I FIND the Gautrain fascinating.
To me it highlights a lot about the opportunities which exist in South Africa, but like many entrepreneurial ventures, I feel the company is missing a trick or two.
I think we all agree the service itself is both sorely needed and world class. The operators rolled it out simply, with a single line which basically connected the airport and Sandton. They had one product, easy to understand and easy to educate people around, and people used it – a nice lesson on its own for would-be entrepreneurs.
Adding other lines to places like Pretoria will materially change the way South Africans move between these two cities. Again – get a system working right and replicate it.
One should also remember the innovative education drive and use of tools like Twitter and Facebook in the ramp-up stage to get people talking about the service.
How many of you were nervous when you walked into the station and tried to purchase your first card? Wasn't it useful when you had the friendly ticket consultants to help you buy one, or to know that your friends and family had used theirs with no problems?
It helps when people are walked through your process – when they have done it once, it quickly becomes second nature.
As a budding entrepreneur, how much time do you build into your business model to accommodate walking somebody through your service and helping them over that first hurdle of actually transacting with you?
When it comes to pricing, anecdotal feedback would suggest the Gautrain is expensive, especially once you have taken parking into consideration. Unless you are being dropped off, you have to build this into your fare.Bad busing
With the increases announced this week, I personally think the service will take a step backward unless the company shows some value-add. I understand it is a business, but short-term profit making may be eating into longer-term customer adoption.
This brings me to the buses, which I think have been a neglected part of the Gautrain strategy. The whole idea behind the Gautrain is to change the way South Africans move around, so that they will be less dependent on cars.
To change that mindset, though, you need to have support infrastructure that will encourage people to leave their wheels at home.
For me the Gautrain team has done far less here to encourage this aspect of the business. Half the time I have no idea how much money I have on my card, so I'm worried about actually using the bus in case I get there and realise I don’t have any money on it. Why not make the bus service free and collect information about which routes are the most popular?
How many of you have small businesses with parts that float around like empty Gautrain buses? By not having a plan for them, they are eating into your money and not contributing to your overall strategy.
The Gautrain is a fascinating entrepreneurial story on its own. If you are planning to run an early stage business, think a bit about what it is doing smartly or what you could be doing better - it might give you some ideas for your own venture.