One rainy Friday evening, someone called my phone on a strange number which i promptly ignored. The same number proceeded to send me a text message. This was the CEO of MaraMoja Transport inquiry about a ride I had just cancelled. He was apologetic about a miscommunication that took place between his driver and I that led to the cancellation of the ride. Maramoja Transport is a Kenyan startup that has been in the taxi hailing business longer than the big boys (Uber and Easy Taxi) and seems to be gaining traction in its quest to become the dominant player. Uber is currently the well known player in this space with a reported $20 million war chest for the Kenyan market. Easy Taxi whose origin is Brazil is well versed with the leanings of the developing world.
Maramoja Transport was an idea born out of need by Jason Eisen who previously worked in the donor world before venturing into Tech. “I visited Kenya several times between 2010 and 2013 and experienced bad experience with cab drivers with one having abandoned my former colleagues and I deep in Kiambu”, he said. Upon return to his native Boston, Jason marveled at how much technology was changing transportation. “In a single day, I used 9 different technologies to move between the airport and my house and I knew this technology could be applied world over”, he added. That led to the birth of MaraMoja Transportation.
Maramoja Application is available both on Android, a mobile-optimized web app that works on iOS and on the web and allows you to hail a cab driver through your network. A user signs up to the service using their Facebook account which allows the service to tap into your network to identify your friend’s favorite driver.”How does one find a taxi? you call your friends and ask them who their taxi driver is. They proceed to share their number with you and you call the taxi driver. We want to offer that service to you”, said Jason. The CEO believes their core business is trust and MaraMoja offers their service based on this core principle. “We are an opaque, complicated, location and time sensitive industry. We want to create a social revolution around trust and thus enable the passenger and driver to achieve their goals”, he added.
How Does MaraMoja Work?
A user can download the Maramoja application from the Google Playstore, the Apple Appstore or through the Maramoja website. After sign up, a new user can enjoy Kshs. 400 by adding a coupon. After sign up, Maramoja prompts you to turn on your location settings and uses GPS to find your location and thus identify the nearest driver to your location. A user also has a choice to manually fill the details of their destinations as well as their phone numbers and request for pick-up from their location. The app notifies you with the name, photo, car number plate and car model of the closest drivers. One feature I found useful was the ability to show who in your Facebook network is a mutual friend of your driver. MaraMoja currently does not charge users for trip cancellation.
Upon the arrival of your MaraMoja taxi, you board and are set to go. Charges for the ride shows as soon as you confirm your trip. Payments are through card, M-pesa, Airtel Money, Invoicing for enterprise clients and cash payments. There is no haggling between driver and passengers after the trip. Interestingly, MaraMoja does not calculate payments based on distance or time spent on the ride but has zoned various regions in Nairobi that allows one to determine fare charges. I have paid Kshs. 450 for most of my rides which I presume is the basic fare charge. Through the zoning, Maramoja has been able to create a price map that allows one to infer how much they need to pay for the service between the pick-up point and destination.
MaraMoja has 150 drivers signed up to the service. Most of the driver recruitment have been through referrals by clients and their existing driver base. They have engaged a community driver who serves to on board drivers to the service. The drivers are offered a one on one training, inducted on sample transactions and set off to the wild. One challenge I faced with the drivers on my three trips using MaraMoja was the lack of awareness on how the service works. One driver had a rough time reading the maps on his phone but had an easy time when i explained directions using a landmark. The drivers were equally not well versed on how payments methodologies.
“Its a big challenge especially getting the drivers to use new technology and get them to understand the value of it”, the CEO said. ” We are working towards improving this and have a workshop for our drivers lined up. We also have a Whatsapp group for the drivers and are in the process of creating a driver board that will act as the intermediary between us”, he added. The drivers undergo a thorough background check currently conducted by MaraMoja themselves with plans to engage Wells Fargo to verify the documents and information offered by the drivers. Maramoja is also working on an improved reward scheme, and has partnered with Musoni to allow its drivers access credit facilities as well as maintain proper financial books.
Jason did not tell us how much he has invested but MaraMoja has angel investors. There is also another seed round of funding coming up. He also did not delve into the details of the revenues only saying the business was experiencing a double digit week on week growth in revenues.
Being a local business, MaraMoja has faced challenges which have included the ability to assemble a team together that shares the same the vision. Ability to vet the drivers and having them to understand the business model is also a challenge. However, moving forward MaraMoja sees immense opportunities for the business that include expansion within the region and globally.
“We have been able to prove that this business works and the applicability of the model is global so unlimited opportunities for us”, said Jason Eisen. The startup is also set to pilot MaraMoja for BodaBoda as well as trucks. It is also planning a partnership with another local startup OkHi that will allow for users to share their location via images when they need to hail a cab.
Ultimately the goal for MaraMoja is to create a community of users based on trust for the drivers and our services. Have you tried MaraMoja? What are your thoughts? If not, get the App and share your story with us.