spent 14 years in Lagos before moving to the States to pursue education and a few years of consultancy and freelance work experience. Growing up, I noticed something about Nigerians living in or outside Nigeria: we complain a lot about the Nigerian state of affairs. Hearing things like: Nigeria is corrupt, Nigeria is nothing like the Western world, why can’t Nigeria be better. Complaint after complaint. Now, there is nothing wrong with complaining. That is a human response to situations we deem unfair. It always bothered me that those complaining, never did anything to change Nigeria. I have a privileged life. I do not have children, my family is well off, and I was able to leave Nigeria for over a decade before returning. But throughout my years, I learnt that if all you’re going to do is complain, then nothing will ever change. What’s the point of constantly complaining? So, it excited me when a startup like Gokada wanted me to join their efforts. Help them talk-the-talk and walk-the-walk. Be careful of startups that talk-the-talk but don’t walk-the-walk.

On leadership. If you notice your leadership is lacking, always try to support them in anyway you can. If they don’t want to be helped or outright refuse your help, that speak volumes. You should be weary of leadership that exhibits such behavior.

Working as a consultant exposed me to a wide range of projects with a variety of clients. The lack of team-work, proper communication, and inter-department interaction, were leading factors of critical breakdowns in companies I consulted for. These factors affected every type of company, from startups to global corporations. The tech department not working with the business department, who don’t work with operations, who don’t work with marketing, and so on. All this does is create unhealthy internal competition. It’s a bad sign if your startup doesn’t foster inter-department interactions, constantly miscommunicates, or cannot function as a team.

If you see recurring incidents of misalignment, or tasks given by management are inconsistent; run. Keeping a team aligned is no easy task, but it’s necessary. You shouldn’t need to know what everyone is working on, but it helps. The nature of startups, from what I’ve experienced, is that things can change at any time and any day. That’s all right. As long as we address those as a team.

A lack of structured processes also hinders progress. You don’t need every business process in place. But if you don’t have a single process that the team agrees with, then what’s the point? It doesn’t matter how much money you have, or how dope your team is, the business will crumble. Everyone will run in circles, believing the company is moving forward. Until someone notices that you aren’t going anywhere, or the business fails.

On customers. Know who your customers are! If you have a business that caters to everyone, or you don’t know your primary and target consumer demographic, then you will fail. It will be a massive waste of time when your marketing and your service doesn’t cater to a group in particular. Or worse, when it caters to a group that you know are not your target customers. A startup that doesn’t address their customers’ needs, and constantly pivots, will find it hard to stay in business. It’s hard to be profitable when you don’t solve a problem for your customers, or provide visible value.

On trust. Trust the people who you work with. A fellow manager made me realize the importance of trusting your colleagues. He said:

If you cannot trust your colleagues to do their jobs, or support you…if you cannot trust them to be honest, be transparent, or you get a bad feeling when they’re on the same team as you…then why are you working with them?”

At the end of the day, listen to your intuition and keep your eyes and ears open. If notice that the problems, or red-flags, are pilling up, then you and the company are not the right fit. Don’t beat yourself up, because it’s good that you noticed. It’s better to come to that realization earlier, rather than months or years down the line.

Big-ups to Gokada

Gokada changed Lagos and affected many lives for the better. I am blessed to have been a member of that group of talented, problem-solving, hilarious individuals. I wish nothing but the best for those that remain at Gokada. It’s possible that they will bootstrap themselves, solve their issues, and rise better and stronger than ever. When you start your next job, or even your next career, be careful who you work with. Pay attention to red-flags and trust your instincts. It will surprise you how often they’re right.

Thank you for reading! Big thanks to Bezaleel Ashefor, Ayokunle Paul, Amos Tobi, Ajay, close friends, my family, and many others associated and not associated with Gokada for your help, your inspiration, your copyediting skills, and for being dope amazing people.

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