Gokada has sacked 75% of its employees, amidst regulatory ban in its operating market. But insiders say there is more to the company lay-off, which came barely 48 hours after the ban on tricycles and bikes took effect.
The Lagos-based bike-hailing company—Gokada Rides Limited—co-founded by Nigerian, Deji Oduntan, and Indo-American, Fahim Saleh, has undergone a lot of turbulence since its inception.
In April 2019, Fahim took over the reins of the company from Deji, after the latter was reportedly accused of funds mismanagement. According to the report, Deji's exit from Gokada in March 2019 followed a company shake-up that started since August 2018, which saw both technical and non-technical talent leave the bike-hailing company.
At the time, the shake-up was seen as the best move for Gokada, citing the fact that the company was re-aligning their goals and as a result, would come out better. But is that the case now?
When Fahim took over, the company was raising a $5.3 million (₦1.9 billion) Series A round which was led by Rise Capital. The fundraise was announced in May 2019, and it saw Rise Capital Africa Director and Nigerian businessman, Ayodeji Adewunmi join Gokada as President and Co-CEO.
"As the President and Co-CEO, Ayodeji is responsible for finance, operations, people, and regulatory affairs, while Fahim will be in charge of products, tech, and marketing", TechPoint (TP) reported.
In speaking to TP, Ayodeji said, "I’ve been in the Nigerian tech scene long enough to understand the space. Gokada will change the face of motorcycling in Nigeria and our individual experience as co-CEOs will play a huge role".
But right now, it's quite blurry as to how Gokada will change the face of motorcycling in Nigeria, since the man [Ayodeji Adewunmi] that wanted to do that has left the company.
The announcement of Ayodeji's departure from the company has so far been kept under wraps, but there were suggestive signs.
According to a former employee of Gokada, Ayodeji might have left before January 2020. "I was at three town hall meetings between August 2019 and January 2020, and I did not see him [Ayodeji Adewunmi]". Meanwhile, TP reported that Ayodeji left Gokada in January 2020.
A source close to the matter, who hereafter is referred to as "Asauce", believes that Ayodeji's departure from the company was due to conflict between him and Fahim. Listening to Asauce' perspective, I could see that it was a problem with difference in their vision for the company.
Ayodeji wanted to standardise Gokada into a KPMG with the nomenclature of a Silicon Valley startup. "He wanted Gokada to be like KPMG", Asauce told benjamindada.com.
As expected, serial entrepreneur Fahim and possibly other members of the team could not fathom it. "They were having too many frequent conflicts co-CEOing", Asauce added.
With standardisation comes a lot of restructuring, as well as, hiring to fill up vacancies created. "...employing hands you don't need and giving them fancy names", Asauce told benjamindada.com. Some of the fancy names included; Director of Brand and Director of Growth. But as I mentioned earlier, these job titles are neither new, unique nor is what Ayodeji was trying to do with Gokada. In fact, fellow bike-hailing competitor, OPay's Oride has a Director of Growth, Osagie Alonge.
3/ Media Professional, Osagie Alonge just joined Opera as the Director of Growth for ORide.— Benjamindada.com (@dadabenblog) June 6, 2019
Osagie comes off 5 years working with Ringier Africa (Pulse), most recently as Head of Editorial.
Expect even more awareness about the space, creative customer engagement & acquisition pic.twitter.com/UlvEGsWNnO
Right after Ayodeji joined, Kayode Adegbola was tapped to lead Gokada's Regulatory and Government affairs. If you operate in an undulating space like Lagos' two-wheel market, you will understand better why such a role is not just necessary but crucial to the survival of companies in that space.
Though, no longer at the company, Kayode achieved a few things for Gokada while trying to build the relationship between the company and the State. An earlier report by us stated that:
Gokada management paid Governor Jide Sanwoolu a courtesy visit, and donated 30 security motorcycles and 60 DOT-certified helmets to the Lagos State Security Trust Fund.
Also, he orchestrated the largest tree-planting initiative by a private sector player in Nigeria, in partnership with the Lagos State Parks and Gardens Agency (LASPARK).
Yet, some observers including Gokada staff had concerns that he might have over-promised and under-delivered. This sort of disconnect might have been from high or unclear expectations on the part of the Gokada management. We will never know for sure until both parties (Gokada management and Kayode) speak about it.
While Kayode said he doesn't comment on any matter concerning Gokada, Fahim and Ayodeji are yet to respond to my request for comment.
Related Article: Kayode Adegbola ends six months stint at Gokada
As Fahim regained control of the company, he announced an operation freeze that allowed them to re-strategise. Thereby, launching Gokada 2.0 in August 2019.
But while all of these were happening, Gokada was downsizing. Thus, the news of laying-off staff due to the ban seemed like a perfect way to offload and 'blame' someone else. "We began downsizing from the revamp, that's in August, then October, then November and now. So, it was a given", Asauce told benjamindada.com.
One can only imagine the state of mind of those left at the company. Most of them might eventually resign due to job insecurity.
What's next for Gokada? New verticals?
The CEO has taken to Twitter to announce that they will be "pivoting towards deliveries". He goes ahead to add that the two-year-old company was due to make a profit just before the ban was announced.
@ulonnaya while much of your report is accurate, we still have money in the bank and are pivoting towards deliveries while this transport ban gets sorted. we were due to make a profit in January before the ban was announced.— Fahim Saleh (@fahims) February 3, 2020
The question on many observers' lips is why Gokada hadn't launched other business verticals and expanded to other areas.
"I really don’t know but I just feel the Gokada team are not really cohesive because other bike startups have expanded to other cities and are doing well and launched several verticals...their G-boat since launch and even their strategy seems almost unclear", a Twitter user asked Benjamin Dada.
Related Article: Uber is testing the waters with UberBoats
Indeed, Gokada launched an on-demand boat service, GBoat, in June 2019. But the company have since slowed down on that front. Speaking with stakeholders, we learnt that the costs of operating the boats were too high for them because they didn't own the boats. However, we were reassured of the return of the GBoat service now that their own boats have arrived.
Similarly, in respect to other verticals, they mentioned that they launched some other verticals; like GMedic but it felt distracting from their core business which was the ride-hailing service.
The Country Manager of Safeboda, Babajide Duroshola, had said the next line of action for bike-hailing startups should include exploring other states to "operate outside the Lagos metro." Although most of the bike-hailing companies already have operations outside Lagos, namely ORide and Max.ng, Gokada doesn't. This could be a good time to do so.
In the near future, we hope to see a Gokada doing deliveries (including food), running a boat service in Lagos and operating in other states.
Cover Photo: First CEO of Gokada, Deji Oduntan addressing Press when Gokada was 1. // Photo credit: Laah Photography