Plentywaka founder Onyeka Akumah on African startups and global expansion

plentywaka aspires to alter the way Africans travel. It all begins in one of the continent’s busiest cities. The ride-sharing and bus-booking website are located in Lagos, Nigeria, which has a population of 20 million people and employs 45 percent of the country’s professional labor. The 14 million commuters who utilize it on a daily basis strain the public transportation system.

According to Onyeka Akumah, co-founder and CEO of Plentywaka, relying on the public bus is not only unreliable, but also risky. The buses are frequently outdated, in disrepair, and overcrowded, making a 30-minute drive into a three-hour travel due to traffic congestion.

Plentywaka forms in 2019 and is a blend of English and Nigerian that meaning “abundant movement.” While the company is still in its early stages, it has enormous intentions to improve public transportation infrastructure across Africa. (Since this interview, Plentywaka has changed their name to Treepz.) Plentywaka is available in two different models. “Daily Waka” provides scheduled daily routes from bus stop to bus stop for commuters in a city. The software, which follows the movements of SUVs, minivans, vans, and buses driven by gig workers, also known as “heroes,” allows riders to see the bus timetable, how many seats are available, and reserve seats. Riders may check in with a QR code when the bus comes, and when they get off, the app charges them via a payment system.

“Travel Waka” is a newer model that allows you to travel beyond state lines. It essentially acts as a booking engine for other bus companies that provide city-to-city transportation. Plentywaka approved into the Techstars Toronto accelerator program in March of this year, gaining cash as it plans to expand throughout Africa and into Canada. The firm has announced ambitions to expand into Ghana with the acquisition of Star Bus.

Akumah discusses what TechStars financing means for Plentywaka, the startup scene in Africa, and investor suggestions for African entrepreneurs. The following interview has edited for length and clarity as part of an ongoing series with founders of transportation startups.

I was the CEO of Farmcrowdy until the end of May this year, but I passed it over to my other co-founder, who is now the CEO, so I can focus entirely on Plentywaka. In January of this year, we launched Plentywaka. I arrived in Lagos about 8:15 a.m. after flying back from Qatar, where I presented at an event. I needed to get to a meeting by 10 a.m., and traffic in Lagos is a nightmare. 

Because the state has a population of 20 million people and everyone is racing to work, I had to give up my vehicle and ride two bikes to get to that meeting. After that, I had to take a boat journey across the lagoon to get to another meeting. “Today, I have flown, I have used two bikes, and now I’m on a boat cruise,” I tweeted. This is a typical day in the life of a Lagos entrepreneur.”

What I was not expecting was the surprise my coworkers offered me when they suggested we try taking the bus. I had not used the bus in nearly 15 years, and I had a panic attack on that ride. 

I had no idea how terrified I would be boarding a 30-year-old bus with ripped-out pieces and worn-out seats. Throughout the ride, I had practically held one of the doors open to keep it from sliding off. That was the beginning of the Plentywaka idea.