How Nigerian ride-hailing app Pickmeup has built a large user base in spite of Uber, Bolt

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Nigerian ride-hailing startup Pickmeup has built a user base 50,000-strong in spite of competition from the likes of Uber and Bolt, with its founder saying competition is a “double-edged sword”.

Founded in 2017, Pickmeup is a transport technology platform that allows users to book a safe and affordable ride in minutes using their smartphone. It uses GPS technology to directly connect passengers – who are mostly everyday commuters – to nearby drivers in just a few seconds. 

“Our platform also allows people to be their own boss and earn extra income. Our mobile app is extremely simple and very user friendly. You can sign up within seconds and start booking rides immediately. We are focused on making on-demand transportation affordable and accessible for everyone,” Michael Okaredje, founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of Pickmeup, told Disrupt Africa.

So far, so Uber, or so Bolt, but Pickmeup has succeeded where other clones have failed in managing to build a sizeable user base in spite of its well-funded international competition. Currently, over 50,000 people rely on its app to move around 10 Nigerian cities.

“I think competition is a double-edged sword and counterintuitively, often brings more benefits than drawbacks. The competition has made us stronger and we’ve experienced incredible growth,” Okaredje said.

The reason for this, he said, was Pickmeup’s ability to offer lower costs for the same quality of service, and its better understanding of the Nigerian market.

“We are known for doing the smaller things that the other competitors are missing and being able to tailor the experience to Nigerians a lot more than they can, because they are actually more focused on other markets and have their attention divided,” Okaredje said.

“Other than having the lowest fees, 15 per cent versus Bolt’s 20 per cent and Uber’s 25 per cent, our main competitive advantage is our ability to offer drivers the flexibility to pay themselves. Currently, drivers have to wait for weekly payouts with no flexibility offered by Bolt and Uber, leading to their drivers prioritising cash trips and resulting in cancellations of card trips.”

Pickmeup, conversely, has built a wallet system where drivers top-up at will and effectively pay the company its commission on each ride. They can also request a pay-out of their accumulated funds, which can be processed within 48 hours. 

“This means we can offer drivers greater flexibility over their earnings plus free training and vehicle inspections,” said Okaredje.

“The relationship between drivers and our two major competitors is very poor, with constant disagreements and protests. We are proud to look after our drivers and believe they are the backbone of this business.”

He believes the startup’s customers also benefit, enjoying greater fare transparency and a live chat support system to resolve their queries in real-time. 

“They can also “favourite” their drivers, which are then prioritised for future ride requests. This enables them to have a level of control over their experience as well as incentivising drivers to offer a competitive service,” Okaredje said.

“Finally, we have a central dispatcher hotline that allows us to receive bookings from customers over the phone and dispatch drivers to them immediately, which easily integrates them into our system. Our competitors don’t have a central dispatcher platform that caters for these on-demand bookings.”

All of this has helped Pickmeup build its impressive user base, and its app has a 4.0 star rating on Google Play. It is currently fundraising, and plans to begin expanding to other African countries this year. Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Ghana and South Africa are its main targets, though the speed of expansion will depend on when Pickmeup can finalise its US$1.2 million seed round.

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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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