Matthew Bell moved to East Africa in 2003 to work at a safari company. In the ten years that followed, he launched a series of successful tech startups, learned Swahili and fully immersed himself in the Tanzanian way of life.
During this time Bell says he experienced all the frustrations of flying locally in East Africa: inconsistent information, difficulty in finding routes or connecting flights, and having to go via travel agents to buy tickets. In 2011 he met Bruce Hurd, a techie who wrote his first computer game at age 13. The two teamed up to start flight comparison site Flyezee.com, which aims to make it easier to find, compare and book flights in East Africa.
The two entrepreneurs told How we made it in Africa about their hopes to transform the aviation industry in East Africa and the lessons they have learnt in entrepreneurship.
Why did you opt to self fund your business instead of seeking investors?
We self-funded Flyezee.com in order to drive the company in the direction the airline industry [should be going] in the region, not where investors and shareholders might want to take it. It is a worthwhile opportunity as we are the first marketplace for airlines in East Africa. This is a revolutionary step to grow the industry, which has many benefits for the region as a whole.
Describe the market reaction since you launched.
The reaction so far has been overwhelmingly positive. We solve people’s pain points and make booking a flight in East Africa fun, reliable and fast. As we’re the only flight comparison website focused on East Africa, we hope to attract a significant percentage of the total bookings made online. For now, we would prefer to keep our targets and statistics internal.
What are some of the reasons why you chose to run the business from Tanzania?
The Tanzanian people are educated, intelligent and hard working. When you combine this with excellent internet speeds, a rapidly growing infrastructure and a modern tourism industry, it was an obvious choice to choose Tanzania as our starting point.
Most airlines now have websites and can accept payments via mobile money and cards. Given the wide array of options, why would a customer choose Flyezee.com?
East Africa travel usually requires multiple legs in a journey and often more than one airline will be required to reach a destination. For example, let’s say you wanted to fly from Zanzibar to Kuro in the Serengeti – you would need to fly from Zanzibar to Arusha with Flightlink, and then Arusha to Kuro with Air Excel. Doing this by yourself is very difficult, time consuming and prone to error.
Flyezee.com automates the entire process by scanning thousands of options in seconds and outputting the best route at the lowest price, and the price you pay is the same price as going direct to the airline. We make our money via commission from the airlines. No other company currently offers this in East Africa.
Tell us about the challenges of running this business.
The major challenges we face are making sure that the flight information that we present is as accurate as possible. This is an ongoing job to keep in touch with airlines and make sure we are showing all of their latest routes, and getting the best pricing. Another challenge is building trust in online payments across the region and convincing more and more people that it is a safe and convenient option.
What lessons have you learnt in entrepreneurship?
We’ve learnt to hire specialists. It’s always tempting to read an article about marketing or accounts and decide to save some money and give it a shot. However, the greatest effort and enthusiasm often falls short of professional experience and know-how. Our advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is to find ways to get people on board rather than finding ways to do it yourself. It frees you up to do the tasks you do best, and gives your startup the best chance in the areas you have delegated. As long as outsourcing yields a good return on investment, this is often the most efficient way to get to your end goals.