Ma3Route is the true definition of a disruptor. Since its inception, Ma3Route has created a reliable source of information for traffic users through it’s website, free app, social media profiles, and SMS system.
Stephane Eboko, who runs Growth and Business Development there, has been a friend of Nairobi Garage for a long time. We were very excited when he agreed to have a chat with us at our Westlands Space. The chill-out lounge serves the purpose perfectly, with comfy couches and some privacy.
“This space is so cool!” he begins.
He’s dressed casually in biking gear, t-shirt and jeans, with a fierce expression of concentrated focus and determination on his face. You can tell he means business, though his eyes twinkle with something like humor.
A friendly guy with a slight French accent, Stephane was kind enough to let us into his exciting life working with one of the best innovations to come from Nairobi in recent years.
He is half Cameroonian and half Nigerian, and was raised in Paris. His dad, an entrepreneur, and his mum, who worked in the Telecommunication industry, are part of the reason the entrepreneurship bug bit him at quite an early age. He studied Business Management and Political Science, and then traveled around the world working in various capacities, and especially as a consultant to startups.
Stephane, filled with wanderlust, has lived and worked in countries as diverse as India, France, Zimbabwe and Ethiopia.
He planned to move to Nairobi to work on a startup, and needed a place to stay.
“That’s how I met Laban, through Airbnb!” he laughs.
Laban Okune is the founder of Ma3Route, and his partner, Angela Okune, runs their Operations. Meeting them was a match made in tech heaven.
All that happened a year and a half ago, and Stephane is now as Nairobian as they come.
“I love the energy here,” he says, glancing out of the huge windows the highway, “ there’s a great atmosphere for entrepreneurship and innovation, as well as space for a vibrant personal life.”
Stephane is an exuberant person, full of joie de vivre. Sitting with him, it’s impossible not to smile, and one is filled with a desire to get up and win at something! One cannot imagine him sitting contained in a boxlike office, just sitting there, staring at a screen.
“I cycle about 90 Kms per week. I’m all about efficiency. Cycling gets me where I’m going, and keeps me fit. In Nairobi, I have groups of friends who enjoy the same hobby, as well as people who understand the entrepreneur mind set. I can have a balanced personal and office life here.”
With the ever busy Waiyaki Way as our background, we’re talking about Ma3Route in no time.
“It’s about the people,” Stephane says, gesturing with his arm, “We’re just a platform through which people can help other people navigate traffic and save a lot of time and stress.”
Ma3Route uses crowd sourced information to alert people about the state of the roads in cities. So far, there about 400,000 users of the platform. By downloading the app, following them on social media, clicking onto the website, or subscribing to an SMS service, one gets alerts about traffic jams, accidents, and even badly behaved motorists.
“It’s funny how imaginatively people use a product. People use Ma3Route, not just to check traffic out, but also as a source of general information.”
Laban and Angela are out of the country for the moment, but apparently, they never feel never left out of anything.
“I Skype Laban to tell him stuff like the Pope is here, but he already knows, because Ma3Route users already posted that information!” laughs Stephan.
“See? It’s all about people. I’m all about human centred design, letting people lead the tech. By engaging our users, we know, for example, what time of the day they are likely to need a traffic update. We can then design features around how they’re using it, and what they need.”
Interested, we ask more about how people use Ma3Route differently than the team expected.
“On New Year’s Eve, there was a guy who was in a road accident on Mombasa road, and he posted an SOS on Ma3Route. Can you imagine, somebody else volunteered to direct the authorities there, and others offered help? This was in real time, and taught me how kind Nairobians can be.”
Apparently, due to its crowd sourcing component, Ma3Route gets a load of information about traffic accidents and incidents, which it is happy to share with willing authorities.
Having been around for three years, Ma3Route is already working in Mombasa and Kisumu, and plans to move to Lagos next year as well.
“We’re an African enterprise offering African solutions for African problems, so we intend to dominate this market. We’re here to help, and we’re applying the lessons we’ve learnt along the way. Go big or go home!” he laughs.
His biggest focus, as he repeats over and over agin, is people. “How do you say in Swahili?” he asks, “Tuko pamoja?”
I assure him he’s nailed it, and he grins.
We end the interview, drifting to the water cooler as he answers his ever buzzing phone, but not the friendship between Nairobi Garage and Ma3Route.
We’re definitely keeping an eye out for all the new paths that Ma3Route is creating.