, NAIROBI, Kenya, May 16 – James Ndung’u, popularly known as ‘Jimmy’, owns a Huawei Ascend Y600. It is his most important tool of work. With it, he is able to get customers for his taxi business which is based in Nairobi.
“Business for me starts from my phone. The Easy Taxi app connects me to customers, who are in the closest location to where my taxi is. All I need to do is to go pick them,” he says.
Jimmy is part of the Easy Taxi’s drivers’ community. He is not alone. Easy Taxi Kenya, launched a year ago, has at least 500 drivers.
Joining the community, he says, was the best decision he ever made for the growth of his business. For starters, there is numbers.
“The Easy Taxi app connects me to many customers every day. For example, I had 50 rides in the month of April, which is a high number compared to what other taxi drivers who are not part of our community got, and what’s better is that I did not have to stand by the road side summoning them,” he says.
He also made more than Sh30,000 which is an amount that the average taxi driver hardly ever gets to make in a month.
Easy Taxi, Jimmy says, does not strip a driver of his or her power as a business owner. He explains that all one has to do is have the app on so that if customers need you, you are available.
“Many drivers in the community also have other businesses on the side. We carry out our business as we await an alert from the app telling us where to go pick customers,” he explains.
The app also offers protection for taxi drivers and their customers. This is because the taxi is tracked meaning it is easily locatable in case of any emergency.
Such are the stories of the drivers in the Easy Taxi Drivers Community.
The app is changing lives, just like Peng Chen, the founder and Managing Director of Easy Taxi Kenya hoped it would, even if in a small way.
He saw a need in Kenya’s taxi culture and met it by flying to Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, to meet its global founders and pitched the need to them. With their blessings and an investment from Rocket Internet which now owns the franchise, Chen started the journey that has been somewhat bumpy, but nevertheless fulfilling.
“At the end of the day, it is the drivers who are making profits and the customers who enjoyed great service who make it worthwhile,” Chen, born in China, a US citizen but in Kenya for work, says.
His move of fabricating the idea into a largely matatu industry was an act of solving a problem. He explains that his market research showed that Kenyans, especially the working class who also love to go out, have way too many different taxi drivers on their phones.
“Our solution is not making people leave their favourite taxi drivers; we just want people to use the app in case the driver is not around. You can even get him to join Easy Taxi once you see how easy it is to use!” he says with humour.
And easy to operate it is.
Customers only need to download the Easy Taxi app from iOS, Android and Windows phone and locate a taxi near them. On the other end of the customer’s search, a driver within the customer’s proximity receives a request to pick them.
The app is easy to operate. Jimmy, a form four leaver, says that there are no technicalities with the app. One just needs to have a Smartphone, no matter how basic it is and be interested in learning how to use it.
Chen explains that the company also holds frequent general meetings with the drivers. There, drivers update the company on how the app is serving them while also presenting complaints if any.
“We also train new drivers for two weeks. This is to ensure that they know how to best maximize their opportunities of serving as many customers as possible,” he says.
Chen is hesitant on quoting the company’s initial injection of capital into the start-up. He however does say that the company has not been out to make money in Kenya yet. “What we are doing right now is building a database of drivers and earning the trust of customers by giving them the services they need. However, once we really pick up, we shall be earning commissions from what the drivers make.”
Jimmy says that he is prepared to remit the commission when the time comes; “I am making more than I ever did before joining Easy Taxi. Remitting a commission of 10 percent will not throw me off the app.”
The app’s uptake has also been commendable. According to Chen, the app has had thousands of downloads. Out of these, at least 7,000 people are transported monthly.
The director further states that the app cuts across the board as far as their targeted customer is concerned. “Our customers do not fall under any demographic. If you are a driver but got too drunk to drive, you are our potential customer, if you are running late for a major interview and the bus ride may take too long, you are our customer, going to a restaurant in the middle of the night and you do not know where it is? Call us,” he explains.
The company has also diversified its services to include more people. They recently included six-seater cars in their list of searched vehicles on the app thus tapping into Kenya’s tourism industry. This is meant to cater to people travelling across the country on safaris.
Easy Taxi also works with other companies to promote its services. For instance, the company has in the past partnered with the Blankets and Wine event to ensure that goers arrive and depart the event safely.
Further, they have the corporate package which caters to companies who frequently need taxi services.
The app’s biggest benefit has been Nairobi’s tech savvy nature. “We are only available in Nairobi at the moment, and our biggest strength has been Nairobi’s love for technology. People here are eager to use technological solutions for their problems,” Chen says.
The app’s business model is winning. Already in 33 countries, including Brazil, Nigeria, Philippines, Taiwan and Egypt, Easy Taxi is one the world’s biggest taxi booking and tracking app. The app is expected to be delivered in other major cities in the country soon.
Chen, immensely charming and friendly, is not giving up on Easy Taxi any time soon. “I love Kenya; I love how we are creating revenues for people while also solving evident problems found in the industry,” he states.