BAJANDA: Cuba’s Uber?
Twenty eight years have passed since the law permitting small businesses was passed in Cuba, a time that has seen the emergence of paladares (small private restaurants), Casa particulares (rental houses), car mechanic and carpenter’s workshops, construction crew cooperatives and car rental agencies, among others.
The latest life-changing success arrived two years ago: a taxi service that works through a mobile app. It is called BAJANDA (the title of a reggaeton song) and is designed to offer a fast, safe and economical taxi service, similar to Uber, the $100bn company which has transformed cities in 20 countries.
In order to learn more about the app —which is available on both iOS and Android— this magazine interviewed its founder, young entrepreneur Rancel Ruana.
Inspired by his experiences during a visit to Panama in 2016, where he used Uber and Cabify, Rancel thought of creating a similar system on the island. It was not until 2019 that he succeeded, with the emergence in late 2018 of internet access via mobile data in the largest of the Antilles.
“Our job,” Rancel explained, “is simply to facilitate communication and the provision of transportation service. The only requirement we really have is that the driver must have a cab driver’s operating license.”
Regarding the categories of services, he pointed out that they have several classifications: Standard, Comfort, Classic and, the most recent of all, Fast, which is a “smart” category. It only shows up when there are enough cars near the customer and guarantees pick-up times in five minutes or less with a minimum price. Regarding payment, he said that, for the moment, the primary means is cash, at the end of the trip, directly to the driver. “The application”, he clarified, “shows an initial price estimate when the trip is requested and the final price at the conclusion of the trip. But we hope in the future to incorporate card payments and national platforms such as Transfermóvil or Enzona.”
Rancel speaks proudly of his work and says that his main concern is quality. “For this reason, at the end of each trip, the user is asked to rate the service received and categorize it between one and five stars,” he explained.
The team constantly reviews the opinions and takes the necessary measures to help the user feel better, in case any inconvenience has occurred. “Problems can always occur,” he acknowledged, “but we take customer service very seriously. Currently, more than 98% of BAJANDA trips are rated four or five stars, which is a very significant achievement for the team.”
Regarding the number of drivers they have, Rancel said that they have more than 4 000 registered in the application, of which 350 have signed service agreements with BAJANDA and have made at least one trip. On a daily basis, he said, they have about 25 active drivers.
Every business has its challenges, and in BAJANDA’s case it has been no different. “Our biggest challenge, he said, has always been the cost of training. Many drivers had never used the internet before BAJANDA, let alone a cell phone application. This was a very important point, building trust in the brand and in our service.”
For Rancel, success is reflected in a new record number of registered users. “We currently have more than 30 000 registered customers, but I still remember with excitement when we reached the first 100, 1 000, 10 000, 20 000 users,” he commented with pride reflected in his eyes.
As for the future, he said that his aim is to continue improving the service, while his greatest aspiration is to have cars available anywhere in Cuba to offer good services to anyone who accesses the application.
Referring to the current situation caused by COVID-19 in the country and specifically in Havana, he said that “we made the decision from the beginning of the pandemic that the safety of drivers and users is superior to economic benefits. We have always complied with the measures adopted in the city”, he assured.
Finally, he explained why BAJANDA and not another type of venture: “I think it was the right time, in February 2019, to launch a service like this. There was a boom driven by the internet and a hunger to use it in services that were not just digital. Touching a button on a cell phone and being able to see the realtime route of the car up to the moment it arrives in front of you is a unique and powerful experience.”