Proof of concept and growth apparently not enough
By Melkies Ausiku.
I deliberated long and hard about writing this column, but it’s something that has been on my mind ever since I started my entrepreneurship journey. LEFA, the ride-hailing app, which started operating in 2018, has gone from strength to strength and is a permanent fixture in Windhoek, ferrying an ever-increasing number of customers efficiently and safely to their destination at the touch of a button through the LEFA application.
Within a mere five years, we’ve organically grown from having zero customers to completing close to 200,000 rides, and we continue to grow. We even weathered the pandemic and huge fuel increases as a company and taught Namibians how to use new tech for their convenience. LEFA is a resilient, young and proven Namibian business that ticks all the boxes when it comes to the type of company, we keep on hearing about that our country needs. LEFA contributes to a better society as the number of drunk driving incidents decreases because people can and now do opt to take a LEFA. So, what is the problem?
One thing that has become abundantly clear is that success, growth, and starting as a small organisation with an excellent product and executing it successfully means little. When trying to access funding, partners, or even loans to grow the business, most doors stay shut. The reasons given are the loan amount requested is not sufficiently large to be lucrative or of interest to investors. The return on investment may take to too long, investors often want ‘quick money’, or simply, people would rather spend their money on luxuries like suvs or real estate. All perfectly understandable.
However, if we are serious as a nation about building up our country, leveraging and monetizing new technology, and stimulating young entrepreneurs to create businesses and employment, we need to know that the relevant financial institutions have our backs. Believe me when I say we have created employment. We have over 50 drivers working through the LEFA app, ensuring people get home safely every day, 7 days a week. LEFA is not looking for hundreds of millions of dollars invested, but taking it to the next level, using electric vehicles and creating safe and climate-neutral transportation solutions should be top of mind in Namibia, as it is in every country.
Without the local financial backing and scarcity of partners, apart from Namibia Breweries, who have been with us from the beginning, LEFA has had to look for financing from elsewhere. This meant that a 100% Namibian-owned company, started from scratch by Namibians, has had to sell equity stakes to foreign investors, as they saw and see the future potential of LEFA as an all-round transportation company. LEFA is grateful for the investors that have come on board but would have preferred to see Namibian organisations invest in the company. The proof of concept is there, with five years of growth under our belt in some of the most adverse economic conditions globally, and certainly, locally, you would imagine LEFA to be a prime candidate for investment. It just made me wonder, what will it take for Namibians to invest in Namibian companies? Right now I don’t have a clear answer which is a sad situation.