You may probably have heard of the wave of Innovations in MobileApps spreading across Africa. You may indeed have heard of TaxiJet, the equivalent of Uber in the Ivory Coast. I congratulate the team that built the App and the good intentions of building a local version of the service. Uber launched in Africa in 2012, beginning with Johannesburg before quickly expanding to Cape Town and Durban; followed by a launch in Lagos, Nigeria, in 2014 and Nairobi in 2015. Uber has not yet reached Francophone Africa (yet) hence the need for TaxiJet.

Oftentimes one hears about different versions of places, people and products in Africa. Africa’s Silicon Valley, Africa’s Bill Gates, the next African Einstein etc. I have nothing against taking inspiration from successful people and even imitating what they have done. So long as the imitation comes with learning and knowledge transfer. 

The story I am about to tell you about my experience with TaxiJet is one I have talked about before. The need to create services and solutions relevant to the local context to make home-grown innovative ideas work for Africa. I wrote a similar piece about innovation and the auto industry recently. My idea is not to see these initiatives as negative, but rather a big positive contribution to Africa. I main goal (as in the other piece to Kantanka cars) is to help develop these technological innovations into viable well diffused products and services.

Fortunately I live in Abidjan so I decided to try the TaxiJet service. Here’s my story.

Technology – The Application

While waiting for my appointment in Abidjan on Wednesday 24th December 2015, a BBC article caught my eye. It was an article about TaxiJet: The Uber of the Ivory Coast. Designed and built in the Ivory Coast, The TaxiJet Application is brilliant (AppStore). The design is what you would expect of any top-class App.  Downloading it took a few seconds on my iPhone with 3G connectivity. I was amazed at how slick the App is and how all the functionalities have been thought through (well except a few). In terms of Technological Innovation, even if it is a close imitation of Uber in terms of service, TaxiJet is indeed an excellent App.

User Experience

Fortunately I had gone to my appointment in a Taxi. I did not want to drive because of the heavy traffic in the centre of Abidjan. I created an account on TaxiJet and proceeded to order a Taxi. The experience was amazing. I gave my pick up location and destination on the App. In a short moment I received  notification on the App with the name of the drive, his telephone number and number plate. More importantly I was informed (Realtime in Maps) that the Taxi would arrive in 14 Minutes. (My inbound journey took 10 minutes). The fare was estimated to be a bit higher than my inbound trip, but that I expected to pay a bit higher fare for the convenience. I could see the ‘location’ of the Taxi on the Map. This was quite reassuring.

25 minutes after I initiated the process, and with no Taxi (in fact at this point the waiting time had been reduced to 6 minutes, 20 minutes earlier), I decided to call the Taxi driver and find out where he was. In case it was a traffic issues. The problem was that unless you have an photographic memory or two phones, you could not call the driver directly from the App. Fortunately I was with a colleague so we used his phone to call. He called about 10 times but could not connect to the driver.

After waiting for 45 minutes (yes I really wanted to try the service) we decided to hail a normal taxi from our location. We got a taxi within two minutes, at a lower fare and we got to our destination within 10 minutes.

Upon getting back to my desk (and this must have been about an hour and 15 minutes from the start of the process) I received an email from the TaxiJet Team apologising for not being able to find me a taxi and hoping to serve me better the next time. I appreciated that, though as user I didn’t think it was enough to get me back to try the service.

Malheureusement, nous ne sommes pas en mesure de vous trouver un taxi actuellement. Merci de nous avoir fait confiance en esperant pouvoir mieux vous servir lors de votre prochaine reservation!
L’equipe TaxiJet

Context is Important for Innovations

 Once again I would like to assure TaxiJet that my intention here is not to let the service look bad. It is indeed a good service and needed. And the technology is very well designed and made.My intention is to draw lessons from my experience and share it with other young innovators in Africa.
Creating an App with a good intention of providing a good service is not enough.  Technology is great but an understanding of the environment (society) in which the service is provided is at least equally important. It is only when one understands the environment that one can understand the real needs, wants, willingness and ability to pay for the service.
In the case of TaxiJet in particular I think a few contextual factors need to be thought through:
  1. Taxis and Drivers – Please make sure there is enough pool of drivers (and well trained) available for the service before embarking on the massive social media and mainstream media PR. You only have once chance at each user.
  2. Real Time Feedback – You may want to integrate a real-time feed-back functionality. You see it is not enough to send the customer an email long after you have already lost him/her. Your team or the designated driver should be reachable. More importantly it would be nice for TaxiJet to proactively, even though the driver, update the client.
  3. Traffic conditions – I don’t think there is a way to control the traffic conditions in Abidjan. But at least you should try to manage it. Not all factors are controllable but all a manageable. You should probably include a caveat that estimates delays depending on the time of day and traffic conditions.
  4. Legal Requirements – I am not sure about what kind of Taxi’s you are using. Registered taxis or individuals using their own vehicles. Whatever it is you may want to ensure that you have met all the legal requirements (and beyond). Uber is dealing with a few legal and societal issues in a few countries.
  5. Payment – Again I am not sure about the payment system. Whether payment is made directly to the driver or electronically. Please note that credit and debit cards are not well used in Abidjan. But we do have mobile payment systems thanks to Orange, MTN and I believe MOOV. If you have not already you may want to explore these.
  6. Look beyond the Ivory Coast – Expand your knowledge of the local conditions to at least the other Francophone countries in the region. Don’t wait too long. Maybe you have a boo-regional service.
I am sure there are other factors I have not mentioned here. The point is that beyond the technology, innovation is also about adoption and diffusion of your service. Fortunately you have a service that has already been tested else where. You just need to use your knowledge of the local conditions to make it relevant and useful to the masses.
Fortunately you have not lost this potential client. I intend to try the service again.
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