Mostafa Kandil, Mahmoud Nouh and Ahmed Sabbah, all 25 years of age, are the founders of SWVL, a premium mass transit system in Egypt’s capital city, Cairo. The application allows residents to book fixed rate affordable bus rides on existing routes. Users schedule trips, pay online or in cash and are given virtual boarding passes.
Whilst working with MENA’s foremost ride-hailing platform, Careem, in Cairo, Kandil observed that the average cost of a trip for the average Egyptian was expensive, between $3 – $4. On the other hand, the city’s cheap public transport service was a mess, a system most millennials and corporate commuters didn’t want to be associated with.
“The middle class in emerging markets is torn apart between the expensive on-demand transportation and the very cheap, very unreliable public transportation,” Kandil told Forbes Middle East. Hence he devised a public transport system that offered same quality service as hailed cab rides but at cheap rates. “We are coming in between a private on-demand service that is too expensive, and a cheap service that is dysfunctional – this is 80 percent cheaper with the same quality and convenience,” Kandil said in an interview with Startup Scene.
“Around the world, public transportation is a loss-making machine. If you can take this load off the government and privatise it in a way that is super cheap and creates job opportunities, you are revitalising a sector.” – Mostafa Kandil
With two of his longtime friends, Nouh and Sabbah, on board, Swvl was launched in March 2017. To get buses and drivers, Kandil and his co-founders reached out to partner with travel agencies and private tour operators seeing as Egypt’s waned tourism sector has left them idle. The deal was for drivers to be paid a guaranteed sum per trip up to a certain amount, after which they begin revenue sharing. Currently, SWVL has a fleet of over 300 buses plying over 100 routes across Cairo and Alexandria.
With regards to funding, Kandil, Nouh and Sabbah launched SWVL with $30,000 out of pocket before Careem, Kandils former employer made a $500,000 investment barely four months after the platform’s launch. Before then, the trio’s attempts to raise funds didn’t go quite well due to their age. According to Kandil, “I remember in some meetings, some people were literally making fun of us.”
Although competition in Egypt’s transportation space is fierce, with the likes Buseet and Uber vying into premium public transport service, SWVL is doing quite well. The application has over 360,000 downloads on Google play store and Apple iStore. The platform completes 100,000 rides monthly and is looking to expand into Karachi in Pakistan and Saudi’s capital city, Riyadh.