Mobile app based businesses,which are commonplace in the developed world have been slow to reach Ethiopia, however this is starting to change as companies similar to Uber and Lyft in the US have expended into neighbors Kenya, Nigeria, and Uganda. Temesgen Gebrehiwot and Ambaye Micheal are two entrepreneurs who have established ETTA Solutions PLC. The software helps customers hail contract taxies through their mobile device. The young entrepreneurs who are working on the motto of, “We dream development, think technology and implement innovation,” are now seeing their apps being used by many of the yellow taxi companies. Capital’s Reporter, Tesfay Getnet talked with Temesgen Gebrehiwot Managing Director of ETTA Solutions PLC, who specialized in System Development, Humanoid Robots (Robotics), Autonomous Vehicle, Data Analysis, and Brain Computer Interface (BCI).
Capital: Tell us about ETTA Solutions ‘taxi hailing technology’. What is your mission and when did you start operating?
Temesgen Gebrehiwot: ETTA Solutions plc is a one stop tech solution in Ethiopia. We are young patriots that are here so that people will have several technological items that can make their lives easier in our beloved country.
ETTA is one of the products I have been thinking about for a very long time, I had always planned on building a company that would innovate and give solutions for everyday problems in my country. So I began developing the ETTA app for transportation while I was in school in South Korea. ETTA was built and available on online stores on July 2015.
ETTA Solutions PLC came to fruition after I moved back and brought aboard my childhood friend Ambaye Michael Tesfaye as a shareholder & Managing Partner and started this company in early 2016. He shared a vision of building a tech company that will make everyday life easier for people and even though a large task lay ahead of us, we both believe in using technology to build a better future, so we embarked on our journey. ETTA (short for Ethiopia taxi) is a taxi hailing system (call center, Facebook BOT, Telegram BOT, Text for Taxi and the upcoming native app) available for getting a taxi in Ethiopia. One major evolution came when we realized that this company will need more than an app to serve the purpose we intend it to serve. Our tech space in Ethiopia isn’t advanced enough for us to rely on just one platform, so we decided to expand into multiple platforms.
8 months ago we launched our 24 hour call center (available by calling 8707 from any cell phone or landline) and this has been a great success. Through that platform alone we have accommodated over 41,000 requests. And this turned out to be a blessing for us, because we haven’t achieved the success we intended with our app yet. Because an app of this sort has never been built before in Ethiopia and not only we are perfecting that but a completely cashless payment as well, we have had to rebuild & redesign the app several times to achieve our dream of creating a “World standard taxi hailing app built by Ethiopians”. It is a cutting edge app that will use real time GPS tracking to get you in touch with the closest ETTA driver. By sending your request to the nearest driver and notifying you once the driver has accepted and is on his way, the app will serve as quick solution for getting a cab fast and pay cashless.
Our app is currently offline temporarily now as we are integrating a cutting edge new cashless payment option which will integrate the core banking system of a large bank (first time in Ethiopia); allowing our customers to seamlessly pay from their bank accounts. In the meantime have made our Facebook, and Telegram BOT available 24/7 with our taxi hotline 8707 .
Our BOT’s work very similarly to the app, all our customers need to do is get on Facebook, find the ETTA Ethiopia Taxi page and press a ‘send message’ From there on, an automated software will take all your information, as well as your location which you can send, and relay it to our office. We have partnered up with Finserve Technologies plc (FETTAN) to introduce a completely cashless system in this sector for the first time in our country and are planning more breakthroughs for the country that we love and call home. We recruit and train young Ethiopians in order to make them experienced professionals.
Capital: How many cars and people are using your taxi hailing technology?
Temesgen: We currently have over 210 active drivers on any given day, with an average of 3,150 requests (62.4% growth rate) accommodated per week. We have over 37 corporate clients as well as a rapidly growing private client base.
Capital: You advertise that clients can order a taxi to be serviced to their door by using a mobile app, call center or Facebook BOT. Can you tell us how this works?
Temesgen: If our customers are using our app or FB Bot, we use GPS technology to find their name, location and destination and relay it to the closest ETTA driver in their area. If our customers are using the call center, they simply tell us their information over the phone or call us using the in app “Call Dispatcher” button and our call center staff relays it to the closest ETTA driver.
Capital: How do you charge using the ETTA Solutions ‘ taxi hailing technology? Please explain your metering system.
Temesgen: We charge using the government set tariffs of 13 br a km (20 at night) & a service fee/starting price of 30 br.ETTA has made it a point to work very closely with all government institutions involved in our field, specifically the Federal Transport Authority. In fact, when the FTA was conducting research on the tariffs, ETTA was one of the companies chosen to input research for the decision.
One service that is very popular with our clients is the cashless payment we offer to our corporate and private clients. With the aid of Fettan Technologies, we offer our clients a prepaid (Client Branded) top-up card that they can use to pay for their rides in all our cabs. This option of cashless payment is quite popular, especially among our corporate clients. We provide receipts and real time tracking of finances, and our corporate customers love it. We currently have 31 corporate clients (hotels, embassies, NGO’s and Local companies) that use our corporate prepaid services on a daily basis.
Capital: How do you ensure the drivers are able to pick up the customers in a timely manner? It seems like in many cases it could be quicker for customers to hail a cab off the street.
Temesgen: We have a very detailed logistic circuit we use to make sure we have our taxis spread out evenly throughout the city, with a concentration on high request areas plus we built our own artificial intelligence that gathers data and studies the perfect locations to deploy cabs. Yes, it might be quicker in some cases to hail a cab off the street; but it will not be an ETTA and we can’t guarantee security. Our taxis are 6-seater 2016 Toyota Avanza’s or 4-seater Lifans with A/c, 3 reclining rows and a professionally trained driver for a guaranteed low price. And no haggling involved. So what we sell to our customers is just as much comfort & efficiency as well as speed & affordability plus undoubted security.
Capital: Do you have specific mechanisms for training drivers to work with your software?
Temesgen: Yes, we have a very rigorous training program that all our drivers undergo before they get accepted as ETTA drivers. This includes training on the call center usage, app, BOT as well as setting them up with a Bank account. Plus we provide our drivers life success coaching like Paradigm shift, Customer handling and Minor emergency handling.
Capital: How does your software work in times where internet interruption occurred?
Temesgen: The reason we expanded to several platforms is to not let problems like internet interruption affect our work. Our call center is available 24 hours a day, whether there is internet or not. So our customers always know that they can hail a cab anytime by calling 8707, available 24/7.
Capital: what are the major challenges you have encountered so far?
Temesgen: We have encountered every possible challenge…and then some. One particular one was making sure we build the app the right way. Because this is a brand new industry in our country, we have no company to compare our product to…so everything has been trial and error. We launched our app several times to our core group of customers, but we have yet to find the success we seek. The new & redesigned version of our app will be released in November, and we have high hopes for it because it is unlike anything we have ever built before.
But since we are a young company with young management, we have overcome every problem we have faced; everything from misinformation to misunderstandings. Training staff to work in an industry that hasn’t been established yet was also a major problem to overcome, which we have aim to fix via rigorous training.
One reason that my partner Ambaye and I get along so well is that we are both extremely stubborn people who will not accept failure. This mixed with our independent ownership of this company has given us a level of adaptability & flexibility that we believe is the key to our company’s success. We have had to change and evolve so much; otherwise we wouldn’t be where we are now.
Capital: Some people need better taxis. Do they have the chance to know what type of taxis are coming to them when they are using taxi hailing services?
Temesgen: Yes, on every booking platform that we have let our customers know which vehicle we are sending them. We currently only work with the newly imported meter taxis (Lifans & Avanzas) because the blue taxis haven’t been given a meter fare. But even with the new vehicles, we have strict rules & regulations regarding which vehicles we input into our system.
Capital: What will be the next destinations of your service?
Temesgen: We plan to expand to several other cities in Ethiopia very soon. But prior to that we also plan on expanding the services we have available. Our country doesn’t only need tech solutions in the taxi industry, there are several other industries that need to be improved and we plan on launching a brand new service technology very soon. Our plan is to be the one stop tech solution for all in Ethiopia.
Capital: If Uber comes in Ethiopia, how will you distinguish yourself from this company?
Temesgen: Uber is an American solution for an international problem, but ETTA is a local solution to a local problem. This service was built for Ethiopia by Ethiopians who have dealt with transport problems their whole lives so we are solution oriented. We differentiate our company from Uber by making sure we take care of all our stakeholders, including our drivers. ETTA on the other hand prides itself in being a representative for our drivers as well as our customers. For the first 6 months of our service, we worked without collecting any commission from our drivers.
We are also very conscious about the socio-economic impact we want to make. We believe that a company operated by youth should solve problems in society as well as doing its job; so we have several internal campaigns aimed at raising awareness.
Two specific issues we feel strongly about are stopping drinking & driving & enhancing the role of women in the ‘new economy’. We believe that our economy will be in a much better place once we involve more women, so we will work hard to inviting more women into our industry. We do this by offering lower commission rates to women drivers as well organizing events like the Women’s Day 2018 challenge. This challenge was sent out to all startups and midsized business, and we offered a month’s worth of free rides to the entire company that has a higher % of women in management & workforce than ETTA. We look forward to seeing who beats us!
And by working together with large event organizers, we offer people the option of getting home safe after a day/night of drinking. By working with Blue Media on Taste of Addis and other such companies, we have successfully given out FREE rides to 2,500 people thus far…and we look forward to growing this number and completely halting drunk driving by giving people options.
Capital: what kind of policy and regulation does Ethiopia need to upgrade the service of taxi hailing service?
Temesgen: We need strict regulation on the identity of software’s working in this area and regulations have to guarantee taxi owners’ security ahead of time so that we can avoid catastrophes that happened in the world with the rise of “ride hailing” companies that are putting taxis out of business around the world, That’s why we first coined the word “Taxi Hailing”.We have been working closely with all stakeholders in this industry so that taxi hailing will grow into the service we believe it can be. We have found that government institutions such as the Federal Transport Authority, Ministry of Science & Technology as well as the Ministry of Communication & Information Technology have been quite helpful in helping us evolve. We have gotten clear & transparent communication from these agencies, and this has in turn helped us grow as a company. By sharing our data & information with these stakeholders and continuing this communication, we believe that we can achieve the great dreams that we hold.