Safeboda: Orange Helmets That Save Lives
Safety is more important than convenience - but there’s no reason you can’t have both!
Around 1.25 million people die each year due to traffic accidents. African roads have a much higher risk of fatalities than other countries.
Governments should play a crucial role in road safety improvement. However, progress through law and regulation is often slow. A lot of the time, it’s up to individuals to protect themselves and other traffic participants.
This was the goal behind Safeboda – a company made by a former boda-boda driver with a vision to enhance road safety by providing secure and professional transport services.
Ricky Rapa Thomson, Maxime Dieudonné, and Alastair Sussock made orange helmets a symbol of safe driving in their country and beyond. While their story is sadly inspired by tragedy, today, it’s an inspiring tale that changes lives.
Early Life & Education
In 2006, a young man, Ricky Rapa Thomson, moved to Kampala after dropping out of secondary school. He immediately began to work as a security guard at Akamwesi Hostel.
With no family to support him, Ricky struggled to build a stable life. He changed numerous jobs for the first five years and eventually became a boda-boda rider. One year later, after Ricky managed to save some cash, he founded City Tours Company – his first entrepreneurial effort.
Meanwhile, His Associates
All the while Ricky was working in Kampala, Maxime Dieudonné was completing his education. Maxime earned a degree in Applied Economic Sciences from Université Catholique de Louvain in Belgium in 2007 and later graduated with a master's in Corporate Finance from Universidad Torcuato Di Tella in 2009.
That same year, Maxime started work at Deloitte as a general auditor and later a consultant for transaction services. Three years later, as his career was skyrocketing, Maxime moved to Rwanda.
He then worked as a program associate and program manager at One Acre Fund, where he met and bonded with Alastair Sussock.
His new friend, Alastair, had completed his education at Oxford University and gained an MSc in Economics for Development. After completing his schooling, Alastair moved to the US. With the help of his education and resourceful nature, he then started on the path to success.
Within a few years, Alastair relocated to Rwanda, becoming a government economic advisor. He was ambitious, so he decided to branch out as a consultant for Dalberg Global Development Advisors and One Acre Fund in Ethiopia.
Despite coming from different parts of the world, destiny brought these three men together to make one vision a reality. Ricky, Maxime, and Alastair joined their entrepreneurial spirits, knowledge, and experience to start a business that exceeded everyone’s expectations.
Safety Comes First
The idea for Safeboda was brewing in the back of Ricky’s mind for a long time, yet it would only come to fruition after he faced an immense tragedy. One of his ex-colleagues, who was also a close friend, died in a boda-boda accident.
Sadly, this tragedy was nothing out of the ordinary for Ugandan roads. At that time, boda-boda road accidents were worryingly common and resulted in numerous deaths each day.
This tragedy turned out to be a wake-up call for Ricky to pour his energy into an idea that would bring about a positive change.
Ricky talked to other boda-boda riders about safety and the importance of wearing a helmet. He was so persuasive that many riders accepted the initiative and started carrying helmets both for themselves and their customers.
These talks further inspired Ricky to improve road safety by offering reliable services and trusted transport. He shared his idea with Maxime, who immediately got on board. Coming from a race car driver’s family, Maxime also knew the importance of driving safety.
Although the bike-hailing service was Ricky’s idea, Maxime proposed creating an app and brought along his friend Alastair.
Confident in their vision, the three men founded Safeboda in 2015 and launched their first app in Nairobi, Kenya. However, work wasn’t always smooth sailing, as it took 2 years and dedicated work on 3 versions to develop the final product – an app the team was finally happy with.
Establishing New Road Safety Standards
Safeboda is more than a user-friendly app – the primary idea behind the company is to improve road safety. Safeboda drivers wear distinctive orange vests and have 2 orange helmets, one for the driver and another for the passenger. The vibrant color was chosen specifically to draw the attention of other traffic participants.
Safeboda also carefully selects its drivers. A candidate must have a valid ID and a minimum of 3 years of experience. Drivers also undergo professional training in road safety, first aid, bike maintenance, and customer care.
Improving safety also means following and respecting traffic rules. Unfortunately, many boda-boda drivers are reckless and don’t stop at traffic lights or follow road rules. This makes services like Safeboda, whose employees offer professional and secure transport, all the more important.
Safeboda created new road standards that positively impacted the overall safety of drivers and passengers. This attitude made the company different from its competitors.
Driving for Safeboda does require an early investment from drivers. They need to be trained, obtain vests and helmets, and have a smartphone at their disposal. However, after this starting investment – Safeboda drivers were paid about 30% more than regular boda-boda drivers.
This difference in pay is because, thanks to Safeboda, drivers increase efficiency and can go straight to another customer after dropping someone off.
In 2019 Safeboda became a leading safe transport provider in Africa with over 13,000 rides in Kampala, Mombasa, Nairobi, Nigeria, and other East and West African cities.
Ricky, Maxime, and Alastair had a great idea, and Safeboda drivers were ready to co-finance to join the company, paying for training and needed assets. Still, the financial part of company management wasn't easy for the founders.
At first, they struggled to secure funds for Safeboda’s development and continuity. However, the original idea eventually managed to attract some big investors, such as Google, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Shell Foundation.
By the end of 2021, Safeboda succeeded in raising a total of $1.3 million in funding over 8 rounds.
Contributing to Society With Innovation
Safeboda aims to modernize informal transportation. The company seeks to ensure safe access to mobility by providing secure and quick rides with over 25,000 educated drivers.
The company established the first Motorcycle Training Institute in Africa. But Safeboda didn’t stop there. Over time, the app went beyond transportation - Safeboda Wallet was created and allowed people to quickly and conveniently pay for transport services.
Now, it’s possible to withdraw and send money, pay bills, order food delivery, shop, and much more. With this expansion in e-commerce, Safeboda offers significant contributions to Uganda’s economic recovery after the Covid pandemic.
Safeboda boasts over 1.5 million downloads in five years and has facilitated millions of transactions as it’s become the preferred ride-hailing app in Uganda.
Safeboda Today and Tomorrow
Although it's sometimes been overlooked, Safebioda continues to prove itself as one of the most reliable transportation networks. In 2018 it won the AppsAfrica.com award for Best African App.
Today Safeboda is headquartered in Kampala, Uganda, with hundreds of dedicated employees working to make roads safer.
Safeboda changed Ricky’s life completely. Although he came from humble beginnings, his drive led him to be named among the 30 most promising young entrepreneurs in Africa in 2018 by Forbes.
Safeboda’s success in Nigeria and Uganda proves that the desire for positive change and innovation can deliver results. We can only wait and see what the future will bring and what other positive changes the founders will make in society.