PREMIUM FREE TRIAL

Rejected by Uber, Fezile Dhlamini kickstarts unique SA e-scooter startup

JOHANNESBURG — South Africa is truly a land of possibilities when you take a listen to Fezile Dhlamini’s story. Unnerved by several rejected job applications at Uber and Taxify, Dhlamini decided to launch his own e-hailing service, but with a difference. His business will only use low-cost, hi-tech electric scooters. After securing some 20 vehicles from Sweden, Dhlamini plans to pilot his business, dubbed ‘Green Scooter’, in September this year in Johannesburg. Take a listen to this truly inspiring story of a young man who has some serious chutzpah. – Gareth van Zyl

It’s a warm welcome to Fezile Dhlamini, the founder and MD of a company called Green Scooter. Fezile, thanks for taking the time to joining me today.

Hi, Gareth. Thanks for having me.

Awesome so, I’m going to quote a Tweet that you posted, I think yesterday, which went absolutely viral. You Tweeted, “Uber and Taxify both declined my job applications ten times in the past 3 years because I didn’t fit the criteria, blah, blah, blah. I then saw to create my own opportunity and Green Scooter was born. If all doors you knock don’t open build your own.” So, can you tell our listeners about the background to this Tweet and your story?

Okay so, starting with Uber and Taxify. Those were the two companies I was very passionate about, in terms of what they do and what they’re about, and I really wanted to be a part of a whole organisational culture, especially from a tech perspective since I was doing my final year at varsity at UJ. At UJ I was studying a degree in strategic corporate communications. I really loved it, and I really had great ideas for Uber and Taxify. I just didn’t meet the criteria, according to the people that I was sending the emails to, and the platforms that they had for job applications, locally and internationally.

So, I started working on my idea in 2015, and I still, back then, just felt that it really needed an Uber or a Taxify to survive. After engagement with a lot of people, because I actually did some review of my idea for over a year. So, I graduated in 2016, then a friend of mine, a friend of a friend we met up having some lunch and while having lunch they were like, we want to find out what your whole business is about because you’ve been saying that you’ve got this great idea, but we want to know what it is. So, we had the conversation where I started to tell them what it was. They were like, ‘you can’t let this go – you really have to go ahead with it because it is a goldmine,’ according to them. I was like, yes, but the problem is that it’s too big for me. I can’t really do it on my own.

Fezile Dhlamini, founder of Green Scooters.
Fezile Dhlamini, founder of Green Scooters.

I’ve obviously, had partners before and co-founders don’t really work most of the time, and they don’t work because one person has more passion than the rest. I’ve had partners when we were trying to bring it up last year, and then I just had to ask, “I think it’s best that you guys leave, and I’ll carry on, on my own.” I’ve literally been doing a lot of stuff on my own for Green Scooter and look, right now, was the right time to launch it.

It was just after I went to Sweden and I secured my agreements with the guys that are going to be manufacturing the vehicles. So, we’ve got a lot of future plans together for Africa, as a whole so, it’s not just a guy that’s bringing in a vehicle that anyone can. It’s actually a guy that… I think I also Tweeted that we were planning on building our own factory this side, which would belong to Green Scooter, and we’ll see how we work it out. I think I’ve given you a mouthful.

Let’s just take a step back. If you had to give an elevator pitch about Green Scooter to an investor or to anybody on the street, how would you describe your business?

The thing about business, right, before I get to the elevator part – it has a vast value-chain. The value-chain is what makes it sustainable and it’s a lifetime business. So, Green Scooter, is the first electric vehicle sharing platform, built for Africa by Africa, and it’s one that’s going to create a lot of financial benefits and societal benefits that can really improve how we consume. What I’m merely trying to do, as a mantra of my business, is to number one – be green. Number two, is to change consumerism through newer marketing approaches and neuroscience is something that I’m very passionate about. It’s something that I’m trying to apply with everything that I’m doing. Hence, why what I send goes viral because it’s understanding what credits people, when and at what time?

Flag map of Sweden

Now, there’s a video of you on Twitter that you’ve posted of yourself riding one of these scooters, I think, in Sweden.

Yes.

Can you tell us how these vehicles work? Is this going to be a competitor to Uber, just like you can order a ride on Uber via an app? I presume you’ll be able to do that through Green Scooter, and then an electric scooter arrives at your door?

Yes, you are absolutely correct. We are definitely an e-hailing platform ride here. You hail your scooter and your scooter will come to you so, we’ll have two types of vehicles at our hands. The first vehicle is the passenger vehicle, which you see there in that video that’s on social media. Then we have the cargo so, the cargo is like the main one that a lot of people saw and has attracted a lot of people from Africa. I’m literally getting emails from a number of countries.

So, the passenger one is strictly for passenger transport, carrying two passengers at a time, at a total distance of 100kms, and a top speed of 60kms an hour. The vehicle is actually made up of 270 parts. I’ve actually posted another video with a crash test because people kept on asking me, ‘what happens if someone crashes into us?’ And I posted a video of it, you know how vehicles have their crash tests?

Yes.

So, I posted that video for people to see and then with regards to the cargo, so our next phase for e-scooter is launching our scooter street map. So, the scooter is the one that I’m very in touch with as well because I’m now focusing on small, medium enterprises. So, it’s in two ways. One, you’re creating a platform for restaurants, takeaway joints, service-based or products for people to be able to access them on our platform.

In terms from a delivery perspective, it will happen from the driver partnerships that we have so, we’ll literally dispatch drives to whichever destination they need to go and this is because we’ve noticed a lot of SMEs they don’t have the funds to have, let’s say a Nissan 1400, and use that for deliveries or a cabby of some sort. So, we’re trying to bridge that gap and make it simple for people to reach consumers that they would not be able to reach normally.

Uber has a bad business model
A customer holds an iPhone displaying the Uber Technologies Inc. car service application (app) in front of a taxi sign to scan for an available vehicle in this arranged photograph. Photographer: Akos Stiller/Bloomberg

Secondly, a lot of people who have been coming to me saying, ‘look, I’ve got a delivery business, in Tanzania, or Kenya, or Angola, or Mozambique, or in SA.’ I’m like, that vehicle would be sold to them so that they can operate their business. The great thing about this technology is that, with a lot of peoples’ help, it can last you from 5 to 10 years with servicing. An electric motor is supposed to travel at least half-a-million kilometres. You service it after 200.000kms so, there’s so much potential and people will be saving so much money as opposed to your traditional tuk-tuks that have a lot of wear-and-tear. So, if something breaks or something drastically happens to the vehicle, it has to be drastic, we can check on our smart devices or on our dashboard and literally say, ‘okay, this is the part that has a fault.’ We will literally know what to fix so, no one has to pop the hood or anything.

Fezile, just in terms of charging these vehicles obviously, with electric vehicles you need charging stations. So, where are you going to charge all of these vehicles?

We do have plans to erect our own charging stations around the areas that we’ll be operating in. So, everything is going to be solar based. That’s literally the mantra that we’re trying to do. Like I said, we’re all about renewable, clean energy so, we need to lead by example. An average household with an electric vehicle will spend an extra R7 800 per annum on electricity. Now, we have to make sure that we are building infrastructure that, number one, can sustain itself, it does not need drastic maintenance. It’s not going to cost the consumer an arm and a leg. It’s not going to cost us an arm and a leg so, we are literally going to phase out the already existing petrol stations that are there, through electric vehicles. And that, for me, I feel any automobile manufacturer that is literally what’s going to happen. If everyone switches e-vehicles all those petrol stations will fall out.

So, I’d imagine then that if you don’t use one of these solar charging stations, you could probably charge the vehicle at home as well, just off the grid?

Absolutely, yes, you can charge it off your own grid. But we’re trying to build our own grids where let’s say Campus Square in Auckland Park. If we build, let’s 5 or 6 charging stations that are solar powered. We can take the extra power and actually power whatever, Campus Square would want us to power because we’d have so much left over that not all of it is going to be used so, we need to push it back somewhere. There’s a lot.

How many vehicles are you planning on bringing to SA and how many charging stations would you be planning on building potentially?

I can’t really give an accurate number of the charging stations but in terms of the vehicles, we are looking at launching our pilot with 10 to 20. To be honest, we really have to test a lot. We need to make sure that there’s a market for where we find to place it. Yes, we have already put strategies in place. We’ve done our research. But at the same time, we still have to make sure that it works. But one thing I’ve come to learn is that we can have a 12-month pilot phase but then because of the demand that is where it can literally shrink to a three month or a six month so, anything is possible. It’s all just based on the demand. So, if we’re going to launch this we’re going to need a pilot phase. So, that’s why now, what I’m doing on Twitter and on all my social media platforms is that I’m getting people to register for the app. So, my target is reaching a database of 10 000 people, who are going to potentially download the app as it launches. Once we do that that’s enough traction to spark an interest with any investor.

Just in terms of acquiring these vehicles because obviously, this would, I presume require quite a lot of capital so, have you then got an investor on board or are you financing this on your own?

I’ve been speaking to a lot of investors and a lot of investor’s concerns is, ‘so what traction do you have?’ What money have you spent? And it’s a difficult question to answer because if I had the capital I wouldn’t have gone to them for funding. I’ve been having a few thoughts of how to fund this thing myself either, A, it’s going to happen through crowdfunding or B, it’s this interesting model that I want to apply but I can’t really say what it is. But I’m having meetings with a lot of private investors, guys with hedge funds, I’ve been engaging with Government. Given that Government has all these policies there they are really not coming to the fore. All their policies would say yes, we want to be innovative, we want to be green. Look at the National Transportation Month they wanted to go all green, they wanted to decrease carbon omission. But when the youth comes with ideas, comes, and shows the business case, then all of a sudden it doesn’t work, according to them. So, there are a lot of barriers, in terms of funding but I’m definitely going to make it work.

Okay, but either way, you’ve got these vehicles coming from Sweden to SA for this pilot. So, when is this pilot going to kick-off?

We’re hoping to kick-off on the 1st September, that’s the ideal date to launch.

Is it mainly going to be in Johannesburg then that you’re going to carry out this pilot?

Yes, we’re going to start off in Johannesburg. If we bring in more vehicles we will test out simultaneously and then see that I can test out in Johannesburg and in CT at the same time. Everything has a plan, like a contingency. So, we do hope to launch nationally but again, it’s a market fit.

I guess between now and September, it also gives you time to get the idea out there and possibly get more investors on board.

Absolutely, like I said, this is a lifetime business in a way. It’s something that can really develop our country as a whole, from a social, an economical, and a political point of view because we have a high unemployment rate and for me, my business, is literally also a platform to bring in self-starters. So, without the drivers, we won’t have any riders to service. That’s the model I’m applying.

Fezile Dhlamini, thank you so much for telling us more about your venture and I wish you the best of luck with it.

Thank you very much, Gareth. I hope you have a great day.

Thanks, you too. Thanks a lot.

Make Better Decisions. Start your Biznews Premium FREE TRIAL today.