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Profiles

How Markus built Sh100bn Bolt Company

Bolt founder Markus Villig (left) and iHub CEO
Bolt founder Markus Villig (left) and iHub CEO Bosun Tijani discuss with tech-investors and entrepreneurs March 12, 2020. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG  

Markus Vilig, the founder of taxi-hailing app Taxify (now Bolt) had no money, at least not millions of shillings, or experience when he started the business.

“Mr Villig had no money or experience but motivation when he mooted his product, Taxify that is now in use in 37 countries. Let us look at building products that are sustainable, value for money and scaleable,” said Nigeria’s techpreneur Bosun Tijani when he was introducing Markus in Nairobi a few weeks ago.

Markus, 26, an Estonian, spoke to BDLife on his ups and downs since launching his mobile-based taxi hailing app.

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When did you acquire a driving licence and what type of vehicle do you drive?

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I have no driving licence. Why would I need one when it is cheaper to hail a taxi anywhere in the world and be driven comfortably to my destination at a far cheaper price.

Other taxi-hailing app existed and had raised billions of dollars seed capital, why did you think the world needed another app?

Business is about products not billion-dollar marketing budgets. The people will be attracted to the hyped products but with time will look for the cheaper option that offers a better service for them. Business is about sustainability not marketing.

So, what has been your secret to penetrating an overcrowded market?

Start small and maintain a lean team that believes in your product. Every move you make during expansion needs a customised solution that fits that market, and this comes from listening closely to each local market.

Is education important for an idea to thrive?

No! One needs a formidable product that reflects what the market wants, and employees should be people-ready to learn from experiences discovered as a product evolves. I made a mistake in my first year when I hired my team. Look at each employee’s zeal and commitment to work not their academic background.

How did you start your product development?

I was into the first semester studying computer science at the University of Tartu in Estonia when I quit to concentrate on developing an app for taxis operating within Estonia’s capital, Tallinn.

My brother, then working in the US and my parents gave me Sh570,000 (5,000 Euros) to hire a local mobile app developer to actualise my idea.

Now the company is worth over Sh100 billion, how do you manage such a firm without having experience working in the corporate world?

Within six months into any business, one learns the dos and don’ts. I started without a lawyer’s advice but as the company grew, I created structures and systems in place that help me source for the type of employees I need.

As an organic enterprise, it has naturally evolved to accommodate different tastes and cultures.

Your company is now six years old, are you going public anytime soon?

I am building a company without expectations of huge profits. We operate in an extremely competitive environment that requires an informed valuation and practices that understand our business. Our strategy is now focused on accessibility, compliance with local laws and safety of our drivers as well as consumers.

What is in store for Kenya and Africa?

Expect a new food delivery service that informs family needs. We are studying the market before launching the product.

Bolt has been in Kenya for three years, what have you learnt as an investor?

It has the most innovative legal regime that allows businesses to thrive. This is what the tech community should take advantage of.

So, should a start-up raise funds?

Go online and pitch your product to angel investors who are looking for viable products to inject their funds in.


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