#Africa Kenyan startups fighting Uber on a hiding to nothing


It should have been clear in March. Challenging the might of Uber is a waste of time and resources.

That was the month that Easy Taxi – yes, Easy Taxi, a global company backed by giants including Goldman Sachs – decided it did not have the resources to win a taxi hailing battle against Uber in Kenya.

That’s Uber, everyone, a global monster with an estimated market cap of US$68 billion, and a company that is chucking money at establishing itself as the taxi app of choice in every market.

Easy Taxi’s owners are not short of cash themselves, but made the decision to get out of the game. A smart move, but one that has not been replicated elsewhere. In fact, if anything, more people are trying to get into that game.

Nairobi’s taxi hailing market was busy to the point of being unsustainable already, with Uber battling against the likes of Easy Taxi, Maramoja and MyTaxi (whatever happened to them?). Now, more players are trying to get a slice of a not-very-big pie. Safaricom is rolling out Little Cabs, and e-courier service Sendy is also getting into the ride-hailing business.

Safaricom’s entry into the market could be seen as a case of a large firm overreaching itself, and even though it is likely it will fail against the financial might of Uber it is unlikely Safaricom – as Kenya’s leading mobile operator – will be too damaged by it.

For Sendy, however, it seems like a case of biting off more than it can chew while simultaneously biting the hand that feeds (Safaricom is an investor in the startup). Launching a startup is tough enough, especially when it is a tech startup and especially when it is in Africa. Surely it is challenging enough to build an on-demand delivery business without taking on one of the world’s largest companies in an area that is not your speciality to boot?

It is not even like there is much differentiation between the Safaricom and Sendy offerings and what Kenyans already have in the form of the Uber app. At least Maramoja stands apart in that it leverages on social connections to make users feel safer. In Rwanda, SafeMotos – which is admittedly for motorcycle taxis rather than cars – applies vehicle telematics to increase safety.

The latest two entries to the Kenyan market seem to just be slightly different versions of something that already exists. Not a way to poop the party. Just ask Snappcab and Zapacab, blown out of the water in South Africa by trying to do exactly what Uber already does best. There may have been some sense in trying to be the “Uber for Kenya” when Uber wasn’t in Kenya. Now it is there, challenging it makes no sense at all.

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