Traffic app Ma3Route fundraising as it begins expansion outside Nairobi

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Mostly bootstrapped since its launch in late 2012, Kenyan traffic app Ma3Route is raising a seed round as it embarks on expansion outside of Nairobi and adds other features to its product.

Ma3Route is a crowdsourcing technology platform that looks to solve mobility issues in emerging cities. The transportation-focused web, mobile app and SMS platform is designed to enable commuters to share information in real-time.

“We enable all road users to communicate via short messages on our mobile apps and social media to foster more efficient and enjoyable commutes for everyone,” the founding team told Disrupt Africa.

“Our community of users report details on road conditions and share events happening on the roads as they’re travelling, hence generating valuable data and insights.”

Since its launch, Ma3Route has seen significant user traction, and it now reaches more than 300,000 users daily. This has been achieved without significant funding. The startup won the Pivot East competition in 2013, gaining the support of m:lab East Africa in the form of office space as well as a grant.

Ma3Route was generating revenues soon after, which it used to self-fund part of its development, but it is now looking to obtain investment as it focuses on expanding into other cities and adds new features.

“We are starting to expand to other Kenyan cities where we’ve seen traction, as well as in-between cities. Soon, we’ll be in other East African cities as well,” the founding team said.

“Besides geographic expansion, we’re also innovating in terms of business models. For example, we’re currently testing how crowdsourcing can be a sustainable model of collecting accidents data, using the existing Ma3Route platform and users. The aim is to produce a real-time actionable dataset that can aid Nairobi authorities and civil society improve road safety.”

Ma3Route says it addressable market – crowdsourced smart transportation – is a US$47 billion industry globally, growing at 24 per cent year-on-year. Nairobi has proven the perfect spot to launch such a solution, with around three million people moving around the city on a daily basis and approximately 400,000 vehicles on the road.

“Like many cities in growth markets, the Kenyan capital faces multiple urban challenges: a rising demand for road usage, a limited infrastructure, poor public transports and a lack of reliable information on traffic conditions,” Ma3Route said.

As a result, urban traffic is not redistributed efficiently. Commuters end up facing accessibility challenges as they move within the city and Kenya’s capital loses KES37 billion (US$400 million) in productivity every year due to travel times, fuel costs, air pollution and accidents.

“At Ma3Route, we believe that providing crowdsourced real-time information is a solution to ease urban travellers’ commutes and improve their mobility. Our vision is that all people should be empowered with information and connections to make smart decisions impacting their city’s evolution,” the startup said.

“We hope to bring greater sanity to the roads and inform city planning and transport regulations in emerging economies through the provision of user-generated transport data and trend analysis.”

Ma3Route has a three-tier revenue model, based its customer segments: individuals, companies, and public authorities. It said its revenue is increasing, although as an early-stage company it is still “humble”.

“So far, we’ve been working with great local and global partners and we will continue to focus on satisfying our current customers as well as growing our customer base,” the founding team said.

User acquisition and retention are crucial to the startup’s success.

“At the time when we were launching the crowdsourcing platform, acquiring a critical mass of end-users was a first challenge. We had to be smart and agile, partnerships with local radios helped getting the word out,” Ma3Route said.

“Another challenge was the activation and retention of our first users. It took a lot of testing and trial-and-error to understand what best resonated with our early adopters. For example, public transport directions – matatus – were our initial focus, but we soon realised that traffic information was a bigger problem for our users. We consequently redesigned the app to fill this gap. A high level of iteration and a strong focus on solving our users problem was paramount.”

These challenges have been overcome, and Ma3Route is now ready to take on funding for the next step of its journey, confident it has developed a necessary product.

“What makes Ma3Route what it is today is a loyal community, a high level of engagement on the platform, and an over-increasing quality of traffic and driving reports. Our challenge is to keep providing valuable and timely information to our community,” it said.

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Passionate about the vibrant tech startups scene in Africa, Tom can usually be found sniffing out the continent's most exciting new companies and entrepreneurs, funding rounds and any other developments within the growing ecosystem.

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