In conversation with Amr El Sawy of Buseet
As the Middle East's most populous city with an insufficient public transportation system and rising fares, Cairo leaves millions of people struggling with their everyday commute.
Having to drive daily for long hours on his way to work, Amr El Sawy suffered from the same problem as the majority of the city’s inhabitants. So in 2016, he decided to co-found Buseet, a bus network startup that offers affordable and convenient shuttle bus rides.
Before that, El Sawy worked as a mobile applications developer and was in technical sales at Microsoft after graduating from university with a degree in computer engineering.
Why did you become an entrepreneur?
Since I was a student in university, I knew that I wanted to start my own thing that really affects people's lives positively. I had some ideas that I wanted to implement after I graduated but I could not because of lack of experience.
How did the idea for buseet come about?
I used to live in El-Sheikh Zayed area and my work was in the 5th settlement. So, I used to drive everyday for almost four hours back and forth. The effect this had was dreadful on my productivity and my general mood. Our streets are not the best and are always busy. The driving attitude is not comfortable.
At that time back then, Uber was launching in Egypt and I thought why not utilise a similar idea using buses. Also back then, tourism declined in Egypt and there were lots of high-quality tourist buses that were no longer in use and we could use it for public transportation and that was the idea.
What were the challenges when you first started?
There was no reference for us to go back to and so we started talking with the users from the beginning, what they wanted, and how much they are willing to pay. We did not know whether users were excited to use such a service. We built a prototype through a website, we did not have a [mobile] application. We started advertising on social media and we found lots of demand. The first day, we started with two buses and they were full back and forth and that was a strong indication that there was a need. Our clients owned private cars and so we offered an alternative method of commute.
What are your challenges now?
The challenge is to grow sustainably while creating a unique solution to address the users' problems. We do not want to recreate the model of public transportation that has fixed lines and fixed routes. We are trying to build something that is customisable to users and does not compromise the trip time. The other challenge is how to grow the team while not compromising on quality.
What is the biggest sacrifice you have made as an entrepreneur?
Mainly, my peace of mind. Startup life consumes your time almost by 100 per cent. So basically, my right to have vacation.
What lessons have you learned?
Persistence. Nothing will succeed without persistence. Anyone who is trying to launch a startup that is not conventional and is trying to change lots of fixed beliefs will be met with lots of resistance. So, if you do not believe and protect your idea fully, you will fail.
How do you reflect on Uber's recent acquisition to Careem?
It is good for us as startups but might not be the best for customers. It shows that there is huge potential for startups coming from this region to build businesses and to grow it. However after the acquisition, I expect that the fares will increase. Competition is good for all of us and pushes us to do our best and spend maximum effort we can do to solve those issues rather than just being lazy.
What will your industry look like in the next decade?
There will be huge investments that will happen in the sector. We are still scratching the surface including Uber and Careem. There is an enormous untapped market in terms of affordable and low-cost transportation. The challenge is to maintain the quality without increasing the prices.