The journey so far: Ricky Thomson, founder and director, SafeBoda

Ricky Thomson

Ricky Thomson is an entrepreneur from northern Uganda who’s working to keep the capital Kampala moving. He is the founder of SafeBoda, a ride-hailing app for motorcycle taxis (boda bodas). Thomson started working as a driver himself, and saw that on-demand motorcycle-taxis are the lifeblood of major cities like Kampala, but they are extremely unsafe and disorganised.

Tell us about one of the toughest situations you’ve found yourself in as a business owner.

One of the first things I learnt as a business owner was the importance of strategic partnerships or having partners in business. Having the right partners can significantly benefit the business and facilitate growth. We started out in business with some partners for this purpose but along the way realised that that our values were not aligned – it was becoming expensive and we were moving at different paces. We had to make the decision to let them go despite the fact that we had started the journey together. In business there will always be tough decisions to be made but at the end of the day, always think about the long-term benefit to your business and its success.

Which entrepreneurial achievement are you most proud of?

I’m proud that we have empowered boda boda drivers through the different trainings we give them. We mentor them in financial management so that they can manage their money better and be more professional in an industry that people very often underlook.

In addition, half of the staff at SafeBoda are former boda boda drivers who are now permanent staff. They manage teams, train other drivers, handle budgets and generally run the operations. Because of permanent employment, they now have access to benefits like the National Social Security Fund.

Describe your greatest weakness as an entrepreneur.

As a young entrepreneur from an informal sector, I had no background in business management, which I was very self-conscious about, but I had a passion for solving problems. I was fortunate enough to have a strong team that has taught me a lot and complemented me.

I believe that it is important for entrepreneurs to identify what strengths they need for success and identify the right support system to lead to help them achieve it.

What conventional business wisdom do you disagree with?

Always have a perfect business plan and stick to it. Planning in business is very important because it helps create a direction or road map for where you want to g. But it’s important to know that along the way you’ll inevitably encounter obstacles, opportunities and new learnings that will alter your plans.

People always advised us to have a detailed business plan and stick to it but I have learnt that in business you need to be flexible because things change a lot, especially for us because we were venturing into something that had never been done. The willingness to receive feedback from your very first group of customers will allow customising and building a product that addresses their needs. A product for everyone is a product for no one. Flexibility and adaptability is very important for success.

Is there anything you wish you knew about entrepreneurship before you started?

I wish I knew what it truly meant to be an entrepreneur. It’s a very challenging journey with lots of ups and downs. I wish I had more training and skills prior to it to help me make better choices. For example, I had very limited management experience to build a team and yet having the right team and the right set of skills pooled together has contributed a lot to success.

Entrepreneurship involves working hard but most importantly working smart. You have to have self-drive and be willing to make sacrifices.

Name one business opportunity you would still like to pursue.

I would like to work with and support farmers to help them earn more for their produce and improve their business. The biggest employer of people in Uganda, for example, is agriculture and I think farmers need to be empowered and given more skills so that they can earn more. Without giving away too much, just like I have worked with the boda boda industry, I’m looking at venturing into agriculture.