Whether you love or hate matatus one thing is clear, the kind of work they do is simply a phenomenon.

From dealing with moody and sometimes downright unfriendly customers to surviving in an insanely competitive industry, being a ‘makanga’ requires nerves of steel and ability to do what’s beyond the obvious to survive.

The rules are not too different in the world of entrepreneurship either.

You have to survive against all odds and put your best foot forward in order to guarantee your existence.

I have lifted a few practical lessons from the dusty streets of Nairobi and here are some tactics you can take out from your matatu crews playbook on the fundamentals of running a business.

  1. Yell About Your Product At The Top Of Your Voice

    You are in business to sell; not to sit down and look pretty. And our matatu guys seem to know this quite well. They shout at the top of their voices “Namba nane, Kibera” “Namba nane, Kibera” without tiring.

    They know that if they keep quiet some other matatu will get ahead of them and make the money. Likewise in business, you have to shout a little louder about the problems your product or idea can help solve.

    Is it not your habit as a commuter to always turn your head to the matatu that constantly mentions your route? That is the same case in business.

    The businessman who constantly reaches out to new markets is the one who naturally ranks on top of the customer’s mind.

  2. Be quick to get in sync with your market needs

    A route 44 matatu will get to the stage at Roysambu and find a whole crowd of people. The tout gets busy shouting “Githurai mbao” but alas! No one wants to board.

    So what does he do? He gets one of those shouting makangas at the stage to find out where most of the people want to go. The next thing you see is people rush to get a seat in that matatu simply because the tout announced that he is going to “Kahawa” and not “Githurai” and as he had shouted earlier.

    In the world of business, you’ll find that sometimes you need to get in sync with the needs of your target market in pretty much the same way our touts do. Find out what drives your customer’s passion, what needs do they want to be met and how they want you to solve their problems?

    Armed with this kind of information, go ahead and shout at the top of your lungs and then sit down and watch customers flock for your product or service!

  3. Teamwork is the recipe for success

    Have you ever observed how the driver and his tout collaborate? When the tout bangs the side of the matatu, the driver immediately knows it is time to GO, and he does not question it.

    He goes. Equally, when the driver sees a potential customer he quickly steps on the brake and the tout automatically knows it’s time to make some more money and so he woos the person in.

    During rush hour when the traffic situation gets out of hand, the tout does not sit cosy in his chair, he quickly exits and rushes ahead to scout the territory for a way out. He will not come back until he has a suggestion for the driver.

    This kind of teamwork is indeed an enviable trait that we need to embrace even in our businesses. Be a team player. Let your team (if you have employees that is) learn to work seamlessly independently and simultaneously interdependently.

    By doing this, you will be able to bolster your productivity and enhance a sense of collective responsibility at the workplace.

  4. Create a sense of scarcity to drive more sales

    At the bus stop, the touts know that most passengers will choose the matatu that is partially filled over a completely empty one. So they pay a few guys to fill up the seats for a while.

    Voila! It works like magic and within a few minutes, the once empty van leaves the bus stage full of paying customers. Have you ever fallen prey to this weird tactic? I have been a victim quite a few times too.

    But instead of getting angry I can’t help but admire the level of marketing ingenuity employed by these mostly unlearned fellows. Likewise, in business, sometimes you have to create a sense of scarcity and urgency in order to drive the sales.

    Only that you need to do it with a measure of ingenuity just like our beloved makangas do.

  5. If you don’t have quality networks you are as good as dead

    All matatu crews irrespective of the routes they ply work like a team. They stay in touch and look out for each other.

    If the traffic police or NTSA guys are down the road, one driver will signal this information to others going in that direction. If there is traffic along Waiyaki Way, the tout will get this information from another who is on location and be advised to use Lower Kabete road instead.

    Such camaraderie is invaluable in business. Whether it is for sharing new ideas and experiences or for referrals and outsourcing options, no one can prosper in business by thinking and acting in solitude.

    So invest in quality networks always.

  6. When the market runs dry, push the limits

    Matatus, just like most businesses, have peak and off-peak hours. During off-peak hours, the crew will drive right through an estate and even reverse the vehicle so at to pick a customer right from his gate.

    When a new prospective customer is spotted, the tout will beckon, woo and coax them and then proceed to open the door for them – and this tactic actually works 98% of the time.

    Such is the life of an entrepreneur. Sometimes, you have to get out of your way to keep your business moving.

    Even if it means working overnight or treating customers like royalty when it comes to keeping your business breathing you better be prepared to push the limits.

  7. There is always a way out of every situation

    Somehow, your matatu driver will always find a way forward. He will pass via some unusual routes or even break the law and overlap. Sometimes he will even cut corners and do a detour just so he can keep moving forward.

    His attitude is: there is always a way. He is conditioned thus; and therein lies a very important lesson for entrepreneurs – persistence.

    Not unethical persistence like in the case of most matatu driver, but a strong determination to go against all odds to overcome rejection and to maintain a steady pace.

    And when everybody else is stuck in the traffic of “I don’t have capital” or “The market is saturated”, you know there is always a way to keep pressing forward.

    So condemn the matatu driver for overlapping but silently grab this precious lesson of believing there is a way forward even when everyone else is stuck in conformity.

Final Word

Being in the world of matatu is twice as difficult as operating in most other businesses. It is often said that if you are able to apply 50% of the efforts of the matatu crew, you can significantly maximise productivity, enhance teamwork and most importantly improve your sales.

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