Maramoja Transport: We’re betting big on taxi culture to grow start-up in Kenya

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aWhen Jason Eisen toured Nairobi in 2010 and then again in 2013, he faced a common problem — transport woes within Kenya’s capital.

Transport challenges frustrated the Washington DC-based consultant prompting him to start sharing his experience with his acquaintances.

“As I discussed these challenges with scores of Nairobians, I quickly began to understand that I was not alone lamenting them. I remember flying back to Washington, DC, after a particularly difficult transport experience here, and on the day I landed, using something like nine different modes of transport, all powered by technology,” recalls Mr Eisen.

At that moment, he began to reflect on how technology could be applied to alleviate some of Nairobi’s transport woes.

Mr Eisen quit his job three months later and returned to Kenya to explore the transport business idea.

“A unique picture began to emerge, of a taxi culture not a taxi market, built around trust rather than anonymity, relationships rather than proximity. A view of taxis as individuals rather than just a function,” said Mr Eisen.


Jason Eisen and Stephen Kimani from Maramoja Transport pitching during PIVOT East 2014

Jason Eisen and Stephen Kimani from Maramoja Transport pitching during PIVOT East 2014

Mr Eisen then joined efforts with Mr Steve Kimani to establish Maramoja Transport. Maramoja was launched at iHub’s five-year tech anniversary, which brought together several technology companies on March 7, this year.

The company, however, had been running for a while before then.

The socially powered transport start-up operates through an app on smartphones, where potential customers view all taxi drivers within their vicinity through GPS before requesting services from one.

The taxi drivers are, however, sourced through referrals from customers, who have used their services before or from fellow taxi drivers.

“Users can quickly request a trusted taxi from their smartphone, seeing exactly where all available drivers are via GPS tracking, and review the driver’s credentials before accepting him,” says Mr Eisen.

According to Mr Eisen, Maramoja has built a network of 150 taxis and private hire drivers around Nairobi and is still adding new drivers every day.

However, Maramoja conducts thorough background checks before adding any new driver to its platform.

“We respect the local taxi culture of trust and referrals and don’t want to force some other country’s taxi habits on Kenya. Instead, we seek to bring technology driven tools that reinforce this culture and make it easier, faster, and safer to move about Nairobi,” Mr Eisen says.

“Any driver that can pass our credentials verification and screening can work with us as a driver partner,” Mr Eisen adds.

The drivers have fixed charges regardless of the time of the day or weather under which they are working. For instance, the drivers charge Sh350 to Kilimani from the CBD and Sh700 for customers heading to Nairobi West from the city centre.


The company is also offering other services to augment its earnings. “We have also integrated emergency response services from a leading private security company to provide an extra level of security,” Mr Eisen adds.

These achievements, however, have not been achieved through a smooth ride.

“Our biggest challenges so far have been around creating awareness that such a service exists and persuading drivers to try it out since many taxi drivers are fiercely independent, accustomed to working informally, and setting their own charges,” Mr Eisen says.

He is, however, quick to note that it has now reached a point where drivers are actively seeking to join the network.

Maramoja is now competing against two other taxi apps Uber and EasyTaxi, for customers in Nairobi. It plans to roll out to other parts of the country later this year.

“As soon as we’ve stabilised our growth here in Nairobi, we’ll be looking to expand to other Kenyan cities as well as other African capitals. Nakuru is looking particularly intriguing with their city-wide WiFi,” Mr Eisen says.


Kenya’s MARAMOJA Launches a Socially Powered taxi app

“Nairobi does not have a taxi market, it has a taxi culture” this is according to Jason Eisen the co-founder of MARAMOJA transport. Nairobi’s taxi culture is built around values like trust, loyalty, and relationships. Finding a ride in Nairobi has never been a problem, it’s about finding a trusted ride, quickly, reliably, and at a fair price. We, Nairobians, want to ride with (and drive for) the people we know and the people we know we can trust. MARAMOJA transport is a Kenyan socially-powered transport app that helps users to find a personally trusted ride with only a few taps on their smartphone. The startup launched their transport app on 7th March at the iHub 5 years celebration which was held at Arboretum.

“It has been well established that regional players in the global e-hail (taxi app) market, can strongly outperform their global competitors by being well attuned to the unique market conditions in their region. Ola Cabs has done this in India, GetTaxi in South East Asia, and the “Daches” in China. MARAMOJA is born and built in Kenya, for Kenya; this drives our entire worldview and our socially powered approach to transport”, says Jason. “We think that ten years down the line, you’ll see MARAMOJA

Maramoja views their clients and drivers like individuals with their own unique preferences, relationships, and loyalties. Most Kenyans already have their favorite drivers and are only looking for better way to reach them, a reliable network of trusted back-ups, or additional features that can be offered by an app. “We value our clients’ right to make the final choice in who they ride with and present them as many personally trusted options as possible to help them make this choice” says Jason.

Maramoja Transport accepts MPESA and Airtel Money in addition to cash and credit card.They also have a corporate product that allows monthly electronic invoicing.

The prices are fixed and based only on trip origin and destination so users pay the same amount every time, rain or shine, day or night, jam or not.You can check the price to your destination from their Pricemap before requesting for a taxi.

With competition from firms such as Uber, Sasa Cabs, Rocket Internet’s Easy Taxi, Pewin Cabs among others, Maramoja transport differentiates themselves from their competitors through their social trust model, which Jason notes “marks the beginning of a new era of taxi app and sharing economy in general – one that reflects culture rather than inflaming it. They also go well beyond their relationship-based matching of clients to drivers, with strict credential checking and integration with private security emergency response capabilities.

Early last year, Maramoja Transport applied for PIVOT East, East Africa’s premier mobile startups pitching competition and conference which was held on 24th – 25th June at Panari Hotel. The company was selected as one of the finalists in the competition in the utilities category. They emerged the 1st runners up of the competition in the utilities category.The startup was also a semifinalist at the 1776 Nairobi Challenge Cup.

The company has grown over time in terms of the team, with  the number of users and drivers growing in the high double digits week on week. The startup received an angel investment last October and will be starting a new round of fundraising very soon. The company has many great partnerships with taxi firms, lifestyle brands, security services, and other tech companies, all Kenyan firms.They will be rolling out all these integrations in the next few months!

Maramoja application works across all smartphone platforms as well as from your desktop/laptop. You can download their Android App here. For more information on the company, visit their website, like them on facebook and follow them on twitter @MM_Nrb






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