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Dear Nairobi Taxis, You’re Fighting Uber All Wrong

Dear Nairobi Taxis, You’re Fighting Uber All Wrong

Early yesterday rushing from a Java, Chiromo Lane meeting I noticed from about a minute of looking around that there were no taxis in sight. Just then I remembered I have Uber on my phone. Despite having used it a few times my friendship with my taxi guys means it’s still a mental battle deciding what to go for when.

However it was the best choice in this case. I fire up the app and boom, half a dozen Ubers floating around. Half a minute later I was on my way.oprah

They call it the on-demand economy: getting what you want, when you want it. And thanks to mobile and communication technology advances, and new businesses like Uber it’s a reality now more than ever before.

You Want it When? Now! Silly!

As humans we have a constant need to get whatever we want as soon as possible. You don’t want the cab guy you called arriving after you’ve decided you are not going out after all. Uber and other similar services like Lyft and EasyTaxi ensure that you can always get a cab when you need one in the cities they operate.

Then there’s Yum that delivers food to your doorstep from restaurants of your choice. There’s TaskRabbit that allows you to get freelancers that would do pretty much any of your chores. There’s Airbnb because hotels are overrated. And then there’s Tinder that… uhm… eer…

My point is we are at a time where technology is revolutionizing service delivery in a way never seen before. And this is not going to stop anytime soon. There’s going to be much more tech based disruption in every industry that exists. Even the “uber-successful” Uber will have to keep innovating to stay at the top.

Uber only launched in Kenya a year ago. At the time they only offered card payment. But they found out there are not as many active card users in Nairobi as the western countries they operated in. They immediately enabled cash payments and now every normal taxi user can access it. That probably happened in a shorter span of time than it for taxi associations to realize the market was being significantly disrupted.

It’s Inevitable Mr. Anderson

Yesterday I came across a Business Daily article on Twitter titled “Nairobi taxi drivers launch own battle against Uber“.

[spoilers ahead]

What I expected was to read about a great new local innovation that would help traditional Nairobi taxis offer more competitive services. That perhaps they had launched an app based on the Uber hail-a-cab model. But no. Instead it’s about harassment of Uber drivers and an attempt to get the government to regulate Uber out of Nairobi.

It’s a no-brainer that that Uber still needs some fine-tuning by regulators especially with driver vetting. And there’s been tons of demands in different cities for that to happen. However literally fighting it won’t work. Whether Uber gets banned or not people who already enjoy it will have become accustomed to a more convenient way to get around. They will jump on the next thing that sounds nearly as good.

It’s not them, it’s you

A business doesn’t own its customers. Customers like businesses make choices in their best interests. If they are walking away it means something has to change, probably the business model or the product. And losing customers in itself should be considered by any business as very important feedback.

I first saw Nokia on a TV commercial in 1994, in between the 6 hour CNN morning runs on Kenyan TV back in the day – you know, like a normal 7 year old. My first phone was a Nokia. That was in 2005. For that entire time mobile phone was nearly synonymous with Nokia. At least for me, and I’m sure for most other people. But then they smartphones started becoming popular and Nokia dragged their feet at changing. When they did it was too late. Most 7 year olds today have used a mobile phone or at least seen one. Ask them what Nokia is.

How to Fight Change

You don’t fight change.

You change. Adapt. Innovate.

What experience constantly teaches us is that If you stand still long enough, life will knock you down.


“There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance.” – Steve Ballmer, Microsoft CEO, 2007