Plentywaka founder Onyeka Akumah on African startups and global expansion

Plentywaka wants to change the way Africans move. It’s starting with one of the busiest cities on the continent.

The startup, a ride-share and bus-booking platform, is based in Lagos, the Nigerian city where 20 million people and 45% of the country’s skilled workforce live. The public transportation system strains under the weight of 14 million commuters who use it daily.

Relying on the public bus can be more than unpredictable — it also can be dangerous, according to Onyeka Akumah, co-founder and CEO of Plentywaka. The buses are often old, in disrepair and packed beyond safe limits; traffic congestion turns what should be a 30-minute commute into a three-hour journey.

Plentywaka, a combination of English and Nigerian that means “plenty movement,” was founded in 2019. While it’s still young, the startup has big plans to ameliorate the public transport infrastructure in Africa and beyond. (Since this interview posted, Plentywaka has rebranded to Treepz.”)

Plentywaka has two models. “Daily Waka” offers riders in a city fixed daily routes from bus stop to bus stop. Riders can view the schedule of buses, how many seats are available and reserve seats via the app, which tracks the movements of SUVs, minivans, vans and buses driven by gig workers, also known as “heroes.” When the bus arrives, riders can check in with a QR code, and when they hop off, the app automatically charges the rider via a wallet system.

“Travel Waka” is a newer model that offers interstate travel. It basically serves as a booking engine for other bus companies that offer city-to-city services.

In March this year, Plentywaka was accepted into the Techstars Toronto accelerator program, securing funding as it looks toward global expansion across Africa and into Canada. Just this month, the company also announced expansion plans into Ghana via an acquisition of Star Bus.

Akumah talks us through what the TechStars funding means to Plentywaka, the startup landscape in Africa and tips for African startups looking for investors.

The following interview, part of an ongoing series with founders who are building transportation companies, has been edited for length and clarity.

Before founding Plentywaka, you were the CEO of Farmcrowdy, another startup that connected investors to farmers via a digital platform. What was the impetus for starting a second business? Are you a serial entrepreneur, or do you plan on sticking with this one?

I was the CEO of Farmcrowdy until the end of May this year, but I’ve handed it over to my other co-founder who is now the CEO, so I’m fully focused on Plentywaka now. We started Plentywaka in January 2019. I was flying back from Qatar, where I spoke at an event, and landed in Lagos around 8:15 a.m. that day. I had to be at a meeting by 10 a.m., and going through traffic in Lagos is a pain. The state has 20 million people and everybody’s rushing to work, so I had to abandon my car and take two bikes to make that meeting. When that was done, to make another meeting, I had to take a boat ride across the lagoon. I tweeted about it saying, “Today, I have flown, I have used two bikes and now I’m on a boat ride. This is the life of an entrepreneur in Lagos.”

What I wasn’t prepared for was the shock my colleagues gave me when they said we should experiment with taking the bus. I hadn’t taken the bus in about 15 years, and I took that trip and had a panic attack. I never knew how frightened I would be getting on a 30-year-old bus with torn-out parts and worn-out chairs. I literally had to hold one of the doors throughout the trip from falling off. That was the day the concept of Plentywaka started.