Kenyan taxi-hailing firm Little will launch in Ghana with $3mil (Sh323.85) from its mother company Craft Silicon as it begins to execute its West Africa expansion.
This expansion has been planned since 2018 when the firm announced to Reuters that it had sold about 10% of the company to an Indian investor for $3 million and was looking to raise an additional $100m for its regional expansion. At that time they were present in two countries Kenya and Uganda.
“West Africa is a large market, and if Little have to be a key player in Africa, we need to be present there in addition to East Africa. Hence the march towards West Africa,” said Little CEO and Craft Silicon Founder, Kamal Budhabhatti.
Little was founded in 2016 and launched in partnership with Kenya’s leading mobile phone company Safaricom. In 2019, Kamal Budhabhatti, the CEO of the firm told Reuters they offered 12,000 rides a day in peak times. Little’ s parent company, Nairobi-based software developer Craft Silicon, has invested $6 million in the app.
The firm is currently recruiting a small team in Accra but plans to execute the launch mostly virtually due to current travel restrictions. However training, recruitment of drivers and the pilot operation will all done virtually. Budhabhatti speaking to Reuters cited Little’s previous experience with virtual launches in two cities in Tanzania.
“We have already started testing the product in Accra. Since travel may be an issue, we are taking an approach of opening a new city without visiting there. We would recruit drivers online, provide training online.”
“Accra being a big city like Nairobi, having fully virtual operations is not recommended. So we would be recruiting some staff there, and interviews are underway. ” he said.
The firm indicated that plans to expand into a second West African city were still in the discussion phase.
Budhabhatti had told Reuters in September last year that the company, had 10,000 registered drivers in Nairobi, with about 60 percent of those active, and more than a million users on its platform across all markets, with more than 60 percent of those in Kenya. They were looking towards Silicon Valley in the United States to raise its target of $100 million.
In February 2019 Budhabhatti speaking to Reuters indicated that the company was valued at about $70 million to $75 million, compared to the billion dollar valuations of its global competitors Uber and Bolt. However he was confident that they could compete effectively across Africa. He emphasized the role of innovation in the success of the company highlighting innovative features such as USSD ordering for customers without smartphones and value-added services that provide multiple streams of income for drivers.
“Our drivers are agents, they can sell insurance to you, they can sell (mobile) airtime, they can pay light and/or water bills, they can do all those little things around that increases that income. About 20 percent of our rides actually come from non-smartphones” he said.
Little runs a bus service its car taxi service and motorcycle taxi service, known in Kenya as “boda boda” and a delivery service. Last month in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and curfews put in place in Kenya it launched an ambulance service for people who may have a medical emergency without access to a vehicle in partnership with St. John’s Ambulance.
“When people are in emergencies, they go online to search for ambulance services and contacts, which can be time-consuming and may not lead you directly to the contacts. With the Little app, a customer will simply log in and click ‘confirm ambulance’ within the Little Transport category and they immediately get connected to St John Ambulance dispatchers who send out the ambulances depending on the type of emergencies,” said CEO Kamal.
The coming months will have a lot of learning for the company as it attempts expansion outside East Africa. Accra already has a number of taxi hailing companies with Uber and Bolt being the most popular, local companies like Godropping and others such as Yango.