With her schedule for the launch of her traffic safety app in Africa disrupted by the pandemic, it’s fair to say that Ursula Ndombele didn’t choose the easiest route for developing her business. However, the entire team demonstrated agility and resilience to overcome the many obstacles that stood in the way of entrepreneurship.
How would you pitch HOJA Taxis? Who is your target market?
Ursula Ndombele – HOJA Taxis is an app developed to secure taxi rides in Kinshasa. A GPS unit placed in a HOJA-approved vehicle provides traceability to the owner, who can follow the journey in real time. Users just need to scan the identification number or the license plate to check that it is not a stolen car and that the driver is properly registered. Drivers can send an alert to the app in the event of an assault, for example. Everyone wins, including public authorities, who can identify, manage and control the flow of public transportation in their city.
How did the idea come about?
U. N. – I had the idea during a stay in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Unfortunately, taking a taxi in Kinshasa is not always secure, with thefts, kidnappings, etc. This is the risk taken daily by thousands of residents who use this mode of travel to go to work or do their shopping. When one of my cousins was kidnapped in 2018, I felt that I had to do something. I took advantage of a start-up weekend organised by the association La Tech Amiénoise to build a team. We won first place!
What challenges did you face?
U. N. – There have been several constraints slowing down development, starting with the lack of financial resources, which forced us to be creative and find low-cost solutions. I’ve always said to myself, “We don't have the money, but we have the talent!” We’re fortunate in France to have a “start-up friendly” environment that really supports entrepreneurs. Even though the Covid-19 crisis temporarily placed the business on hold and called our project into question, this period was ultimately useful for us to focus on tasks that we had been putting aside for a long time, such as launching our website. After several months of working long hours, we finally signed a partnership with the municipality of Kinshasa, during the summer of 2020.
We’re fortunate in France to have a 'start-up friendly' environment that really supports entrepreneurs.
How has Orange supported you?
U. N. – Following the start-up weekend, the hardest part was to find the right business model for HOJA Taxis. Our goal was to design a solution that is simple, effective and, above all, low-cost so as not to increase the user’s bill. This is where Orange’s support came into its own. The support of the Group was invaluable because in addition to making the application available even at low connection speeds, the technical and business team helped us grow quickly by making us much more professional.
What are your next steps?
U. N. – Now it has launched, the application will soon be deployed to 60,000 taxis in Kinshasa. The advance taxi booking functionality is currently under development. Several African mega-cities such as Dakar and Lagos are also interested. We’d also like to extend our fleet of electric vehicles. We’re confident because we’re receiving so many messages of encouragement and thanks from people who have not yet registered but who welcome the initiative.
What lessons can you draw from this entrepreneurial adventure?
U. N. – One of the perks of being a start-up is operating in a digital world, which has proven to be an asset during the lockdowns and with restrictions such as social distancing. We were also agile enough to work around the problems we encountered. There have been many twists and turns, but this has made our team and motivation even stronger. To all the entrepreneurs who are starting out, and especially to women, I would tell them that it worked because we told ourselves we were going to be successful. You have to know how to overcome your doubts. The most important obstacles to remove are those that we impose on ourselves.