Tony (not his real name) picked me up from Strathmore Business School last Friday, for my airport transfer to JKIA. Standing at about 5’5’’ with not more than 60 kgs under his belt, it would be difficult to pick him out in a crowd. Traffic was sluggish that afternoon as we snaked a carbon monoxide filled path down Mombasa road and a conversation naturally filled the void between driver and passenger. “I’m looking for a good driver, do you know any?” Tony asked, piquing my curiosity. I had noticed by this time, that he was not quite the ordinary cab driver. “Why?” I responded with a question of my own. “I’m having great difficulty with these young guys I have, they don’t respect my cars and drive like thugs even when they have a client on board.” I smiled to myself; Tony was referring to the “young guys” as if he were sixty years old. Turns out that Tony has 3 saloon taxis and one van and employed drivers for each vehicle. He is a Strathmore University graduate in hospitality and management. “So how did you end up doing this business then?” I probed. “Actually this was a business plan from a project in second year, and I just put it into play,” he responded. Now I was really curious and what followed was a fascinating conversation that completely restored my faith in the millennial generation.
“But how did you get the capital to start the business? How old are you? Where do you get the cars from?” my questions followed in AK47 staccato gunfire mode with no rationale to the order of questioning. “I’m 22 years old……” I cut him off before he went further, ‘What?!” Tony chuckled mutedly at my disconcertion. “My mother died when I was young, and I was brought up by my older brother. I got a scholarship to Strathmore University but I was always keen to do the “hustle”, so I started designing posters and brochures when I was in school to make extra money as my brother couldn’t finance all my needs.” Ahead of us, a car swerved dangerously into our path and I bit back an expletive at the interruption as Tony deftly maneuvered out of harms way. He continued without missing a beat. He taught himself design programs online and when he had made enough savings, went ahead to purchase an online airline ticketing system for about $500 so that he could offer air-ticketing services to his clients. He linked up with an accredited travel agency that would provide him with the legitimate back end system that would allow tickets to be issued and payments made to the airline. “I signed up for an airline booking course that lasted for about a month, so that I could learn how to work the system.”
Within no time, Tony had a regular list of clients within and outside of the university that gave him business. But he noticed that most of his clients would ask him for airport transfers and he would link them up with the cab drivers around Madaraka who he trusted. He then realized that he could provide horizontal integration for his air ticketing business by providing the airport transfers himself and therefore decided to buy his first taxi based on the business plan he had done in second year. He bought the van when his clients started requiring short-term tours around Kenya. He learnt very quickly that it was cheaper to order second hand cars online and pay using the Japanese agents’ offices in Nairobi. It saves him at least Kshs 200,000 per car. “So have you approached the Youth Fund so that you can expand your business?” I asked. Tony snorted in derision, the first time I saw any sign of disillusionment since we first started conversing. “Those guys are not serious, they want to give me Kshs 50,000 and then say I must be in a group. Group? What’s that? Fifty K , what’s that?” I had heard about the difficulties of getting loans from the Uwezo (Youth) Fund, but had no idea just how unfriendly the loan terms were to enterprising youth that already had existing businesses that needed that critical capital to push them to their optimal tipping point for growth. Tony is a self-proclaimed “hustler”. He has employed three people and has the potential to employ more if his business grows.
He is young, educated and extremely tenacious. Having lost one of his vehicles last year in the Westgate siege building collapse, he was extremely despondent when the insurance company refused to pay saying that it was an act of terrorism for which his comprehensive cover did not provide protection. “But, I was alive, and that was important. I walked out of Westgate alive and saw people die around me. How can I let the loss of a car kill me? That’s what I had to tell myself in order to push on.” But the insurance company eventually reimbursed him when a key competitor placed a full-page ad welcoming claims from clients who had lost property in the siege. Shrugging his shoulders, Tony was quite circumspect, “Competition is good, my insurance paid because of the competition’s advertisement. Can you believe it?”
As today’s CORD rally takes place, attempting to push Kenyans against a virtual wall of political brinkmanship, millenials like Tony continue to forge ahead, pushing their noses to the ground and working hard. Tony has taken hard business knocks, but pulls himself up with pride of place and a refreshing “hustler” mentality. If one in ten Kenyan youth had his attitude, sheer grit and determination to succeed despite of all the nonsensical political sabre rattling that terrorizes our collective Kenyan mettle daily, we will deliver what the Eurobond investors see in us: a service driven, non-resource based economy that manages to separate the political flavor of the day from the engine that drives it: Kenya’s entrepreneurs. Hail to the Hustlers!