How Seattle-Based Ridesharing Platform Moovn Uses Uber’s Weaknesses To Scale, On Mogul Watch

Ebony Grimsley-Vaz
Written by Ebony Grimsley-Vaz

This is one in a Moguldom original series that shines the light on the founders featured on MogulWatch, a comprehensive list of startups that have received venture capitalist funding. Find out how much money they have received from whom, and news and data about their company. 

As the ridesharing ecosystem grows, competition mounts against Uber and Lyft, which dominate the space and have largely disrupted taxi, public transportation, insurance, and even auto industries.

Taxi drivers are upset and public transportation providers are feeling the pain as ridesharing options help fill a need in low-income areas. Insurance companies are creating policy options for rideshare drivers, and the auto industry is concerned about declining car purchases by millennials.


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Many companies are looking at new ways to compete with the two giants. In October, Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced the Tesla Network will try to take on Uber and Lyft.

In 2018, the world’s major ride-share companies booked as much as $225 billion, according to new research from SharesPost. Over the next three years, ridership is expected to grow 50 percent and gross bookings to double to $400 billion-plus.

If you intend to take on the ride-sharing market, you need a unique plan. Godwin Gabriel, founder and CEO of Moovn, has one.

My notable wins are just being here. It’s like David vs. Goliath. We’re the underdog, you know?” Godwin Gabriel, CEO of ride-sharing platform Moovn

Based in Seattle, Gabriel, 43, came to the U.S. from Tanzania at the age of 19 to study for his master’s degree. Not quite fitting into corporate America, he taught himself to code and relied on his experiences to start Moovn. His knowledge of Africa and its need for more modern solutions for everyday life has proven a success for Moovn. Initially launching in Africa and then moving to the U.S., Moovn now has drivers and operators in Africa, the U.S., and the Middle East.

Godwin Gabriel spoke with Moguldom regarding his company’s beginning, where it’s headed and how Moovn is disrupting Uber.

If anybody inspired me to get into this it was my mother. She told me once, when I was going through my struggle after graduating, “If you can’t be the employee, be the employer.” That changed the game for me.” — Godwin Gabriel, founcer and CEO of ride-sharing platform Moovn.

Moovn
Godwin Gabriel, CEO of ride-sharing platform Moovn. Photo provided, University of Washington Foster School of Business

Moguldom: Why did you start Moovn?

Godwin Gabriel: I started Moovn out of inconveniences and life circumstances. At the time I had just graduated from the Foster School of Business here at the University of Washington in Seattle. I was looking forward to starting a corporate career. However, things didn’t pan out to be what I expected. The first inconvenience was not being able to be recruited by any company, and particularly at any company I desired. I started tapping into my talents and seeing what else I could do, and what I was skilled at. I didn’t come from tech, but I completed a project for Microsoft as a project manager for Microsoft Software Office 365, for two of their largest markets. It was my first experience in leading technology, and it opened me up quite broadly in terms of just understanding the scope of technology and what it can do. The other inconvenience was when I was traveling and using the transportation services of the two most significant players, I would hear drivers complaining about hard working conditions, and little pay and lots of customer constraints. I thought to myself, why are there only two players in this space and why do they dominate with these types of issues? I knew then there are many ways to get people moving around with a better experience for the drivers and riders. I couldn’t find developers to help me out. I had to roll up my sleeves and started working on this platform myself. Moovn was founded in 2014. We’re four years in and I couldn’t be any happier.

Moguldom: You came to the U.S. from Tanzania in Africa at age 19 with your undergraduate degree. What does your family think about what you’re doing?

Godwin Gabriel: My family has been very supportive. You know it’s been a very crazy journey, but I have the great support of my family and friends as well. I think if anybody inspired me to get into this it was my mother. She notably told me once, when I was going through my struggle after graduating, “If you can’t be the employee, be the employer,” and that changed up the game for me. She has been one of my biggest supporters.

“Scaling is our sweet spot. I think we’ve got it pretty well down to a science.” — Godwin Gabriel, CEO of ride-sharing platform Moovn

Moguldom: What have been your biggest challenges from a startup or a scaling perspective?

Godwin Gabriel: I would say there are bigger players that are a little bit ahead of us. It’s easy to be benchmarked on the same level as they are in terms of operations and markets. Of course, being a smaller startup, we have to catch up, and in terms of user adoption. It’s hard to get a customer who’s used to having the other brands’ app and using it in Chicago, and outside the country. Being we’re not yet in every city; we have been challenged with gaining market share. However, once we acquire a customer, they are really loyal and prefer us over the others. We have plans to expand further. We’re adding 100 cities next year. So, we’re creeping up slowly but surely. In terms of challenges in scaling, I think this is where our sweet spot is for Moovn. We have a lot of strategic partners in Africa. For instance, Vodacom. They are in 18 countries, 40 cities. We also partner with a Japanese automaker as well and pushing vehicles in some of our markets internationally. Through these kinds of partnerships, we can scale our operations quicker and faster as well in getting into more cities. So scaling is our sweet spot. I think we’ve got it pretty well down to a science.

Our biggest differentiator is the driver is very well compensated. On the customer side, we don’t have surge pricing and provide the ability to schedule a ride ahead of time.” Godwin Gabriel, CEO of ride-sharing platform Moovn

Moguldom: What are the biggest differentiators between Moovn and other brands?

Godwin Gabriel: Our biggest differentiator is the driver is very well compensated. We take 10-percent to 15-percent commission per ride compared to our competitors who charge upward of 25-to-45 percent depending on their surge. They are sucking the life out of their drivers, and drivers have to work more extended hours to make money. Our drivers are retaining around 90 percent plus tips. Drivers highly favor us because we’re all about looking after them and their wellbeing. We figure we won’t have a successful model if we don’t have a happy driver. On the customer side, we don’t have surge pricing and provide the ability to schedule a ride ahead of time. We purposely placed that in the forefront to give our customers a benefit of using Moovn. We have so much in terms of safety features, and other differentiators in some of the markets we operate in, particularly those in Africa. Customers there and in Asia can take motorcycle taxis. We don’t just do the traditional car service alone. We adapt to local markets in terms of modes of transportation. Us starting our services in Africa, building out the platform and then coming back to the U.S. really helped us to ensure we can meet the needs of our customers. I’m very proud of what we’ve done and the representation and ability to service everyone, especially our brothers and sisters. Moovn has become a part of tying the kinship between here and the continent of Africa.

“Starting our services in Africa, building out the platform and then coming back to the U.S. really helped. I’m very proud of what we’ve done and the representation and ability to service everyone, especially our brothers and sisters. Moovn has become a part of tying the kinship between here and the continent of Africa.” Godwin Gabriel, CEO of ride-sharing platform Moovn

Moguldom: What are some notable wins for Moovn?

Godwin Gabriel: My notable wins are just being here. It’s been four years in the making. It started as an idea, and it just continues to soar. We have a lot of goodwill among all our customers here in America and around the world. We’re building solid communities in the places and the markets we operate. It’s like a David vs. Goliath battle. We’re the underdog, you know? We thank our supporters all around the world who have given us a lot of support. Additionally, I get to mentor local Black teens, and it’s been awesome inspiring the youth here in America to pursue the tech industry. In Africa, it’s been great with the love I’ve received as an African who has come back to the continent with a product that will help improve their lives.

Moguldom:  You’ve received some funding from outsiders. How did you meet your investors?

Godwin Gabriel: Most of my investors are people I’ve known, and I’ve had really deep relationships with over time. They came on board, and they trusted my leadership. So far, we’re going very strong. We haven’t closed a round of funding yet. Mostly our money has come from angel investors and privately held funds. We’re currently open for a Series A fund round, and we’re hoping to be able to gain the attention of investors around the world who might be interested in coming in and investing at Moovn. We’re getting ready for a monster year in 2019, and this will be the most opportune time for venture capitalists to jump on.

Moguldom: Would you be open to being acquired by another company?

Godwin Gabriel: Yes.

Moguldom: What if the other company was Uber? Would you sell to them?

Godwin Gabriel: You know, I used to think that was a hard question, until maybe last year. I realized Moovn is just not about me and what I decide to do with it. Moovn is for our customers, and our customers are very vocal. They have said, “Don’t ever sell out.” We have so much planned, and I think in terms of just being able to sustain ourselves, this company was grown organically. It’s organically built. We don’t have the same, perhaps constraints, or pain points as maybe some of our larger competitors. We can flex our model quite drastically and still be able to make a profit. In terms of sustainability, we’re looking for bigger things to come with what is in the works right now. We’re looking towards building an entity that will last. I’ve also realized it’s not so much about building something and letting it go, but I think we’ve built something that is changing the lives of a lot of people around the world. There are a lot of young men and women out here of color in America who are looking up to us and saying “Hey, you know, I want to be like that guy. I want to be able to create something too,” and it has been inspirational in that regard. And in the continent of Africa, they are saying we’re helping to bring the much-needed changes regarding mobile-enabled services, to the continent. So, our mission is not even completed yet. It’d be premature just even talking about acquisitions at this point. However, we know our competitors are taking note of us. If you go to look us up or our app, you’ll be served advertisements online from them. So, I know we have disrupted the market and are onto something big with Moovn.

Moguldom: What do the next five years look like for Moovn?

Godwin Gabriel: The next five years will be exciting. Moovn has a tri-fold agenda: moving people, enabling commerce, and changing lives. We’ve already unfolded the moving-people part by changing mobility in the markets we operate. We’re projecting to have at least 40,000 operators on our platform around 2021. Our strategy is on what else we can do when you have so many people trusting your brand. We started designing technologies around a marketplace platform and being able to bring in vendors. We’re piloting that right now as we speak, and it’s looking very solid. We’re probably going to launch these services as early as next year and start pushing it across markets around Africa, and it’s going to be very exciting. The next five years for Moovn is going to be unlocking the neighboring commerce piece and eventually changing the lives of many people around the world.