Bankole Cardoso, Founder & CEO Easy Taxi Nigeria is featured this week. He takes us on his journey so far, his academic and professional background and his inspired road to entrepreneurship in Nigeria. Read on for more on his dynamic and exciting story!
Thanks for speaking with us. Can you please tell us who you are and what you do?
My name is Bankole Cardoso, and I am the Founder and Chief Engagement Officer (CEO) of Easy Taxi Nigeria.
Were you born in Nigeria? If yes, when did you leave and why?
I was born and bred in Lagos, Nigeria. I attended Corona, Ikoyi for primary school, and Grange Secondary School, before leaving to the UK for High School (GCSE & A-Level). Following this, I moved to the US for my University education, attending Boston College (BC) –to study Accounting and Business Management. After my graduation in 2010, I moved to New York to work as an associate at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC), where I earned my CPA (Certified Public Accountant) credentials.
After PWC, I made the switch into Private Equity, joining the Global Market Strategies Group at The Carlyle Group – the biggest Private Equity firm in the world. I was at Carlyle for about 18 months and then I moved back home to Nigeria.
Did you always want to go into Finance?
Yes, I always wanted to work in Finance. I have always had a flair for numbers and I enjoy reading financial news so I always had an interest in it. My father was also in finance so like most young sons I thought that was the best profession in the world!
At PWC, I was an associate in the financial services group, working mainly with huge Hedge Fund and Private Equity clients with $15-20 billion in assets under management. As I was in a client-services role, I constantly moved from one client to the next and also had to travel quite often. The hours were long, as I often had to work between 12-14 hours a day but you get so close to your team and colleagues that you make it fun. I was there for 2 years and looking back, it was a great place to launch my career.
After PWC I began to seriously think about moving back home but I had been interviewing with New York firms and the opportunity to work at the Carlyle Group came up, which I couldn’t turn down given the opportunity it presented. At Carlyle I gained amazing exposure by working directly with the CFO, analyzing our investment performance across our portfolio of companies and presenting summaries to other senior management on the investment and valuation committees. I also supported fundraising efforts for a $1 billion business development company that my group raised to invest in small and medium sized companies. It was a very technical and high-pressured job as I had a lot of responsibilities but it really enhanced my business acumen. The experience was great, but then again after a year and a half on the job, I decided to move back and to make a career change from finance. I knew that if I didn’t make the move at that time, I was much less likely to ever do it. For me it was time.
What motivated your decision and the timing to move back?
I wanted to move back home to be involved in business and to make an impact, so I’ve always been on the lookout for opportunities. My job at the Carlyle Group was great, but I wanted to be in business, and wanted this to be in my home market (Nigeria). At the time, I also looked for opportunities in other emerging economies in Latin America, and elsewhere across Africa, calling different people in different industries, to research and ask a lot of questions. I wanted to know how they got to where they were, the steps they took to achieve their goals. I basically did in depth research, attended events and the more I spoke to people, the more I realised I only wanted to be in Nigeria.
The timing of my move back coincided with confirmation of an opportunity to move back home to set up a business. The opportunity to set up Easytaxi.com/ng led me to quit my job. There was risk in leaving a safe and rewarding career path but I had to take it. I knew I was moving back to start something that was not so straightforward. I had no idea what would happen but it was not too difficult to make the decision, I was moving back to launch my own start-up and that challenge is what motivates me.
So then you decided to take the risk and you moved?
Yes I decided to take the risk. Even my parents warned me about the challenges that come with moving back, but once I had made the decision, that was it. I felt young enough to risk failing rather than wonder what would have been had I not taken the plunge. In the end, I moved back at the end of July 2013, and have been home for about 7 months.
You knew you wanted to move back, what was driving this?
I used to come back regularly for Christmas and was excited to see and hear what people were doing. I kept up to date with what was happening on the ground (watching Channels TV online in the mornings), as sometimes I would get homesick. Also my family was back home so I wanted to be closer to them. Then let’s not forget the food, warm weather and the thirst people have for enjoyment! There are enough reasons to miss Nigeria.
How did you find the process of re adjusting to life in Nigeria?
In the beginning, it felt like an extended holiday. But after about a month or two, I began to realize that I was here to stay. The initial impact was not a shock. I was meeting people and learning the nuances of operating in the Nigerian market so things kind of fell into place. After about 4 – 5 months, I began to miss certain things about the lifestyle in the US, but by then I was fully settled in and getting on with business in Nigeria. It is strange; I have been so occupied with Easy Taxi since moving back that the time has flown by but I still get those moments where I am like wow, I really did make the move back to Nigeria.
What was your experience starting up and establishing a business in Nigeria?
The first thing to mention is during the hiring process, I realised just how talented many home grown candidates are. There is a misconception that studying abroad makes for better candidates but I was pleasantly surprised with the calibre of candidates the local market has to offer. To be fair, I met good people from both sides i.e. home and foreign trained. I realised Nigerians are very entrepreneurial, and get excited by ideas and innovation. I have met people running businesses selling goods and services via Blackberry Messenger and Whatsapp. Only Nigerians can come up with that! It is also interesting that almost everyone has a side hustle in Lagos. On the negative side, I also met people whose CVs, looked amazing on paper, but were unable to hold a conversation in an interview. Perhaps it’s a cultural thing as for example in New York, people tend to be more aggressive in their general mind-set and approach to work, but here we tend to downplay things a bit. For example I would ask candidates in interviews what they think about Easy Taxi and they respond it is ok even if they mean good, when I expect to hear words like awesome and amazing. Once I started building my team, I got better accustomed to the idiosyncrasies.
In terms of the challenges – things can be inefficient here in Nigeria you just have to learn how to navigate around them. Let’s take Traffic… I have learned the best times to schedule my outings so I waste as little time in traffic as possible. Then there’s Customer Service – Historically, I think Lagosians have been used to unreliable taxi services, which is probably the fault of the drivers. At Easy Taxi I realized that at the end of the day no matter what we do with the app, our drivers deliver the service so it has been critical to make sure they understand what practices are acceptable and unacceptable for our customers. Technology has also been a challenge as we rely on our users being connected to data networks on their smart phones. To be fair data services are improving immensely.
Moving on, can you tell us what EasyTaxi is all about?
Easy Taxi is a Smart Phone application that lets users request taxis with one click. You can get it on Android, Samsung, Blackberry, iPhones, iPads, Windows phones, and it is free to download. When you request a taxi, you get the driver’s details, which are sent to you via the app. You can also track the driver on a map, so you know exactly where(s)he is at all times. The app uses GPS technology so it will show you the drivers closest to you. For instance, if you are in Victoria Island, the app will link you to a driver that is nearby and not ones that are further away in Ikeja or Mushin. Our drivers are also well trained and safe; we check their licenses and taxi park registration details. Furthermore, we have a relationship with every driver in our network and make sure they meet our rigorous selection criteria before we on board them to our platform.
Sounds very professional! So, how has the response to EasyTaxi been so far?
People that have used Easy Taxi have found us great! Our users just love the ease and convenience. I moved back at the end of July, and immediately started going to different taxi parks talking with drivers and doing market research. It quickly became apparent how much of a need there was for an on-demand taxi service in Lagos, as there are no radio taxis here.
And the taxi unions? how have they responded to this innovation?
They understand we are giving them customers, and we only charge them an average of N150 per fare, so they are burning less petrol and wasting less time, and so, they love the idea. At the moment, customers pay for the service with cash but from April, we will have the option to take card payments from customers. In terms of pricing, we are currently working to comprehensively map Lagos state in order to make the fares more accurate for our customers.
It seems things are working quite well, what then are your mid to long term plans?
We plan to expand to Abuja and Port Harcourt in the next 3 to 4 months. With the same model we have implemented in Lagos, we plan to make the business successful in other cities. It’s a lot of work, there have been ups and downs but people are catching on more now.
And funding? How did you go about raising start-up capital in Nigeria?
Easy Taxi is actually a global company, which was started in Brazil. They were looking to expand into other regions, and I got in touch with them, went through a selection process and they could see my passion to bring Easy Taxi to Nigeria. We raised funds from different investors including Rocket Internet who have a proven track record of building successful businesses in Nigeria.
On a different note, how are you finding living in Nigeria now?
I find it very exciting. In Lagos, there is always something going on, there’s always something new, an event, a family thing, a friend’s thing etc. As you know, family is very big in Nigeria, so that tends to help the social calendar, just given the volume of events one tends to be invited to. Yes, there are infrastructural challenges and more so you can’t just be on ‘auto pilot’ mode in Lagos like you can abroad. You have to adapt to what it throws at you. It is also the first time I have lived in Nigeria as an adult so I am exploring different parts of Lagos and finding new exciting things to do that I did not know existed.
And finally, what advice would you give people who are considering moving back?
Be open minded because you might be used to a certain lifestyle in London, New York (or wherever else) but as soon as you get to Nigeria, you have to adapt. Don’t complain and get frustrated easily. In Nigeria, we are fortunate to have strong family networks and if that’s the case for you, use those networks, so your transition goes as smoothly as possible.
If you are really considering moving back, then do your research. Like I mentioned, I spoke to many people about the options before making the move. Make sure you do not rush. The job market here is not that straight forward i.e. things would not just fall in your lap – you have to plan carefully. Having said all this, I would encourage anyone to move back. If you want to make an impact, then rather be doing it at home. It’s a good feeling contributing to one’s country.
Many Thanks For Your Time & Best Wishes Moving Forward!
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