Sonia Kabra and Wyclife Omondi, BuuPass Directors


Formerly known as Magic Bus, BuuPass has quickly grown into a startup making major strides, partly thanks to a $1 million cash prize they won from Hult Prize but mostly, the success can be attributed to the kind of partnerships they have been able to form the two years the startup has been in existence.

So far, the Nairobi-based startup offers ticket booking services for Easy Coach and something that I learnt when I met up with the founding team, Sonia Kabra and Wyclife Omondi, BuuPass is also behind Kenya’s SGR online ticketing platform.

Oh yes, we did ask why the SGR online booking platform sucks and BuuPass says that they have been working on a number of improvements, including changing ticket details, refunds and removing the requirement to print tickets, however, they say that since it is a government project, changes take time, so we should expect new developements early next year.

“We are a transportation solutions provider and right now, tech is the means to provide that,” explains Sonia as she introduces BuuPass to me. Back in the day when BuuPass was known as Magic Bus, their pitch was based on taming the matatu industry through the introduction of a ticketing system that would allow commuters to pre-book seats and travel times, however, the team had to change tact after they realized that the current chaos in the matatu industry, run deeper than they were willing to swim.

We envision BuuPass to be a marketplace for booking tickets

“We put that project on pause and decided to focus on the low hanging fruit, which is more organized, that is the long-distance booking,” says Sonia. Through that transformation, the company became BuuPass with the vision to provide a seamless service to commuters. “We envision BuuPass to be a marketplace for booking tickets, for now, we have the long-distance buses, we have the SGR and we are also exploring airlines, said Wyclife. “Our vision is to provide seamless movement for people… In terms of booking, we have the online platform and USSD platform,” he added.

As part of their growth strategy, BuuPass has already partnered with Waterbus, a ferry moving people across Lake Victoria, to allow commuters pay for tickets through their phones, but this does not beat the fact that the startup is behind the biggest convenience of this year, booking SGR tickets online. BuuPass provides the online ticketing platform for SGR in partnership with Safaricom. Safaricom provides the hosting and security for the platform as well as a payments platform through M-Pesa.

“Without Safaricom, the SGR ticketing project would have been a struggle,”

Taking Advantage of APIs

During my chat with the BuuPass team, there was a lot of reference to Safaricom and APIs, which seem to be the engines pushing the BuuPass train. “Think of APIs as a cable that connects B2B,” says Wyclife. BuuPass have integrated a number of APIs on their platform, including custom APIs for Easy Coach, M-Pesa daraja API – which is the backbone to their payments service, USSD APIs and SMS APIs. “APIs have enabled BuuPass to aggregate several aspects of convenience on our platform,” add Wyclife.

“Without Safaricom, the SGR ticketing project would have been a struggle, because of the magnitude of the project. The other thing is trust and security, Safaricom as a partner solidified our proposal in terms of the reliability of the platform,” says Wyclife.

Sonia says that BuuPass is currently official transport ticketing partner for Safaricom, “Safaricom is definitely interested in disrupting the transport space and they look at us as a partner, our relationship won’t stop at SGR, we will have more exciting projects in future,” she adds.

But the partnership with Kenya’s largest telco does not end with APIs and hosting services, as much as some parts of BuuPass run on Safaricom Cloud and some run on BuuPass’ own servers, Sonia says that the company has been instrumental in giving them the necessary technical advise and support when needed. “They bring in a good perspective. As a startup, we want to test out all sorts of solutions, we don’t think about scale as much as Safaricom and that’s a great learning experience for us, to make sure that you are ready for the uphill task,” adds Ms Sonia.

Arming the Customer with Choice and Convenience

To the commuter, the most powerful tool for them is the power of choice and convenience and that is what BuuPass is bringing… – Wyclife

To date, BuuPass has issued over 27,000 bus tickets and over 1 million SGR tickets. With such success, the startup is not hitting the brakes. “Currently, we are handling the middle mile, we are looking to provide solutions for first and the last mile. For instance, from Nairobi to Kisumu, you will need a bodaboda or taxi or matatu to get you to the bus station, then when you arrive in Kisumu, you will still need to move from the station there to your final destination. We are partnering with taxis and bodabodas so that you can now book the whole journey with just one ticket,” explains Wyclife.

Wycliffe adds that “to the commuter, the most powerful tool for them is the power of choice and convenience and that is what BuuPass is bringing.” A statement that the co-founder, Sonia Kabra echoes as she explains that BuuPass cannot do it all, “We believe in collaboration, I don’t think one company can do everything. So we let the transport companies do what they do best and we come in to provide a good seamless experience for booking,” says Sonia.

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