Butali on creating car sharing app

Tuesday February 4 2020

Tonny Butali, cofounder SafariShare. Mr Butali

Tonny Butali, cofounder SafariShare. Mr Butali believes this is a step towards reducing pressure on public infrastructure and decongesting the city. Photos by Eronie Kamukama 

By Eronie Kamukama

Most evenings, processions of cars snake their way through Jinja, Gayaza, Bombo, Mityana, Masaka, Entebbe and Hoima roads. In this somewhat parking lot, private cars are seen bumper to bumper and in each, at least two commuters wait patiently to reach their destination. On those days in the city, travelers wait at taxi stages as the same private cars race before their eyes when the traffic lights turn green.
“I sometimes get frustrated when I want to go to home which is in Ntinda. As long as I leave office between 5pm and 9pm, I have to wait too long to get into a commuter taxi, sometimes I spend up to one hour at the stage.

This is besides fighting for every taxi that arrives and negotiating for a price that doubles in the evening,” Ms Lynna Nabossa says.

Mr Tonny Butali can totally relate and has created SafariShare, a solution he believes will ease mobility for people like Ms Nabossa. Four years ago, he worked in Hoima District but commuting every weekend came with challenges.

“Every time, I would first travel to the bus park to go to Hoima which cost me a lot of time because we still drove by Nansana where I lived. Sometimes, I would go to the park in the evening and by 10pm, I would still be on that journey because of heavy traffic jam on that road,” Mr Butali says.

When he realised taxi brokers whose assistance he had besought were unreliable, he thought there must be a solution that technology can provide.

After a period of research, he approached American developers but the money they asked to create the application “was out of this world”, in Mr Butali’s words.

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While teaching online courses to Ugandan, Ghanaian, Nigerian, American students, this economist found a Cameroonian student who’d developed applications. This time, he could afford but his recruit failed to understand the nature of Uganda’s transport system.

A commuter selects the pick up point using the
A commuter selects the pick up point using the SafariShare application.

“I dropped the idea because that was very key. I was assigned another person at a local firm here, but the development did not kick off because the application seemed difficult. I was later sent to someone who I call a genius today,” Mr Butali explains startup days.

For Mr Ernest Okot to develop the application, the decision to become a co-founder first took shape to allow him own the idea too. The new team hired nine developers that delivered the SafariShare App in four months.

What SafariShare does
A survey was done prior to development and findings indicated private car owners are willing to share their cars with other commuters if security concerns are addressed.

Now, SafariShare connects private car owners to people traveling to their destinations and allows for up to four passengers and drop-offs at one time.

Car owners can schedule trips and meet passengers along their route. On pricing, distance instead of time determines fees paid by each passenger. Mr Butali believes this is a step towards reducing pressure on public infrastructure and decongesting the city.

“We have 10 cars on the road, with 10 drivers at 5pm. We have low occupancy rates yet ten drivers can carry 40 people so this increases car occupancy rates,” he says, “If you want to go to Nansana, you know the hassle yet there are cars going there. The charges are similar to public transport. This is not commercial because the person is already going to Nansana. If you charge Shs3,000 and take four people in a premio, that is Shs12,000; so you recover your fuel cost.”

The team has focused on the easier way to ensure security and has now integrated verification codes, photos, phone numbers, driving permits, national identity details, number plates. In a few weeks, it expects to integrate log books, live location sharing with loved ones, panic buttons and a chatting platform on the app.

Seeking partnerships
“We want to partner with Face Technologies, Uganda Revenue Authority and National Identification Registration Authority to validate all these identities,” Mr Butali says.
The team has so far invested $50,000 (Shs182m) and funding has been its biggest challenge. The budding startup also lacks funds to grow demand and supply for daily commutes and travel. The target is to have 20,000 users in the next three months.
“We are open to partnerships at this stage. We have written to government organisations to help us push this project. We are open to any other person who can support the cause including local businesspeople,” Mr Butali says.

“We have over 500 downloads on Playstore; we have 250 trips posted on the application and we cannot measure successful trips at this point.”

Beating the odds
Currently, the application is not making any money. The team now employs 14 permanent workers and money must be earned in future to sustain the company.

“We are thinking of integrating a commission between 5 per cent and 10 per cent to help run the application,” Mr Butali says.

There are long-term plans too. “I see the app in Kenya, Tanzania, and Ghana. We have failed to support local innovations but this is how big organisations started. Let us support local content and make it work for our continent because these applications are unique to Africa.”

Plans
Currently, the application is not making any money. The team now employs 14 permanent workers and money must be earned in future to sustain the company.

“We are thinking of integrating a commission between 5 per cent and 10 per cent to help run the application,” Mr Butali says.

There are long-term plans too. “I see the app in Kenya, Tanzania, and Ghana. We have failed to support local innovations but this is how big organisations started. Let us support local content and make it work for our continent because these applications are unique to Africa.”

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