By Duncan Miriri
NAIROBI (Reuters) - Kenyan taxi-hailing firm, Little, which has a partnership with telecoms operator Safaricom, plans to scout for an investor in Silicon Valley next year to help it expand across Africa, its chief executive said.
The one year old app has grown to challenge Uber [UBER.UL] for the top spot in the local market. Little has close to 5,000 drivers who can offer 12,000 rides a day in peak times, Kamal Budhabatti, the CEO of Little said, adding that potentially puts them in second place after Uber.
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Uber Kenya said it has 5,000 active drivers and 345,000 active users without offering the figure for daily rides.
"We want to see if we can get someone from the (Silicon) Valley who can come help us to scale the company. Our aim is to become the taxi-hailing firm for the continent," Budhabhatti told Reuters.
Little's parent company, Nairobi-based software developer Craft Silicon has invested $6 million in the app. It plans to start operations in Nigeria in a month's time.
"Nigeria is a big country with a good size population," Budhabatti said in his office, adding they will then spread into other markets like Ghana.
Budhabatti, an Indian immigrant who made his fortune building software for banks and other financial firms in Kenya, said Little offered extra features to beat other firms.
"We are competing with some of the bigger players. If you want to win you can't beat them on capital, you can only beat them on innovations," he said of the market, which is also served by Taxify.
The features include an SOS button on the app. "We call it a panic button," he said.
If a customer feels unsafe for whatever reason during their trip and they press the button, they get an escort from the police or a partner security firm within five minutes, he said.
Other features include free Wi-fi in all the cabs and an inbuilt electronic wallet offered in conjunction with Safaricom on the M-pesa money transfer platform.
Budhabatti said they were also in talks with Safaricom for a possible investment in the company, but did not give details.
Little plans to start offering rides using motorcycles, locally known as boda-bodas. It is also importing an electric bus that will offer shuttle services on set routes in Nairobi, a city clogged by traffic and pollution, allowing Little users to book their rides on the application.
Budhabatti expects Little to break even soon.
"By the end of this year, early next year we will be making a profit," Budhabatti said.
(Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)