I started a taxi business after retiring from teaching
From snide remarks from matatu drivers to young clients who want her to drive above the speed limit, 55-year-old Jelly Kanini Mugiira has seen it all in her business Jelly Taxi Services in Watamu, Malindi in Kilifi County.
She tells us what inspired her to start the venture and how she remained resilient and succeeded in an industry considered male dominated.
I was born in Chuka town, then in the larger Meru, and now in Tharaka Nithi County. I am a daughter to a loving single mum (widow), the first born in a family of five-three sisters and two brothers- and a mother of three (though one is late).
I have two daughters aged 31 and 20 and a grandson aged 4. Professionally, I am a trained teacher and hold a Diploma in Early Childhood Education.
For about five years, I used to drive a school van. My work revolved around picking students early in the morning and dropping them at school. In the evenings, I would pick them and drop them at their various destinations.
After doing that job for a long time, I realised time was moving on fast and waking up early was becoming a challenge. I used to wake up as early as 4am. Suddenly, an idea struck my mind.
I thought to myself, why don’t I venture into taxi business since it will fit my age and I really loved driving which is less tiresome.
What happened next:
I chose to focus on taxi business since I couldn’t go back to teaching having retired from it, yet I still needed money to put bread and butter on the table and educate my daughter who is currently in university.
Since Watamu town has a lot of tourists, I thought the taxi business would be the most appropriate income generating activity for me.
I purchased a vehicle by paying a deposit of Sh750,000 to the dealer and remaining balance of Sh300,000 was paid in installment. I then created pages for my business on Facebook, Instagram and a Trip Advisor. I get most of my clients through the Trip Advisor page.
My target clients are tourists, local and international. I then started sourcing for clients online, marketing my business through my siblings, friends and selling my business in hotels through the visits I made.
I also printed out business cards which I could give to potential clients and could also make trips to the beaches and approach tourists who wanted taxi services.
Running a startup:
It has not been easy working in a male-dominated field because most men feel that drivers should only be ‘men’ and the woman’s place is in the kitchen and taking care of children.
They feel threatened when they see a daring, confident woman full of courage and doing what she loves best. Sometimes they insult, mock and bully you but I have learnt to survive through that harshness because I know what I want.
The male drivers find it hard to have a female driver among themselves because most white tourists prefer female drivers since they are used to seeing and interacting with them in their countries of origin.
Mostly, I get couples with their children and parents who want their girls driven by a female driver for security purposes. I rarely get young men as clients because they want to be driven at a high speed which I cannot since I use the government recommended speed of 80km per hour.
The greatest challenge I face every day in my line of work is being bullied on the roads by matatu drivers. Some will make statements such as “Mama ondoa gari barabarani” or “Kanyonyeshe watoto”. All these harsh statements are meant to intimidate you and if you are not strong enough you can easily give up.
Bodaboda riders also pose a challenge on the roads since they are reckless. Another challenge is when I have to pick and drop clients at odd hours such as 4am. When you are all alone without knowing what will happen next in case you may need to change a wheel or experience any other mechanical problem.
Traffic jams in the busy city of Mombasa also interfere with my schedules. There are times when there are flight delays yet you have another drop or pick-up to make.
All these challenges revolve around my line of work and it has just been a matter of remaining strong and determined to get to where I am now.
Where I am now:
I may not have achieved much but I thank God that I am progressing well since people have started knowing about me and appreciating the services I offer in just four years. Currently, I drive a Toyota Sienta which is a seven-seater.
I am trusting God for a bigger van (Toyota Hiace) because sometimes clients come in a group and usually need a big vehicle. I would also like to expand my fleet of taxis so that I can work with young women who have passion in this area.
Some of the memorable moments in my line of work is when I do transfers either from the airport or the standard gauge railway for second time clients who are very friendly.
Sometimes we engage in interesting conversations which help me to love and appreciate my job even more. The clients then write a good review on my Trip Advisor page or facebook page. Their recommendations make me feel humbled and encouraged, and attract other clients.
I like it when I transfer clients for the first time and they call back for me to pick them again which means they liked my services. When I drive my clients and they appreciate my driving skills, it makes me happy.
For every upcoming female entrepreneur, love what you do and put all your effort in it. Focus and build your confidence. Personally, I admire some female entrepreneurs such as Akothee of Akothee Transfers and Caroline Gikunda of Alpha Charlie.
They are women who are in male dominated fields yet they do it well. They have done their work courageously without fear. They believe in themselves and inspire thousands of women.
Whatever you aspire to do, do it with confidence, courage and faith that you will reach your target. Don’t let fear rule your thoughts but replace fear with faith. Believe in yourself and know that what men can do, a woman can do it better. Be a go-getter. Above all, put God first and everything will move on well.
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