In January 2019, Onyeka Akumah landed in Lagos returning from a trip to Qatar. He headed straight from the airport for a business meeting in Apapa, an area in the south of the city. Due to chronic traffic problems, he took multiple means of transport to navigate himself there: a boat, a bike and a bus. “This is the life of an entrepreneur in Lagos,” he tells fDi.
Back at the office, he contemplated the fact that more than nine million Lagotians take the bus every day as their only means of transportation, wearing work attire and carrying laptops on these crowded vehicles. This sparked an idea for his next business opportunity.
The business model
Bus-hailing app PlentyWaka connects users with its fleet of buses. Dubbed ‘Uber for buses’, it promises to make the experience of taking public transport more agreeable and secure, allowing users to track buses and pay for a seat through a digital wallet ahead of time. “We want to create the most affordable means of transportation within cities and city-to-city across Nigeria,” Mr Akumah says.
The app, which he co-founded with Johnny Ena, John Shaibu and Afolabi Oluseyi, started by moving six people a day in 2019, increasing to 1500 people a day in six months and then to 100,000 people in the first year.
Scale-up and expand
The company has recently expanded to the country’s capital Abuja and, according to Mr Akumah, has eyes on Ghana, Rwanda, Gambia and Senegal. While the Covid-19 pandemic hampered its progress initially, in March this year the start-up announced that it has been accepted onto the Techstars Toronto accelerator programme and will be expanding to a city in Canada, likely in Ontario.
PlentyWaka covers one of Mr Akumah’s three pillars of interest – agriculture, real estate and transportation – in which he is intent on helping Nigerians eat, sleep and get around with the help of technology.
His other ventures, such as agritech platform FarmCrowdy and property app Rentsmallsmall, cover the other two pillars. FarmCrowdy, of which Mr Akumah is CEO, profiles small-scale farmers and grants them market access and funding opportunities, while Rentsmallsmall, of which he is a co-founder, enables users to pay rent on a monthly basis in a city where paying one or two years’ rent upfront is the costly norm.
In an increasingly urbanised and overpopulated world concerned with the sustainability of resources, all of these start-ups appear to have a universal scope. But Mr Akumah insists that partnerships are just as important as investments. “I’m happy to replicate these models in many other markets but I want to do so with the right kind of stakeholders and the right team members,” he says.
The rise of Lagos tech
Mr Akumah’s entrepreneurial success is part of the rise of Lagos itself as one of Africa’s foremost tech ecosystems. “In 2010, if you said you were an entrepreneur, it felt like you didn’t have a job. Now, everyone wants to be an entrepreneur,” he says.
Nigeria’s biggest city boasts success stories such as ecommerce unicorn Jumia, which in 2019 became the first African tech company to float on the New York Stock Exchange, and Paystack, acquired last year by Stripe for $200m.
There is more money flowing towards fintech, or financial technology, businesses rather than impact-driven businesses, he says, as the latter requires “patient capital”. While impact capitalism has taken root in Nigeria and in Africa as a whole, Mr Akumah is confident it can improve.
Including greater Lagos State, the city is home to roughly 22 million people. “If businesses are focused on improving the lives of individuals, especially because a lot of them live below the poverty line, I think you will see tremendous growth,” says Mr Akumah.
This article first appeared in the April/May print edition of fDi Intelligence. View a digital edition of the magazine here.