Bolt at 10: Small beginnings, big wins and global problems


Bolt, a prominent ride-hailing and gig work platform, is commemorating its 10th anniversary with a mix of accomplishments and challenges. Operating in 45 countries and over 500 cities worldwide, Bolt has experienced remarkable growth in its first decade, establishing itself as a global brand. However, the company has faced unique hurdles in different regions, particularly in Africa.

The journey of Bolt began humbly in 2013 when 19-year-old Markus Villig founded the company in Estonia. Starting with a €5,000 family loan, Villig developed a prototype app and enlisted taxi drivers and car owners to provide transportation services. The service, initially called Taxify, gained popularity as a convenient taxi-hailing platform.

Expanding into Europe, Bolt faced tough competition from Uber but distinguished itself by offering lower fares and a smaller commission for drivers. It also prioritized driver licensing, ensuring a more secure and regulated service. Bolt’s approach resonated with both passengers and drivers, leading to its success in various European cities.

However, one of the ongoing challenges for Bolt in Europe has been the employment status of its drivers. As the ride-hailing industry grew, labor unions demanded employee benefits for drivers, such as sick pay and pensions. While Uber quickly acquiesced to these demands, Bolt has been more resistant, resulting in ongoing debates about the welfare of its drivers.

After establishing its presence in Europe, Bolt turned its attention to the African market in 2016. Although Uber had a three-year head start, Bolt believed it had the playbook to reverse the advantage. It initially launched in South Africa but soon recognized Nigeria as a more promising market. Bolt rapidly expanded across several African countries, largely operating without regulatory oversight.

However, as the ride-hailing sector matured in Africa, challenges emerged, including safety concerns for drivers and passengers. Incidents of violence and kidnappings involving Bolt drivers raised concerns about security. In some instances, Bolt faced accusations of inadequate support for victims. Additionally, in South Africa, clashes with regular taxi drivers led to the banning of e-hailing drivers from certain areas.

Welfare issues have also plagued Bolt, particularly in Nigeria, where the establishment of the Amalgamated Union of App-based Transport Workers of Nigeria (AUATWON) highlighted the need to address drivers’ rights. Bolt initially resisted the union’s influence but has since engaged in discussions with the union and the Nigerian Ministry of Labour.

Despite these challenges, Bolt has demonstrated a commitment to bridging gender gaps in the ride-hailing sector. Through initiatives like the “Women at the Wheels” campaign and the “#WomeninTech Internship Programme,” the company aims to empower women and provide opportunities for them to earn income in the industry.

As Bolt celebrates its 10th anniversary, it remains optimistic about its future. With over 1 million drivers and couriers across multiple verticals, the company continues to strive for profitability and plans to become the first ride-hailing company to achieve that milestone. However, it recognizes the importance of addressing driver welfare and ensuring a supportive environment for its workforce.

Looking ahead, Bolt aims to build on its successes and maintain its position as a preferred platform for drivers and riders. Despite the challenges it has faced, the company’s resilience and adaptability have contributed to its growth and positioned it for future opportunities.

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