5 Business Lessons From Kombis

if you like articles about the different business lessons from all sorts of situations you can also read our article on 3 business lessons from Prostitutes.

Well obviously writing etiquette means I have to enable the readers who have no idea what a Kombi. Kombi is the term we have kept for our deathtrap (and sometimes not so deathtrap) commuter omnibus vehicles which usually are caravans or minivans. They are popular for ruling the road, going the wrong direction in one-way streets, setting up ranks wherever they feel like and being the biggest contributors to Zimbabwean motor insurance company revenues since everyone fears a kombi will pull a fast one on them. Needlessly to say, the 5 Business lessons from Kombis are mostly what you shouldn’t do because they do it. Business role models right?

1. Treat The Customer The Same Before and After They Pay

Too often with kombis you are the most valuable customer in the world before you get in and before you pay. By the time you get to your destination you’re no different from a sack of potatoes they were ferrying as a favour to cousin Tonderai who still owes them money from last year’s wedding contributions. They will reverse to come pick you up, even carry your bags to the kombi (great service right?). The minute your second foot is the car, the driver speeds off leaving you to tumble onto a free seat but not before stepping on a few feet or landing on some ladies bosom. When it’s time to get off they hardly care if they drop you off half a kilometre after your intended stop because they couldn’t hear you shouting it over the loud music. It’s not their fault you have a tiny voice they say.

The saddest thing is that most Zimbabwean businesses are run this way. We lose value to the client the more we stay in their vicinity and the more we do business with them. It shouldn’t be like that! To the Zimbabwean startup, I would encourage us to usher in a new era of business. After all, the best business comes from word of mouth referrals and all the advertising in the world may fail to save your brand if it now has the mushika shika image.

2. Don’t use customer resources for business

We’ve all see this happen. When we are late to work or to an appointment no doubt as well. You board the kombi at a rank, it drives a little over a kilometre and the conductor asks for his bus fare; the minute he has it all, the kombi does a stunt driver sharp turn into the nearest service station. Now you’re all in there, hot and bothered, watching them pay for fuel with the busfare you just paid. It’s the sort of thing that gets you wondering they didn’t fuel up in the whole hour they were in the bus rank queue and why they had to wait for your money. What type of business is this. Small chatter starts about how the economy will never be corrected if such businesses exist. Sadly for Zimbabwe business, this is not unique to kombis; an estate agent once told me that they would fix the flat I wanted to go into with my deposit money. Yeah, I rolled my eyes so far back the Undertaker would be jealous.

Doing business this way seems to work for a lot. The truth is that you will never get great business if you operate this way. Pricing is highly linked to brand; the shittier your brand seems, the less a customer is willing to pay. You lose all bargaining power when you lack professionalism because clients start thinking they are doing you a favour. If you want to move from $0.50 pork pie lunches then change the way you do business and watch the business you do change for the better.


3. Outsourcing Can Be Helpful

Most kombis have touts who come and get people to board the kombi while the driver and conductor have sadza at a mobile food truck in some corner of the rank. Even these guys understand that even if you can, you don’t have to do everything yourself. As startups, we tend to burn ourselves out trying to do everything by ourselves. Bootstrapping needs to be a balance of saving money and keeping yourself energized for the long run.


I’m not going to pretend to understand the concept of hwindis. For those who don’t know, hwindi is the term used for rank touts. You know, the guys screaming where the kombi is going even though in most cases there is a sign right above them and one by the kombi window that says where it’s going. These guys get paid for getting kombis to fill up. I always thought people go to bus to go and board the transport but maybe it’s just me. The rest of the country would probably be stuck at the rank not knowing what to do.

4. Be careful when you pick your team

We’ve seen the different two – man combinations in kombis. The Older-guy-younger-guy combination, The rastas combination – always in conversation sync and giving you dancehall CARaoke (see what I did there?) and the sibling combination – always fighting. There are plenty of these combinations, I have been in several kombis where I see the owner being fleeced, revenues being shared. Sometimes you hear the stories of the fake breakdowns used to get the owner to send them money.

The point is if you don’t pick your team well when you’re starting out you set yourself up for a fall. Make sure you have a team that is keen on achieving the same goals as you and shares the same values. The team always decides the direction and the level of success that you can achieve.

5. Don’t make deadlines based on another person’s input

Once there is the input of a third party involved always make sure that you underpromise; this way you are cushioned. I have learned this so many times with kombis, when you are late they chose to take the long route, the stop a lot more and they decide to fuel up twice. So now you know that you can’t make a time-based promise if you are taking public transport. In the same way, you cant make any promises in your business based on expectations of third parties. People disappoint, that’s what they do very well. To avoid disappointing your customers you should always be as candid as possible and not make promises that do not rest entirely on you.


Business Blunder

For the greater part, the way kombis run their businesses is the perfect case study for business blunders and how not to operate. You could practically almost just look at them and do the opposite of what they do. Our key takeout should be that we can get business lessons from almost anything around us, the key is just to use the right eyes. Let us continuously learning, continuously improving. #kaizenYOU

You can also read our article about business lessons from Prostitutes


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