Ride-sharing apps make their first foray into Senegal — Quartz Africa


The old yellow taxis circling around Dakar, the capital of Senegal, are hard to miss. Wavering to oncoming traffic, passengers race each other on street corners to secure a ride. Unlike many other African countries, carpooling apps are not yet common in Senegal.

The technology was slow to take off in the former French colony – a general trend for French-speaking Africa compared to its English-speaking counterparts. But that is starting to change as several startups have made inroads into the untapped market over the past year and the competition is heating up.

Companies have erected giant billboards overlooking many of Dakar’s elevated highways, offering discounts to new users. Paris-based company Heetch, Russian company Yango and Algerian ride-sharing app Yassir all started operations in Senegal in the last 12 months.

Malick Diagne, Country Director of Heetch, tells Quartz Africa that Senegal has become a prime market for the rapid expansion of ridesharing apps.

“We were thinking of entering Senegal in 2019, but the market was not ready for that. The timing is right now – we are seeing a switch from analogue to digital. More and more people are going digital with smartphones.

Target the middle class market

Heetch and its competitors target all middle-class Senegalese citizens and expatriates. The price of a ride varies from local taxis – some rides are more expensive, others cheaper. But the startups hope to meet the demands of a globalized demographic that values ​​convenience, traceability and security over price.

“We are not here to revolutionize the market, we are here to modernize it,” Diagne said. “We try to ensure that Senegalese have different options when it comes to mobility.” The executive says that with Senegal being a start-up market, ride-sharing companies are not stuck in a race to the bottom to offer cheaper rides and win customers.

The market of around 18 million people is large enough for every business to grow comfortably. Heetch’s primary value proposition is how it communicates with its customers, Diagne explains.

“Our team is very young and we know how to resonate with a younger Senegalese population.”

More than 20,000 people have downloaded the app since Heetch launched in January, with hopes of doubling that number by 2023.

Battle for pilots

One of the main problems, however, is the recruitment of drivers. Many traditional Senegalese taxi drivers do not own a smartphone and some do not speak French, which is the language used on the apps. There is also hesitation among local drivers who see no need to use the technology despite having worked independently for years. For this reason, Heetch sets up workshops to train its drivers in the use of smartphones in its office in the upscale district of Dakar, Les Almadies.

About 1,000 drivers have registered so far, but not all are active. “A lot of people come because they’re curious to see what we’re doing. But some pilots arrive, download the application and do not use it. It’s a whole different kind of job for them, they’re used to being in the car and having passengers wave at them,” he says.

The lack of active drivers means it takes multiple attempts for users to secure a ride, deterring customers from returning to service. Long waiting times are a common problem for all ride-hailing applications in Senegal.

Lamp Fall, a Heetch taxi driver in Dakar, says he was persuaded to join the business by a friend who said he could earn over $30 a day.

“I have been working as a taxi driver for more than 10 years. I didn’t believe it, but you can earn more money as a Heetch driver than in a normal taxi.

Another problem is the lack of demand, as internet and smartphone penetration remains low in the West African country compared to global averages. In January 2021, internet penetration was 46% compared to the global average of 62.5%. This feeds into the broader dynamic that tech solutions have yet to take off in Senegal like in some other African countries. App-based solutions for shopping, ordering takeout and getting around cities are not commonly used.

Slow start for technology

Majorie Saint-Lot, head of Uber in Ghana and Ivory Coast, says the two markets were initially more attractive to the San Francisco-based company in terms of digital readiness than Senegal.

“There are clearly gaps and differences in digital adoption between different markets. We have been in Ghana for six years now, we entered this market as first movers. We are not in Ivory Coast for as long but there is 60% smartphone penetration in Abidjan. We are always eager for upcoming innovative cities to partner up and deploy our services.”

She adds that English-speaking countries in West Africa tend to be more technologically advanced than French-speaking countries. In 2019, Uber opened its first office in French-speaking Africa in Côte d’Ivoire, on a trial basis for other French-speaking countries. In the first year, Uber recorded over 50,000 riders using the app to get to and from work.

While there are no immediate plans for Uber to start operations in Senegal, Saint-Lot says the company is aggressively targeting Francophone Africa for expansion. As Senegal and Ivory Coast are the economic powerhouses of Francophone Africa, it is likely that Senegal will be next.

The ecosystem is moving in the right direction

Diagne de Heetch says recent activity in Senegal’s tech sector has kick-started the country’s digital transformation. In 2021, Senegal-based Wave raised $200 million in a Series A round to roll out mobile money services across the country.

It was the biggest Series A ever raised in Africa and Wave became the first unicorn in Francophone Africa, with a valuation of over $1 billion. The company has managed to snatch more than 50% market share from its competitor Orange in less than three years.

“People saw what Wave did with mobile money and concluded that anything was possible,” says Diagne. “If you asked a lot of people if this would have been possible three years ago, they would have said absolutely not. Today, Wave is very present in the hearts and minds of Senegalese people because it has made their lives easier. .


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