(Business in Cameroon) - He was previously director of operations at Jumia in Cameroon and Ghana. He holds a Master’s degree in Supply Chain Management from the Catholic University of St. Jerome in Douala and since June 2021 he has been the country manager of Gozem in Benin. In this interview, Lionel Mobi tells us about the ambitions, pitfalls, and hopes of Gozem, a startup specialized in financial services, transport, and e-commerce, that will soon officially start operating in Cameroon.
Business in Cameroon: Could you tell us more about Gozem and in which segment of e-commerce it operates?
Lionel Mobi: Gozem is a multifunctional application (Super App) featuring a series of different but related services - including urban transportation of people and goods and e-commerce services - based on an on-demand delivery model. Concretely, our application connects three essential stakeholders, knowingly: drivers who we refer to as “champions” (motorcycles, tuk-tuks, and cars), merchants (notably restaurants, grocery stores, and supermarkets), and end customers, who can move around or move goods with the help of the first stakeholder (champions), order a meal or a product from any of our merchant partners and have it delivered by one of our valiant champions. As you can see, champions are really at the heart of our business. And using statistics of their activities and our in-app e-wallet, we were able to develop a third service, which is fintech. It allows us to provide these champions products and equipment they need to work (phones, insurance, helmets, vehicles, etc.), which they can get on a “Work and Pay” model.
BC: You are already present in Togo, Gabon, Benin, and very soon in Cameroon. What services do you concretely offer and that contributes to the development of transport in these countries?
LM: As I said earlier, our services primarily aim to tackle mobility issues in urban areas. We currently have nearly 4,000 vehicles (bikes, tuk-tuks, and cars) in the three countries you have listed (Cameroon isn’t included). With us, moving around has never been easier. All you need is a phone, place your order and one of our champions will be there within the next five minutes. Our rates are low and known in advance (thus hassle-free), and every champion (driver) has been trained and gone through our Know Your Customer verification process. So Gozem checks everything and can easily trace its drivers, which is a guarantee for security.
Next, we are committed to facilitating digital commercial transactions. It’s no secret that in the coming years, e-commerce will be taking more place in the trade industry. To be part of this expansion, Gozem leverages three fundamental points (logistics capacity, technology, and marketing). Our partnership with merchants is the fourth point that completes this foundational square and it enables us to be a key actor in this sector. We want to give new business opportunities to our merchant partners and offer our customers a new purchasing experience, one that is easier and efficient.
Lastly, we value our champions. As soon as they are recruited, all our champions receive training on modules like the traffic code, digital tools (how to use our app and the GPS), customer service, and more. This helps them have real added value compared to drivers in the traditional transportation system. Adding to this basic equipment like helmets (2), smartphones, and insurance which are all compulsory for Gozem champions, their added value increases even more. Therefore, we contribute to the formalization of a sector whose players have been abandoned to their devices for a long time. With the data we collect, we can even produce credit scoring that allows us to finance our champions’ equipment. In Benin and Togo, that’s how we were able to help over 1,500 champions change vehicles, using our Work and Pay financing model.
BC: Despite the penetration rate of the internet and telecom rising, these countries still struggle regarding access to digital technologies. How do you overcome this challenge?
LM: Indeed, developing the digital economy requires high access to quality internet, as well as the democratization of digital tools (smartphones notably). In the countries where we are, the penetration rate for the internet has been growing steadily from year to year. While we expect this growth to further accelerate, we are currently working on sealing zero-rating partnerships with telecom operators. Simply put, using our services does not require data. We are also working on other techniques, more advanced, to go around this challenge which is internet access.
BC: Another issue is road condition and street address. E-transport depends mainly on these factors. So how do you cope in countries like Cameroon where road networks are hampered by the size of cities?
LM: Bad Road conditions make movement difficult and increase operational costs. We can’t control road conditions and while this is a challenge, we see things differently. We believe that our services are even more relevant since we lower operational costs for our champions, by focusing on other factors like improving access to our customers without having to roam around the town, or leveraging financing solutions for buying equipment. We also make it less stressful for our customers to move around by picking them on their doorstep, providing them comfort, and charging low transparent rates.
Now, regarding the issue of the street address, we mostly use GPS coordinates. Also, we have developed features like the Landmark functionality which draws a digital map with thousands of well-known places per city. These two tools allow us to avoid most of the addressing issues we face.
BC: You are personally involved in this project, even though there are no schools that provide such training in Cameroon. For young people such as yourself, what skills are needed to be part of similar projects?
LM: Besides technical (web development, etc.) and marketing (digital marketing) courses, digital professions are not completely different from the more traditional professions. A salesman that works in the mass retail industry for example can become a salesman at Gozem. There are some soft skills they will need. So, I don’t believe they should take a specific course but rather training modules that focus on this new expanding economy, that will help new graduates get more skills and have access to more opportunities. I have been working in this sector for seven years. I had the chance to occupy relatively important positions at major companies all over the continent, and I think that passion and a desire to learn are the most important factors that determine failure or success in this sector. Every challenge is an opportunity to learn. Passionate people, obsessed doers who can use their technical know-how to solve issues arising are needed here. Those who do not like this job and are not ready to always go the extra mile will ultimately give up when challenges arise. And there are many challenges.
BC: In Cameroon, many people fear modernity. In the mobility sector, there are many drivers of traditional moto-taxis, taxi cars, and even some clandestine drivers. Is it possible to take their jobs away in the long run?
LM: No, not at all! We are not their competitors. Quite the opposite. We support these actors. They are at the heart of the project, not excluded. If you take a look at Gozem’s 10 values, you will notice that three of them revolve around the importance of champions to Gozem. And while it’s true that people are afraid of novelty, things will be different with us. We are working to cut operational costs and valorize urban drivers. Our goal is to revolutionize and modernize urban transport in Africa, and we intend to do so with those already in the sector now.
BC: What do you consider as the most important roadblock to your success?
LM: The greatest enemy of any innovative business like ours is the lack of usage. The biggest risk is to develop a product that is not massively adopted by the market. There is no single challenge or a challenge that is more important than that. Several challenges can impact usage. However, we are confident, thousands of people already use our app and we set new records every month. Regardless, we are humble enough to admit that everything isn’t perfect. And that is why we work, every day, to improve our products and services, to constantly boost our experience and consequently our number of users.
BC: Very often, the business climate is referred to as a major challenge in African countries. Given that you have several successful projects, what is your opinion about that perception?
LM: Administrative formalities and corruption are the main breaks to investment. I believe that digitalization is a significant answer to these. I have worked in many African countries and what I’ve noticed is that when administrative services are digitized, businesses often find it easier and more transparent to invest. Many African countries are currently digitizing their administrative procedures and while I believe that there is still a lot to be done, we are on the right track.
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