Blogging about tech startups is like being at a non-stop food-tasting event, sampling grub made by totally random chefs whose cooking credentials are questionable. You find yourself trying out all kinds weird stuff that you could never make in your own kitchen. The associated risk that comes with these tastings is that you don’t know which will make you go “mmmm….”, or which will make you go “bleaargh!!!”.
Trouble is, with Nigerian apps and things, one finds themselves going “bleaargh!!!” a lot.
Endure that long enough, and you become jaded. “Unimpressed” becomes your default mode. You train yourself to stop being surprised by crap. To expect crap, actually.
That is why it is always a revelation to me when a Nigerian app/service/web platform works as advertised, the first time. Always. It is nigh orgasmic. It’s happened a couple of times since I’ve been trying all kinds of Nigerian apps and web platforms. Last Saturday, it happened when I used a service called Taxi Park for the first time.
While it was the first time I would actually book a cab via Taxi Park, it wasn’t my first encounter with the service. The first time I encountered Taxi Park was in 2012, on the Silicon Africa Facebook group. Ironically, I quickly dismissed it as crud at the time. Partly because it was being pitched by one of its founders, whose SMS/BBM style of writing made him seem barely literate. And partly because the interface of the their site at the time didn’t exactly inspire confidence. Right off the bat, they were asking for my phone number, and I remember thinking “hey I just got here, the fuck do you want my phone number for?”. It didn’t help that their about page was blank. And the system was spitting out funny distance/time estimates and crazily high fares. I concluded they were clowns and moved on.
Then last Saturday, I had to go to Banana Island, and I didn’t know how to get there. When I asked Chuka, he told me to get a cab — then he specifically told me to get it with Taxi Park. I was first like “ooookaaay”…but I decided that it wouldn’t hurt to try.
By this time, they had done a total revamp of their UI/UX. Gone was the brazen demand for my phone number. Instead, the interface had two simple fields overlaid on Google maps that got right to the point of why I’d come here in the first place –where I was, and where I would like to go.
It’s important to say that I was already aware of these cosmetic improvements, and even found them interesting enough to have reached out to one of the founders for a chat not up to two weeks ago. But I hadn’t gotten around to using it yet…didn’t even know if I would…so the bad first impression still lingered.
Ten minutes later, it had disappeared. In its place, there was now excitement.
The booking process was flawless. The fields auto-suggested my pickup and drop-off points. The cab prices looked reasonable. NOW, I didn’t mind putting in my number, and email address to boot, because I had obviously gotten to the point where I was finally ready to book a cab.
Not two minutes later, I got a call to confirm my booking. Five minutes after that, I’d received my driver’s details. The polite, yet personable driver arrived thirty minutes early and took me to and from Banana Island in a fully air-conditioned uncoloured Taxi. The whole thing cost me N5k. But most important of all…
It. Fucking. Worked.
I’m not going to write a full review of Taxi Park because the effects of that first great experience haven’t quite worn off, and I fear it it will come out too gushy. Plus I’d have to use it many more times to make sure it wasn’t a one-off…a fluke. Still I’ve come away with an appreciation of how much work they must have had to do…all the unseen legwork that comes with brokering relationships with Taxi companies, in Nigeria no less, and then connecting them to Nigerian humans who don’t mind paying a premium to be driven in comfort. All those “Nigerian” qualifiers are instructive, by the way. Taxi Park is building something awesome, and you should watch out for them.
But I’ve learnt something else from that experience. If you are maniacal about making that first encounter an awesome, on top of the world, mega, blown out of their boots, delightful experience for the user, over time you will find that you have accumulated a horde of unrepentant voltrons who will go so far as to make excuses for you on the odd times you mess up. It doesn’t matter what you have to do or whom you have to beg, bribe or kill to make it happen — whenever you do manage to get someone to use your product, make certain to blow their minds the very first time.
In my case, a great first experience with Taxi Park managed to obliterate a not so great first impression. But it was sheer serendipity that Chuka would make me try the service. Often, that first impression is the only chance you’ll ever get. Try not to fuck it up.
I’ll say it again. Make that first taste count. Always blow their minds the very first time.