BuuPass: Digitalising East Africa’s transportation industry

BuuPass founders Sonia Kabra, from India, and Wyclife Omondi, from Kenya, first met while attending college in the United States. Their shared interest in addressing the challenges of Africa’s public transportation led them to establish BuuPass, an online platform streamlining bookings for intercity bus, train and plane travel. Currently, BuuPass collaborates with 29 active bus companies, boasting a fleet size of over 1,200 vehicles, and serves as the exclusive ticket provider for Kenya Railways. Earlier this year, the company received investment from Renew Capital.

In this rapid-fire Q&A, Kabra and Omondi discuss the BuuPass journey.

What inspired you to start BuuPass?

We met at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana in the United States. We shared similar interests in finding solutions to existing problems. We both shared experiences with inaccessible transportation from our home countries (India and Kenya) and had the idea to bring to market a solution that would make transportation more accessible and efficient. We participated in a series of student business competitions, and we won a 2016 $1 million Hult Prize that helped us to start BuuPass.

What major challenges have you observed within Kenya’s transportation sector?

When we first started BuuPass, the digitisation of Kenya’s transportation sector was still in its early stages. Our initial solution focused on building a booking platform, but once we entered the market, we quickly realised that the main challenge was the lack of digitisation among bus operators. Many of these companies were still using pen and paper for their ticketing processes, and they lacked a centralised data source to inform their business decisions. To address this gap, we developed a bus management system that allows our clients to digitise their processes. The system allows the bus operators to set up their routes, booking stations and real-time ticket booking, as well as access daily reports on their business transactions.

We also identified cargo management as another challenge for bus operators, and in response, we’ve expanded our services to include a cargo management solution. Our goal is to help digitise the transportation sector in East Africa and ultimately improve the customer experience for travellers.

What advice do you have for investors that are looking to invest in African enterprises?

One of the gaps I often see with investors is the lack of understanding of local context. An investor who is based in Africa or one who understands the context of the market would easily see the scale and opportunity of the transportation problem. I believe that building this knowledge and making the effort to understand the context is extremely important for investors.