As the heavyweight Uber enters Nairobi’s robust taxi market, a start-up called MaraMoja is adapting to the local scene
In January, the taxi-app juggernaut Uber set up shop on the crowded byways of Kenya’s capital city. But already a bevy of local taxi apps operate in Nairobi. Banking on the universality of its technology, Uber has not taken local taxi culture into account much, unlike its competitors — it insists on giving users the exact same experience anywhere in the world. But the truth is that Nairobi is not Brooklyn, or San Francisco, or Washington, D.C. From culture to infrastructure to labor force, the challenges are different.
That’s why one competitor, Maramoja (“very fast”) might have a leg up on Uber and everyone else. Based on the premise that passengers would trust a driver whom a friend recommends, it scours your phone’s address books and social networks — Facebook, for now — to find drivers your friends trust. “People told me, ‘I won’t even get in a car with anyone but my guy,” says Jason Eisen, an American consultant who co-founded Maramoja. “They tell me this horror story or that horror story. But then they all have the same problem when their guy isn’t available — they need someone else that they trust.”
Maramoja says it has data to back up its model. It ran experiments in which subjects used the app to choose between two drivers stationed equal distance away: one recommended by a friend and the other with a 3-, 4- or 5-star rating. Subjects chose the driver recommended by a friend a whopping 96 percent of the time.