Accepting Bitcoin for Payment in Kampala, Uganda – A Chat with Mark Karamira, CEO, Spe Taxi Cab

Over 100 years ago since former Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, described Uganda as ‘the Pearl of Africa,’ these words still ring true today. The country is not only endowed with brilliant flora and fauna, but its also home to people who are innovative and redefining this description of the East African country.

Having hosted the largest Africa Blockchain Conference in 2018 and 2019, and home to the first Binance fiat crypto exchange, a few entrepreneurs are now starting to accept Bitcoin as payment.

BitcoinKE had a chat with Mark Karamira, CEO, Spe Taxi Cab Airport Transfer Service, operating in Kampala, Uganda, to discuss his early beginnings, the state of the taxi cab business in Uganda, accepting Bitcoin for payment, and his thoughts on the future of crypto in Africa.

Mark Karamira, CEO, Spe Taxi Cab, Kampala, Uganda

Early Beginnings

Like many African entrepreneurs, Spe Taxi Cab Service was established when Mark realized there was a huge problem getting around Kampala due to parking and traffic challenges. Another challenge was the unreliability of the old school taxi guys.

Another bigger problem was airport transfers from Entebbe to Kampala. It was an inconvenience to most people to due their busy schedules and the unreliability of ‘special hire’ drivers at the time.

Mark immediately saw a gap in the market and stepped in to fill it.

Having started as a service for running errands with his personal car in 2015, he later convinced a friend who operates a yard for selling cars to rent him two more cars from. From there the business grew.


Growing the Spe Taxi Cab Service

The path to growing the airport transfer service has not been easy and Mark admits he has faced many challenges over the years. Uber and other services were just starting to get into the market and the traditional taxi business, seeing the disruption, were resistance to change.

In the midst of all this, Mark kept pushing on. In time, his service gained popularity and became the go-to airport transfer service.

Currently, Spe Airport Transfer Service (SATS) is their flagship product that offers airport transfers for individuals, companies, hotels, travel agencies and groups operating on the dot around the clock.

The service allows you to book your airport transfer in advance via e-mail, WhatsApp, call, or from the website. The booking is confirmed and a driver is assigned for the pickup. The service keeps you informed by sending details of your transfer driver to avoid any inconveniences until pickup time.


Accepting Bitcoin for Payment

The idea to accept Bitcoin as a form of payment for the service came when Mark attended the Africa Blockchain Conference 2019.

“Interacting with people doing this in so many diverse ways, even beyond payments at the conference where you don’t need the local currency, was such a huge opportunity for me.”

In time, the team at Binusu, a crypto exchange in Kampala, Uganda, helped him set up an account and add Bitcoin as a payment option:

“As a taxi service, you are dealing with people from all over the world and you want them to pay you as easily as possible. We first accepted MPESA and you could see that it was solving a problem. The idea of blockchain and cryptocurrencies was an exciting new technology and innovating and improving the business led me to accept cryptocurrencies.” ~ Mark Karamira, CEO, Spe Taxi Cab

Using the Binusu wallet, a product of CryptoSavannah, Mark is able to accept Bitcoin for payment, reconcile payments and liquidate.

Although he has only done two transactions in the last two months since inception, he says it is exciting to try out this new payment option in Uganda.

Mark says his vision is to see Spec offer seamless, enjoyable, airport transfer experiences cross Africa’s major airports. He has already partnered with travel agents in Kenya and one can already book the taxi service in Nairobi.


Takeaway Lessons

Mark believes four things have helped him grow and scale the business:

  • Understanding the local market
  • Having the right team
  • Reliability and Trust – a product of time in the market
  • Continuous innovation and improvement – led him to accept cryptocurrencies

Mark is a classic example of African entrepreneurs who are adopting innovative ways of growing their businesses by accepting Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies for payment. This trend is being replicated across Africa and beyond as cryptocurrencies take root and become accepted as a payment option.