“Bootstrapping is Key to Any Startup’s Foundation:” Interview with Pickmeup’s founder

Michael Okaredje Pickmeup

Michael Okaredje, CEO and Founder of Pickmeup, tells us about its ride-hailing solutions.

Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded Pickmeup.

Michael Okaredje: I have a background in computer science and built a successful career in the oil and gas sector. Today, I sit on the board of one of the most successful energy companies in Nigeria’s South-South region. 

My decision to venture into the startup scene was born out of a desire to address the lack of ride-hailing services in my city and the sizeable un-serviced market in Nigeria and Africa at large. So I decided to develop a product based on my extensive knowledge of the terrain and the consumers. That was what prompted me to start Pickmeup.

Do you have small habits that make a meaningful impact on your life and business?

Michael Okaredje: Yes, I believe every successful CEO and entrepreneur has a set of habits they abide by and impacts their life in general. For me, these include getting up early, reading books on a wide array of subjects and disciplines, staying curious and informed about current events both within and outside the industry I play in and keeping fit and healthy, which is of utmost importance. 

How does Pickmeup innovate?

Michael Okaredje: Ride-hailing services have disrupted traditional transportation. But Pickmeup isn’t just making movement easier and cheaper for commuters. We’re doing so in a way that sets us apart.

As part of our goal of ensuring a smooth relationship with driver-partners, we came up with a digital wallet system. Drivers can top up the wallet at will, and when they offer future rides that are paid for in cash, the app automatically deducts our share from the balance in the wallet, effectively paying us commissions.

Our customers also get a live chat support system to resolve their queries in real-time instead of the ticketing system. They can also favorite their drivers, who are then prioritized for future ride requests. This enables them to have a level of control over their experience and incentivizes drivers to offer a competitive service. 

We also have a central dispatcher hotline to capture customers that prefer phone calls over mobile apps, after which we easily integrate them into our system. So you see, these are some of the additional innovations we have come up with to improve the ride-hailing experience.

Why would anyone use Pickmeup? What makes your platform unique?

Michael Okaredje: Using GPS technology, Pickmeup connects riders with nearby “screened” drivers – in as little as five minutes – who provide rides in their private vehicles. This helps commuters escape the hassle of traditional public transportation as well as provides them with safety and convenience as they commute around cities, all at competitive rates that are cheaper than conventional taxis. Then there are also additional unique features that give us the edge over competitors and ensure we provide best-in-class services to passengers.

Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?

Michael Okaredje: Pickmeup was founded based on a unique understanding of the market terrain and customer base, which sets us apart. It does not just help people move around with convenience and affordable rates. It also offers a number of unique features for all parties involved in the process. 

Of course, we have foreign players like Uber and Bolt, as well as several other local startups. But competition is a double-edged sword and often brings more benefits than drawbacks counterintuitively. The competition has made us stronger, and we’ve experienced incredible traction.

Currently, over 100,000+ people rely on our app to move around their cities. The reason for this is our ability to offer lower costs for the same quality of service. We’re significantly different from the rest, with a number of unique offerings. Pickmeup has the lowest service fee of 15% for drivers compared to our competitors, 25%, and we also offer drivers the flexibility to pay themselves plus free training and vehicle inspections.

Riders also enjoy some unique features while using the service. They get to enjoy features such as a live chat function to resolve queries in real-time, greater fare transparency, and the option of favoriting a driver to prioritize them for future rides.

And we’ve discovered that the addressable customer base is beyond just smartphone users. While smartphones are crucial to Pickmeup’s operations, we also use a central dispatcher hotline to receive ride requests from potential riders that prefer phone calls to mobile apps and then onboard them to the system. This is a significant competitive edge. 

We are known for doing the small things that the bigger competitors are missing and are able to tailor the experience to Nigerians a lot more than they can. This sets us apart and positions Pickmeup well in the game.

How does the average Nigerian benefit from Pickmeup?

Michael Okaredje: Our core mission is to make transportation hassle-free by giving people easy access to a vehicle when they need one. Affordable, safe, and reliable are the key foundations of our car-hailing service. Who benefits from this? Nigerians who don’t have a car, don’t like to drive themselves, or people who don’t like traveling in public transport like taxis and buses but have limited income, want to travel in style, or want a cost-efficient cab waiting for them at their door. But it’s important to point out that Pickmeup’s solution also creates job opportunities and a dependable income for drivers. So, a wide array of Nigerians actually benefit from what we offer.

How are you funding your growth?

Michael Okaredje: From our founding in 2017, we’ve focused on a bootstrapping strategy in the early years because it was important to have a sustainable business model from the start. We believe bootstrapping is the key to any startup’s foundation. Many startups at the beginning look to raise money quickly. However, such funds burn out very easily as they’re not directed to making the business grow. For us, it’s very important to take it gradually, grow our user base efficiently, and have been active since 2019 without any external investments. Although we recently got some funding from Google via the Google Black Founders Fund program for Africa.

Do you have any final thoughts?

Michael Okaredje: Pickmeup expects to become one of the dominant forces in the ride-hailing industry, not just in Nigeria, because the startup offers a whole lot, led by an impressive team ready to grow. Good to note that while we have started with ride-hailing, the long-term goal at Pickmeup is to become a hub for digital services. We will be launching our “Super App” soon, allowing users to order rides, food, pay for essentials and even socialize, all on one platform.

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