5 lessons from the tro-tro entrepreneur

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Hi there,

I am listening to this song by Eminen ( one of my all time favorite artists in 1st lane). Some where in the song he is rapping about rides, which is related to what I blog about today.

I am from Ghana. A nation where everyone is aiming to be successful. One sure avenue is to be an entrepreneur. So, we have entrepreneurs with good and bad ideas, and that does not exclude me.

To carry these enterpreneurs from one place to another, the common transport medium is the tro-tro . These tro-tros are the mini buses which are the most widely used public transportation option for the masses in Ghana. It is the equivalent of a Danfo in Nigeria.

I would briefly highlight on the entrepreneurial analogies between the tro-tro workers ( or in this case co-founders ) and startup entrepreneurs.


Companies are formed the same way like the tro-tro co-founders. Just like the startup founders, the driver and a mate come together to provide a utility, in this case it is public transportation.

Similarly to startup founders there is no prescribed attire to wear when doing the task.

The driver and mate have a clear monitization model. They intend making money by charging a fee for each person they convey. Thats it!

Comparisons of the roles the to the startup ecosystem

Driver – 1st co-founder

Mate – 2nd co-founder

Passengers – clients

Other mini buses – the competition

Lesson 1 : The driver cannot do it alone

The driver needs to drive and keep his attention solely on the road. Whenever I see the rare instances of a driver with no mate, I conclude that

  • he doesn’t like to share else

  • he has issues with potential mates.

Consequently, I take the realistic decision that driving with him would just unnecessarily place my life in danger since he would do doing two jobs at once. That is driving and collecting the fee. No please thank you very much. I happen to like my life at this time.

In the same way the driver cannot do it alone, every startup founder needs a co-founder. Its something I have come to truly believe. I don’t believe in one man businesses. In those situations,

  • there is no accountablity

  • no help

  • slow progreess

  • only one source of ideas

  • quick fatigue for the founder

  • only one source of funds

Oh look at me, I forgot to tell you all about the mate’s duties. What makes him so darn special. Well this is what the mate does;

  • Call out to passengers ( To the startup that is comparable to getting users )

  • Clean up the tro-tro for work ( To the startup that is to get everything organized like the office needed to work in )

  • Collect the fees ( to the startup that is receive payments from clients )

  • Give clients back their change ( to the startup that is to be accountable to users )

  • Work with driver to alight passengers at their bus stops ( to the startup that is to deliver on the promised good or service )

  • Be the working companion to the driver ( to the startup founder , cover up in areas where the other founders are lacking )

Traditionally the role of the mate has been a male dominated profession. However, I have seen a few women quite recently take up that mantle ( Remembering the Bejin conference ).

And I also been pleased to see the competition by some mates. Traditional as I already mentioned mates would just wear any attire. Its not where you expect to see them in a suit and tie. Just recently I saw one dressed in an office suit and tie. One that day its was one sure way to rope in lots of passengers for that tro-tro.

Of course the drivers duties should come as no surprise to you.

Driver’s duties

  • The leader ( someone has to lead in the startup)

  • Drive the car and be focused on the road ( he has one role and one role only. Get his team to the promised destination)

  • Get the car in shape ( get all the essentials for the company to work)

For this collaboration to work there has to be symphony between the two men ( Excuse me, it could be women too ) Fighting between the driver and the mate is a big no no.

The temperaments of the different kinds of drivers and mates ( and startup founders should be adjusted to and managed ). There are the cool and hot tempered.

The temperaments of the driver and mate unintentionally are transferred to the passengers. For example if the mate asks for the fare in an aggressive tone, then the passenger is more than likely to respond in a similar tone of voice. In the same way, the way startup founders try users is the kind of treatment they should expect to get from them.

Lesson 2: There is lots of competition ( as expected )

The sheer number of mini buses is staggering. And interestingly enough they don’t deter new entrants so the pool gets larger and larger. It seems nobody is afraid of competition. It especially shows in how aggressive the mates are when trying to get passengers to come to their buses

Still, no one wants to sit in an empty tro-tro. People always want to see a few people before they commit to joining. Its the same way with startups. Nobody wants to be the first to try out a product. They only want to be one of many to enjoy its benefits.

So what some tro-tros do is to get other people. Lets call them a temporary employee to sit in the bus. That gives the false impression that there are already a few people in the bus. When several others ( that is actual passengers) have now joined the tro-tro these people now come out of the bus.

For startups depending on the product, there can be a zillion ways to give confidence to your potential clients. The most common way I can think of are testimonials.

Another tactic is to get these temporary hires to act as assistant mates and call out for more passengers. They do this to drown out the competition. In startups that like getting more sales persons out on the field.

If all these maneuvers do not show how hungry the independent drives are to reach their goals then, their aggressiveness even for one passenger tells the whole story.

Lesson 3: Treat your customers well

The atmosphere of the ride is controlled by the driver and mate. its a strange thing. I have sat in a car where the mate seems to be very educated in how he comported himself and spoke to the passengers, etc.
I have also sat in rides where the mates where plain rude. There is a saying if you throw a ball against the wall it bounces back to you. Whatever you do, expect it to be reciprocated and in equal measure. That is exactly what happens. Mates in the serene rides behaved well, and those in the rude rides become equally aggressive.

Startup founders control the environment in which they work in. if you want repeat business, then treat your customers well. Nothing sells you as much as referrals from clients.

Lesson 4: Use use the skills you have in the most useful way

Every body needs to commute. Its seen daily. There are people who other than knowing how to read and write can drive too. Putting two and two together, they realize in order to feed their families the next most logical thing to do is to drive.

With startup founders they have knowledge in domain circles or industries that would profit other enormously. Put that to use for people who want that. It might take a while to present it in the most beneficial manner to potential clients, but I have no doubt that you will get it right.

Lesson 5: Long work hours

Startup founders work hard and non stop. And usually it doesn’t stop after the rewards start trickling in.

Just in the same way the routine for the driver and mate is to drive, return to the station wait their turn and drive again. They start as early as 4am for early commuters and as late as 12 for late commuters( I have been one of those late walkers myself ).

Its a good trait for startup founders everywhere to have. Hard work pays.

So until the next time be free to share our own tro-tro experiences. Time to catch the next bus. Cheers!

Anthony Eli Agbenu would love to get in touch
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