Solving Mobility Challenges in Africa Through Technology: Adetayo Bamiduro Presents MAX

Adetayo Bamiduro discusses mobility challenges in Nigeria and the African continent, and presents Metro Africa Xpress. MAX is a team of passionate people and a leading technology-enabled company driven by a vision to solve the mobility challenges in Africa. MAX wants to get people and goods to their destinations hitch-free, making mobility safe, affordable, accessible, and sustainable through the deployment of high-performance technologies and operators.

Interview with Adetayo Bamiduro, Co-Founder of MAX (Metro Africa Xpress)

Adetayo Bamiduro, Co-Founder of MAX Metro Africa Xpress

Investors need to feel confident in Nigeria and its technology as a startup environment. What is the perception that investors have of Nigeria? How would you describe the startup environment there?

Nigeria is a country of 200 million people right now. It is also growing in terms of the population. The economic growth is not as fast. It is about 2 to 3% but that is likely to increase in the coming years. It is a large, vibrant country. Nigerians are energetic people who are very intense in their way of life, very engaged and very plugged in. At least 70% of Nigerians are under the age of 35. They are innovative, ambitious, they want to succeed and try new things. So overall, it is an attractive place for businesses to come to. Of course, there are still some challenges around the ease of doing business, in terms of how quickly you can set up a company. It is a lot better than it was before, but there is still a lot of room for improvement. In a few parts of the country, there have been some challenges around security but for most part, it is still pretty much safe, so that should not be much of a problem for people who are looking to come. There are also quite some gaps in infrastructure, especially in the second and third tier cities, so it is a typical developing country but also with very energetic people, large market opportunities and very open to investment and foreigners coming in. More specifically speaking about the startup environment, it is very vibrant. When you see a large population of young people that are aspirational, love technology and want to adopt technology, then it is a huge opportunity for technology companies and innovators. And I think in the last couple of years we have seen some very remarkable results with respect to investments that have been made and with respect to exits that have happened for some successful companies in FinTech, especially in Nigeria. We have seen a lot happening there. Nigeria is very attractive for technology investors and innovators.

How do you stand out among your competitors?

Regarding MAX Africa or MAX.NG, what we bring to not just the Nigerian market but pretty much across Sub-Saharan Africa, is pretty simple: we are helping commercial drivers. We are giving them access to the tools and resources that they need to be safe and productive. When we say commercial drivers, we mean tuk tuks, motorcycles, minibuses and taxis. Commercial drivers, see transportation as a business, as a means of livelihood. Across Nigeria today, there is at least about 7 to 8 million of them. Across all of Sub-Saharan Africa, we have at least anywhere between 15 and 20 million. These commercial drivers typically have about 5 dependents that rely on them for food and shelter. Historically, they have been severely understaffed. And what we mean by understaffed is that they do not have access to new, improved, high-quality vehicles. They do not have any form of insurance – health insurance for themselves, or even insurance for the vehicles that they drive. They do not have access to high-quality maintenance workshops and high quality engineers to keep their vehicles on the road. And also, generally, they are financially excluded. There is no way for them to access the funding or credit that they need to purchase a new vehicle or other resources that they need to do their work in a way that is safe. And then, last but not least, they are not empowered with any technological tools that enable them to be efficient or more productive. So what MAX does for commercial drivers is help them get access to the banking services they need, as well as insurance services, manufacturers and OEM support services, from just one single platform. MAX helps them access all of that.

What makes your company unique? How do you assess the competition in these markets in Nigeria or in Africa as a whole?

Metro Africa Xpress is a team of passionate people and a leading technology-enabled company driven by a vision to solve the mobility challenges in Africa.

Today, if you look at the total number of commercial drivers in Africa that are able to access any digital platform, either to help them make more money or generate more rides, the percentage is still less than 5%. So out there you still have 95% of all these commercial drivers that are stuck in the old ways of doing things, the way it was done 20, 30, 40 years ago. There are still millions of commercial drivers who are denied access to basic services for them to be safe and productive on the job. Of course, there are other innovators that are trying to solve this problem, but nobody else is doing it the way we are. What do I mean by that? We see this as not just a mobility problem. It is not just about helping drivers get vehicles or helping drivers access jobs and make money via ride hailing. It is a lot more than that. We are the only ones that have looked at the driver as a customer, and said: “How do we solve every problem that the driver has?” Some of the challenges that the drivers have relate to finance and access to finance. But some of the challenges are about healthcare or emergency response services, some of the challenges are about getting their license on the premise that they need to work. So when you think holistically about what a driver needs, it goes way beyond just providing them money or vehicles. It is about delivering all the value-added services that a driver needs to be safe and productive on the job, and that is the approach that MAX has taken that is different from what everybody else is doing.

Can you give us an overview of Metro Africa Xpress and where you stand currently? What are you looking for in terms of growth and what is your strategy to achieve that?

Historically, we have raised a total of about $40 million on both sides of the balance sheets – debt and equity – to build the company over the last couple of years. In terms of the number of beneficiaries and the drivers that we have delivered services to and empowered, right now it is approaching 15,000 drivers. We have a pipeline of well over 60,000 drivers so we are not even able to meet the demands of our own current pipeline and there are still millions of commercial drivers out there that are waiting for MAX to reach them. So in terms of funding, yes, we have mobilized over $40 million, which is great, but still there is a lot more to be done here in terms of the potential for growth and expansion. Right now, we are in the process of closing a new funding round on the debt and equity side, somewhere in the range of 30 to $40 million. And shortly after, we will continue to mobilize more capital to enable us to achieve our impact objectives and our growth objectives, not just in Nigeria, but well across West Africa, North Africa and also Southern Africa.

How are you going to operate in order to attract investors for this new investment round?

First and foremost, we have been very fortunate to have onboarded really good investors who believe in our mission. They are very excited about the results we have delivered so far and they remain very confident in our ability to completely dominate the market in the coming months and years. So those investors deployed even more capital. However, we also continue to open our doors to new investors to come on board, but we are quite selective in terms of their capabilities, experience and vision. We make sure that they are fully aligned with us as a company and also with our current investors in terms of the potential of the company to continue to scale very quickly. Our current investor base is global. We have investors from everywhere around the world: from Asia, Europe, the US, and also from Africa. And we have continued to bring on board investors that are quite diverse, both investors in financial services that like to do FinTech investments and also investors that like clean energy deals, investors that like mobility and transportation, and believe in shared mobility going forward. Those are the kinds of investors that we put on board and we continue to partner with such investors to scale with the company.

What kind of vehicles are you using specifically? Can you describe your specialty and what you are trying to promote?

We do electric and low emission gas engine vehicles. Our fleet includes 2-wheel vehicles, motorcycles and scooters. It also includes 3-wheel vehicles, known as tuk tuks or other rickshaws, and of course cars and minibuses. So we cut across three different vehicle configuration types and then we also cut across electric vehicles which are our number one priority going forward, but we do have some gas engines on our network as well.

What is your international reach? You started in Lagos and then slowly moved to other cities in Nigeria. What is your geographic footprint?

Right now, we are currently operational across six regions, in both northern and southern Nigeria. We have a team out in Ghana as well. We are a couple of weeks away from launch in Ghana and we have other countries like Egypt, Kenya, Cameroon and Ivory Coast that are also coming alive within the next 6 to 9 months. So currently, we are operational in West Africa but we are quickly expanding to other countries in the region.

What is something that you achieved and are proud of?

We have made some really exciting progress in terms of building out our technology platform, being the first to actually leverage alternative data and financial data to create credit scores for the unbanked. About 80% of the drivers on our platform, prior to coming on board, were unbanked. But once they come upon the MAX platform, they have access to a platform that enables them to not only get credit scores using alternative data sets, but also generate and update real time credit scores for them as they work on our platform. So we are excited about driving digital and financial inclusion for a large number of people in the mobility space. Beyond the technology capabilities that we have built – leveraging, machine learning, data analytics and data science – we are also excited about the fact that we are delivering real, measurable transformation in the lives of these commercial drivers. We have countless testimonials from drivers who, before they came on the MAX platform, were generating less than $1 a day. But once they came upon the MAX platform, some of them were able to instantly grow their income to $6 a day, $10 a day, $20 a day, depending on the city and the vehicle type. So being able to increase the earning power for our drivers by 3 or 4, and sometimes even more, is something that we are extremely proud of.

Are you working with any state-oriented investors that are interested in this sort of project?

Absolutely. Many of our investors do care about, not just the financial returns, but also the opportunity to transform an industry in terms of delivering inclusion, reducing carbon emissions, mitigating the effects of transportation on climate, and of course helping to achieve the net zero objective in Sub-Saharan Africa. So we are at the forefront of driving impact and inclusion. Not just in terms of finance, but also even in gender inclusion. The transport industry in Sub-Saharan Africa, historically and even right now, has always been heavily dominated by men, and part of the mandate that we have as a company is to use technology to transform the experience for drivers and to significantly increase the participation of women in Africa’s transport industry. So we do have investors who are very much aligned, not just in terms of delivering outsized returns, which we are doing, but beyond that is the opportunity to deliver real transformation, real impact, real inclusion.

What are the major challenges that you have to face to do that?

Having a very ambitious mission like ours requires a tremendous amount of resources – financial resources, talent, human resources, etc. And also tremendous amounts of engagements with third-party partners, strategic stakeholders and even governments. We have a tremendous amount of drive. We have a really strong leadership team but we are constantly onboarding and hiring more people, experienced people, technology leaders, public sector experts, FinTech experts, etc., to join our team to ensure that we are able to deliver quality, comprehensive, qualitative services to drivers, as we continue to scale aggressively. So the challenges are pretty much around the same things that you probably are familiar with – getting the right people in and continuing to mobilize large amounts of capital to deliver on the huge mission that we have.

Are you interested in attracting technological partnerships with companies or institutions that are the experts in a specific field?

Absolutely. We are constantly improving our capabilities. We have a framework we use: we build, we buy, we rent, so we are constantly upgrading our capabilities by building internally, by making strategic acquisitions, but also going through strategic partnerships. From IoT technology to fleet operations, fleet management, digital payment technology, data science and data analytics capabilities, we continue to leverage our data to deliver much better experiences to our drivers and commuters. We are constantly acquiring and onboarding more capabilities to ensure that we are able to deliver real transformation. So yes, we are constantly bringing on more strategic partners to enable us to deliver on this mission.

What is your mission and vision for the company in the medium term?

A few key points: number one is in the next 3 to 5 years, we want to have successfully transitioned up to 50% of all commercial vehicles across Africa and other emerging markets into electric powered vehicles, so that is extremely important to us. The second mission for us is to transform the experience for drivers. We want drivers to be able to access all the things that they need from one single platform, irrespective of what city they are in, irrespective of their gender, to very seamlessly, efficiently and quickly be able to generate money, access the resources they need, and operate as key drivers. Thirdly, we want to transition the continent away from the need to continue to buy and own vehicles. We believe and we are convinced that the future of mobility is shared. We want to transition the continent away from perpetual vehicle ownership and create the infrastructure that enables people to be able to rely 100% on shared mobility, rather than have to continue spending a lot of money buying vehicles that they hardly even ever use. So those three things are very important and very core to our objectives and ambitions.

What is your inspiration and what drives you to do what you do?

When I was younger, I wanted to create a lot of wealth and achieve a lot for myself. But over the last 5 to 7 years, I have evolved. Not that I want to be poor, nobody wants to be poor, but for me, the fundamental driver is about delivering real transformation in Africa. Building an organization that delivers real, measurable, transformative change in the lives of people. And if I am able to achieve that even without creating a lot of wealth for myself, I do not care. So the objective for me really is to build something that delivers true transformation to millions of Africans and people who live in the global south, who need and deserve much better access to services, much better quality of life, and also just have the opportunity to achieve and pursue their own dreams. That is what we are doing on the MAX platform – creating access where there was no access, creating an opportunity where there was no opportunity, delivering equality where there was none, and delivering transformation for the society as a whole.

ABOUT MAX: Metro Africa Xpress is a team of passionate people and a leading technology-enabled company driven by a vision to solve the mobility challenges in Africa. MAX wants to get people and goods to their destinations hitch-free, making mobility safe, affordable, accessible, and sustainable through the deployment of high-performance technologies and operators.

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