Moovn is a new rideshare company, born in Seattle in 2014, with locations in the U.S. and Africa looking to take a bite out of Uber and Lyft, which have both been in the news lately. Uber and Lyft have been trying to take various public stands to help their public relations in the face of accusations that their founders have done business with President Donald Trump.
But while Uber and Lyft, which are billion-dollar companies, are doing a lot of show, Moovn is putting in the real work: paying their drivers livable wages, preaching the celebration of diversity from top-down and working to bridge the technology gap in Africa.
Moovn’s founder, Godwin Gabriel, 41, left his Tanzanian home at 17 “in search of a life with greater opportunities,” he writes in an open letter on his Twitter page. “As an immigrant, I built this company with the mission to provide accessibility across all demographics.” And lately, his company has been growing exponentially. So, we wanted to talk to Gabriel and see just what was up with Moovn.
My story as an immigrant in America… pic.twitter.com/zsBNkZslOn
— Godwin N. Gabriel (@moovnman) February 1, 2017
Hello Godwin, how are you?
There’s been a whole lot going on. It feels like I’ve been going back and forth between different continents just through the phone. It’s amazing the amount of growth we’ve experienced in a short period of time. We’ve been coming up for the past year or so, but this new level of growth was completely unprotected. We’re just scrambling to meet demand. Customers are saying for us to come to this city, come to that city. My head is constantly spinning – but it’s a good problem to have. It’s a good place to be now, business-wise. I can’t complain.
What does it mean for you to be in a “good place”?
For us, in terms of growth, we knew that coming into this space we’re going to face a lot of challenges. We’re pretty much the underdog. The small guys from the hometown Seattle, a small outfit. At first, we went to a few other cities here and there but our presence was not fully felt. Then we went to Africa where the magic was happening and we feel like we’re answering to the social and economic and transportation constraints, bridging the tech gap. We knew we were on to right track in terms of what we stood for, what we were capable of doing. It was just a matter of time. Then the media started picking us up and finally we’re out in the lime light. It’s a good feeling this overwhelming amount of support. The brand resonates with a lot of people: a humble beginning, very grounded team. Our cause, our mission: people before profit.
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Can you tell me a little more about your overall business philosophy?
My founding philosophy was putting drivers first. They’re our main stakeholders, if you think about it. We’re a tech company, we’re not drivers. We connect customers with drivers and we provide that platform but it’s up to the drivers to facilitate that demand and to choose whether they want to do business with us. But how you treat them makes a difference. It’s a no-brainer. Let’s take care of these people first. We believe that as long as they’re empowered, they’ll go the extra mile for our customers. We strive to take care of our driver, the last thing we need is a whole lot of disgruntled drivers taking care of the general public.
How do you take care of your drivers?
We only take 15% commission per ride, which is less than what the competitors are taking. They take something like 20-35%, and if there’s surge pricing it’s more. We also allow tipping on the platform, which others don’t. And we recently introduced our moving affiliate partner program—we’re creating unique promo codes for each driver. If they refer passengers and use my code, the customer gets a discount and the driver gets paid a portion of the customers’ fares when they use Moovn. They become revenue sharers and it’s instant. Others provide equity with various stipulations—we look into strategic partnerships. The drivers should feel proud of what they’re doing.
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What’s your own background in tech?
I don’t have a tech background, never had one. When tech started coming out into the scene, I was interested, always curious, but I went to the world of finance. I did my stint in corporate America—and it wasn’t until I went to grad school that I was exposed to projects and working with Microsoft that I saw the impact of tech and it opened my eyes to the possibilities of helping people. I thought prior that tech was a ship that passed me by in the night. But I’ve always been a critical thinker, so I said, what if I traveled around the world, going back to my native Africa, where I saw the tech divide. I felt compelled to help. The journey to get where we are today was not easy. We were met with reluctance and setbacks. We were a multi-billion dollar platform with a minuscule budget. But we had a lot of determination. My story resonates with a lot of people. I have a very strong work ethic—I spent nights watching YouTube channels and learning how to do these things myself. Tutorials, journals, peer reviews of code. In due time I got the hang of it. Nine months later I had a prototype.
There’s a strong sense with Moovn that it’s geared toward people of color, can you speak on that please?
We came out to really address the complaints from the drivers’ side and consumer price points like surging—for people of color or anybody else. We started hearing this and when studies came out, I said these problems shouldn’t exist. There are some platforms—I travel, I use Air BnB and I’ve also been denied access to accommodations. And this is a problem. You see a spot available and you inquire and suddenly it’s not available but you see it pop up again. We need to address this. We’re looking to equalize the playing field. We want to treat others the way we want to be treated. As an African American owner of a major rideshare company, I think, how would I want my children to be treated if they were to request a ride. While we can’t hold people to a certain moral code, we can preach our philosophy, which has so far worked in terms of what we believe in. It comes from top-down, there’s a lot of diversity and it should be celebrated.
What is your aim for more growth now?
We are looking to be in an additional 25-30 cities this year. People are asking us to get to their cities faster and faster. We’re fundraising now—our demands have grown astronomically. There is a lot of unmet demand in regions around the world. We’re looking at the U.S. and Africa as well as all other continents.
What are customers asking for from you, specifically?
They’re looking for a harmonious player. Our recent spotlight has been the result of social and political uprising. We are by all means observant and sensitive to how the people feel. Diversity is to be celebrated. We’re promoting a message of unity and I think it resonates well with a lot of people out there. They’re looking for an alternative, to give them something they can be proud of. There’s light here and it’s a beautiful thing and it ties us together. And we have a very unique position to bridge a lot of these relationships based on the demographics we serve.