Commuting in Lagos can be hectic. Productive hours are lost as a result of traffic holdups. In this interview, the president and co-founder, Johnny Enagwolor, speaks on how he and three others partnered to launch Plentywaka, a bus-hailing firm in 2019.
How did the bus-hailing idea spring up?
I went into the public transportation space renting out keke (rickshaws) for two years before starting the bus business. However, my experience with the mini 7-seater buses moved me closer to the idea. With the crowded condition in buses, I thought of commuters sitting at the comfort of their homes and seeing all the buses coming to a particular bus stop on an app (software application).
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One can book a bus through the app, see the available seats and enjoy his ride with air-conditioning. Some of us do travel abroad and we see what is obtainable in other countries.
I started looking for a strategic partner and I met my friend, Onyeka Akumah, and we started the Plentywaka concept. We got the other two co-founders. We got expertise in operation and customer care service. That was how we launched the whole idea in September 2019.
How is Plentywaka different from other ride-hailing firms?
Plentywaka is a bit different from other ride-hailing services because we are more like an affordable Uber for buses. It is not everybody that can afford a car-hailing ride like Uber and co daily, and we also have other people that cannot stoop low to board danfo buses on a daily basis this millennium. That was the gap we saw. So, people patronizing us today are those who cannot afford to ride Uber daily and who don’t want to use danfo daily.
Within a year after we started, we had people who had to drop their vehicles at home and started using our platform; that tells you how our users appreciated the platform and how they want to come back again. Even with the COVID-19, we still have people patronising us because of what they have been enjoying.
On our platform, we also have had people who forgot the latest iPhone: a commuter once forgot 2,500 dollars in a wallet. All were recovered without hassle.
What has been the experience since you started?
When we started the business in 2019 with 25 brand new buses, there were days we had between five to 10 riders. It was discouraging. It looked like we had dabbled into a wrong venture but we were just persistent and the number of commuters increased from 10 to 15, and to 1,000 to 2,000 and that was how it went before the pandemic came. The pandemic truncated everything; these were the negatives we had at that point and we were scared of losing it all.
The other negative is that as the pioneer in the sector (bus-hailing service), we needed to manage the stakeholders on the roads which we have been doing successfully.
On the positive side, we started what no other person has done; we created our app from scratch and we did not copy anybody. We brainstormed the booking system. We are now the only bus-hailing company that has made this happen and delivered along with this service in Nigeria.
What is your advice for other entrepreneurs?
I will always advise that as an entrepreneur, before you go into any business space, you need to understand the regulations around the space. Sometimes we do copy businesses we don’t know anything about.
The first thing we did was to study how regulations will affect bus hailing in Nigeria, especially in Lagos State. Immediately we understood that, we went through the proper channel by visiting the Ministry of Transportation and had several meetings with the management before starting the business.
So, my advice to the young entrepreneurs is that they should understand the regulation of the business space before going into it and that is what is affecting the crypto-currency business at the moment.
How do you think the business environment can be improved?
I think the government is doing its best to make the environment better. It has been in existence for over 14 months and we have been enjoying a conducive environment in operating our business, and some other businesses were thriving as well in the past and they are still thriving today despite the government policies.
In any business, one needs to carry the government along with what one is doing. So, carrying the government along, that will keep you firm during tough times.
What is the prospect for the firm in years ahead?
A lot of mega things! Our goal is to have coverage in every state. Our goal is to export it to other countries in the world and before the end of 2022, we want to achieve these goals. Many things are going to happen, and we will unveil them from time to time.