By Samson Berhane
Entrepreneur Samrawit Fikru was born and raised in Addis Abeba, Ethiopia’s capital city. She is one of the Ethiopian Women that have succeeded in creating a name for themselves with incredible businesses acumen and hard work. As a child, Ms Fikru, 29, understood that people of her community were living in much frustrated and hopeless situation due to limited access to jobs.
She was inspired into business by her brothers who bucked her efforts to be a job creator rather than a job seeker.
A graduate of HiLCoE School of Computer Science & Technology, which focuses on Research & Development, particularly in the field of Information and Communication Technology, Fikru, holds a BSC degree.
Her journey to become one of the most successful entrepreneurs in the country started while she was in College where she started developing point of sale system for small and big retail companies that were challenged with the complexities of managing their daily operations. This was driven by her deep interest in providing solution to the problem of the society around her.
“I am always obsessed with identifying (the) gap in our day-to-day lives,” she says. It is was such ambitions that drove her into setting up Hybrid Design Plc., a software and applications developing company with a capital of less than US$ 2,000.
Three years down the road, Hybrid Design is now behind RIDE—a mobile App aimed at modernising the country’s out-dated transport system. Fikru conceived the idea of RIDE app after experiencing a transport problem when she was hired as a developer in software developing company.
“I used to constantly find myself at the office late at night and challenged by transport hurdle while heading to my home,” she recounts, “I used to feel unsafe while taking a taxi…the driver also ask you to pay more than two times the price they charge in a day.”
Addis Ababa, which is home to four million people, has had a long history of a messy transport system. Cases of passengers scrambling for scarce public commuter taxis during rush hours are common, hence forcing some people to seek for taxi hire services.
This observation drove her to brainstorm on ways through which she could solve the everyday challenge of her community and create wealth in the long run.
Just like Uber, RIDE connects taxi operators/driver to passengers. Unlike Uber, though, RIDE started as an SMS-based taxi hire platform in order to tap into Ethiopia’s large population that does not own smartphones.
Users can text their location to 8202 where the system identifies their location and then contact a registered driver to check whether they are free or not. If they accept, afterwards, the system will provide then the customer’s mobile number and let both negotiate the price.
However, with more and more Ethiopians adopting smartphones for communication, the system has now been transformed into app technology. Ethiopia’s smartphone penetration has grown to five per cent of the population in the last one year.
In addition, through its Research and Development (R&D) department, RIDE is being transformed into a major player in Ethiopia’s transport business with interactive web portals and a call centre facility in the offing.
The app alone is currently used by 18 taxi associations, which group together some 750 taxi drivers—hence making it the most popular taxi app in the country.
To access the new version of a RIDE, which has created some 36 job opportunities, users are only supposed to dial 8294 or download the app to use the service across the capital.
Nonetheless, although Fikru has presided over a quite successful company, setting up a business in a male-dominated industry was not a walkover for her. She had to deal with significant challenges such as limited access to finance and other incentives to encourage female entrepreneurship.
“All we [women] have from the government is empty rhetoric, let alone the disrespect towards women by some men who think we are unable to create something different,” she says, “although the government keeps saying one of its development goals is empowering women, there is nothing practical beyond promises.”
Taking such realities into account, she now hopes to start helping start-ups by financing their projects. But until then, Fikru, whose company capital is now close to US$ 25,000 has one thing to tell to all female in the creative industry across Africa; “Always focus on your vision and never give up.”