6 Business hacks from Lagos Danfo drivers

By  |  January 17, 2023

The Lagos PMS (petrol) crises is bitting hard for more than 2weeks and it seems like there is no going back to the old pump price of #171 Naira after this. Either way, one still has to give it to government who somehow are succeeding in easing Nigerians into the inevitable deregulation era which feels closer than ever. If you live in Lagos, you must have observed the withdrawal of BRT buses in their numbers which has left commuters at the mercy of the true kings of Lagos roads- the dreaded Danfos.

Notorious as Danfos may seem, they represent a fading back bone of road transportation in Lagos. The doggedness of these well-engineered but aged Volkswagen Transporter buses is true to their German origin. However, the viability of this transport business model rides on high population growth and heavy reliance on road transportation for mass movement of people and goods in Lagos.

There is a lot to loathe about these buses and their nasty drivers, but according to Nigerian Tribune in 2021, the Lagos state government generated 125billion Naira from these transporters, which is testament to the viability of this business. Having been driven in these buses and on the outside, gotten a few side bumper bumps by these buses, I have somewhat unintentionally understudied their unique business model and uncovered a few unscripted business hacks employed by these road renegades Lagos can’t seem to do without. Below are six of them.

Hack 1: Understand the market

On one occasion in a Danfo bus, a rather chatty driver for no reason began to give insights about the best times to work and his asserted position coincided with the regular peak periods in Lagos; nothing new right? Interestingly, he went futher to state that on an average he makes twice as much working 4hours in the morning or in the evening hours than he makes working 8hours between 10am to 5pm. The reason for this being higher demand and higher pricing during these peak hours.

Now fully armed with this new information, he stopped working during the day and focused on working only during peak periods and late at night. The simple point here is that in any business area, a crisp understanding the market forces, supply, demand and market preferences is very key to succeed in business.

Hack 2: Know your onions and the stakeholders

Probably except on very stringent tax force implementation days, Danfo drivers always seem friendly and in sync with law enforcement agencies. They literally get away with things that private vehicle owners won’t even dare to attempt. Initially I felt it was about their rude brassiness, but overtime I have come to understand that these guys manage and engage their stakeholders off and on the road.

Beyond this, they know traffic rules (and when to break them) and most importantly, they know how to drive (but choose to drive crazy willfully). Lastly, if you have ever witnessed a scuttle involving erring Danfo drivers, the ease at which they fall flat on the floor to beg gives an insight to how deliberate they are about wiggling their way out of trouble (even if it means feigning humility).

That said, in any business you find yourself, don’t assume anything, go beyond finding out the key stakeholders of your business and strike up relationships with them possibly even prior to starting. Be intentional about creating a network of people that align with your business and bear in mind that to keeping these relationships waxing strong is a give and take.

Warning: This isn’t a tacit prompt to indulge in bribery or corruption.

Hack 3: Leverage on O.P.O “other people’s money” to grow and sustain

This happens in two ways for Danfo drivers. Firstly, when they acquire their mobility assets via hire purchase arrangements leveraging on 3rd party capital injection. The second one is taking payment of fares before actual movement or early in transit to buy fuel or diesel for same trip.

Either way, its important in business to uncover legitimate ways to leverage on external cash injection to keep operations smooth and even grow your business. To put it simply, that much needed capital injection must not always come from years or months of saving.

Hack 4: Grow steady and don’t skip growth stages

Skipping growth stages is tantamount to missing out on critical learning experiences that may come right back to bite. Many Danfo drivers are employers and investors in their own right with strings of Danfo buses on their balance sheets, however one unique story common with a handful of them is how they started first as bus conductors.

So don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty learning! For instance, out of pure necessity and more than 4years doing furniture business, I had to go back and learn furniture upholstery which was an apparent step I skipped in becoming a furniture manufacturer.

Hack 5: Attract your target market with smart promotions and advertisements

Winking in the dark is an exercise in futility, also people seeing your wink isn’t always enough to sell per time in a competitive space. So how do crude Danfo drivers get by? They stretch their vocal cords announcing their destinations and fares. When this doesn’t work, they ‘shadow’ passengers by changing vehicle positions to be more visible and court the most attention.

Another trick is a false sense of urgency and fear of the unknown instilled by Danfo drivers or conductors who paint a picture of offering the best time-bound deals. The last trick is charging the first set of passengers a lower fare to keep them seated while they use a fairly loaded bus to promise other customers that they will leave earlier than others buses if they board at a higher fare.

Hack 6: Optimize Business Assets and human capital

A typical Danfo bus works 16-19hours a day, however danfo drivers work typically 6-10hours on a strict shift schedule (meaning you have 2 -3 drivers per Danfo bus). How barely educated individuals have mastered this shift work system makes me wonder why a lot of corporate businesses drag their feet when it comes to optimizing business assets and workforce. Even in the age of remote work post COVID-19, you still have Nigerian businesses adamant about embracing remote work for certain roles. Totally beats me, but i will not digress from the topic at hand I promise!

In conclusion know your business, the people and your assets and be deliberate about creating a system that will ensure maximum profitability via smart optimization of key assets and human capital, but not at the expense of culture and/or larger vision.

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