Day 220: Nailing Kibo Motorcycle Pitch
The Kibo 150cc motorcycle seemed perfect for the Dice Travels journey in Africa. Photo: Kibo
I'm late to a meeting.
I'm late to a meeting, because I am perpetually late to important meetings.
The first Uber taxi I hailed from my phone canceled after I was unable to explain to him where Karen Camp was located.
David, the second taxi driver, is on the line.
“Listen, I don't have time to explain. I'm running late to an important meeting. It's called Karen Camp, please use your GPS,” I say into the phone, expecting to see him cancel the trip shortly after the conversation.
He arrives at 8:15 am. I need to be at the Kibo motorcycle factory in Embakasi, behind the Tuskys Supermarket, about 40 minutes away. The meeting with Alvin, the operations manager for the startup company, was scheduled for 8:30am. I've already sent him an email to apologize for being late.
Landing a deal with Kibo is a long shot, a very long shot. A month ago, I'd never heard of the company; why would have I?
However, with the slogan: Holland Designed. Made in Kenya. Built for Africa – the 150cc Kibo flagship model sounded perfect for Dice Travels.
The start-up brand is pushing what they claim is the first bike designed and built to meet the needs of those on the road in Africa.
“ Kibo is an innovative Kenyan brand that seeks to provide safe and reliable mobility for all, from the base of the socioeconomic pyramid to the growing middle class, private individuals, micro entrepreneurs and all organizations,” it's website claims.
If Michael, a high school classmate who's now working for the US Embassy in Nairobi, wasn't helping me sort out a bike I'd never have heard of the brand. Several attempts to contact the company through their website went unanswered. However, Michael was able to dig his Kibo contact's business card up – his secretary had thrown away half of his business cards.
The letter of introduction he wrote was above and beyond.
“I also wanted to connect you with a friend of mine Isaac who will be traveling through Kenya and East Africa and does travel photography, filming, and blogging. He previously was the managing editor at a news daily in Thailand.,” part of it read.
The reply was cold as ice – I did mention Kibo is a long shot, right? Bob blanked me completely, in an attempt to gain Michael's ear about another budding project, this one entirely focused on the agricultural industry in Kenya.
I followed up.
I followed up again, and was passed off to Alvin.
“Could you please let me consult with the relevant stakeholders and I will get back with you as soon as possible,” Alvin writes.
I could not think of a more diplomatic way to tell someone you're not interested.
Two days ago, I followed up. After five years of working in media and helping out with sales, I've learned that it's all about follow-up:
I've landed in Nairobi and managed to get my drone through custom's -- so that's a good start. I'm starting to look into what bike I'll set myself up with for the rest of the Dice Travels trip, and wanted to know if you'd heard back from your stakeholders. If you or your PR and media manager are available, I'd be delight to sit down and talk about how we can work together.
Last night, I was supposed to take the night bus to Mobasa, then up to Kilifi to meet Mrs Meat's friends for the Christmas holiday.
Thankfully, it wasn't a dice dictated decision, as an unexpected email arrived in my my inbox from Alvin:
Hope all is well.
Is it possible for you to stop by the plant tomorrow morning so that we can have more clarity on this opportunity?
This is the meeting to which I am late.
Kibo means “hippo” in Swahili. Nearly a decade ago, I was studying abroad in Ghana when I came to terms with the fact that a wallowing hippopotamus was my power animal.
“What is a power animal?” you ask. You are not alone, as it seems like every bullshit sort of conversation, where I bring it up, just for fun, I end up facing that question.
Unfortunately, my explanation is so wishy-washy that I probably couldn't convince a stoned white girl with dreads sitting in a circle of crystals and candles that I know what I'm talking about.
The explanation ends up being some babble about Native Americans, which I don't think is factually correct at all, and a person's spirit being linked to a specific animal, like a patronus in Harry Potter.
When I was 19 years old and working M&J hostel in Rome, it was explained to me that hippos were one of the must dangerous animals in Africa. Chill, up to a breaking point, they suddenly became nimble, fast and deadly creatures. Lugi, the twin brother of the guy who directly managed the hostel, Mario – I kid you not – was called “The Hippo”. They were part of mafia-connected family, and Lugi a rotund man with small, rectangle-framed sunglasses was in charge.
After going from my faithful Rocinante (a Honda CB500X) to the poor Donkey (a 110cc Honda Wind), it only seemed appropriate that I ride a Hippo through Africa.
The Kibo bike is reasonably priced at about 3,000 USD + VAT. However, with only about 4,000 dollars left for the entire trip, buying a Kibo was out of the question.
An exceptionally tall guard in a baggy blue uniform slides open the gate to a factory complex.
About six of Kibo bikes sit out front. The stripped down, mat black bikes with multi-purpose tires are sexy. They look like they're built for Africa.
Inside the warehouse, I sign a guest book, before being brought into a meeting room upstairs. I take a corner seat at the long table, placing the my drone backpack on the table, my laptop bag next to me.
Alvin comes in first, his female colleague coming in moments later. I stand and shake his hand. I don't know why, but I keep expecting people to be white when I know them only by name. It must be the use of Western names that's throwing me.
Alvin is a heavyset man with big, soft hands that reminds me a bit of Cello Green. His colleague is a beautiful woman with incredibly large, round eyes and thick braids that have a maroon weave coloring them.
“Maybe you can give us a better idea of what your thinking,” Alvin says.
I launch into the pitch with honesty and enthusiasm, first explaining what Dice Travels is all about.
Basically, I would provide drone footage of their motorcycle in iconic locations in Eastern Africa.
“Including places like Victoria Falls. Now, I do understand that adventure riders aren't your main target market. I see that your bigger markets are motorbike taxi drivers and farmers. So what we can do is even get them on the bike and I can get drone footage of that. I'm in no rush, so if I end up somewhere and we want to let the farmers use the bike for whatever they need it for to show off its carrying capacity of 250kg, I'm happy to stick around and do that,” I say.
I open up drone bag and pull out Dorsey II as a prop.
“So, I recently upgraded from the Phantom 3 to the Phantom 4, which means we can shoot in 4k now. Or, if we want to shoot in 1080, we can take 120 frames per second and get some sick slow-motion shots,” I say.
Alvin's colleague, whose name slipped my mind immediately, gives a subtle smile as I start digging out the numbers for their social media outlets in comparison to Dice Travels': they have about twice as many followers on Facebook; I wasn't able to find them on Instagram.
“It's the same name as Facebook,” she says.
“Perfect, I'll check it out tonight.”
Last night, I went ahead and started following them on Facebook and Twitter.
The pitch is going perfectly. Alvin isn't jumping out of his seat, but he's interested, very interested.
Several times he attempts to move the conversation toward my “contacts” at the US Embassy. Unlocking that gate and pushing US-funded NGOs toward Kibo instead of a more expensive 200cc Yamaha would be a huge break in the market for them.
“So you work closely with the US Embassy?” he asks.
I'd been steering the conversation away from this particular avenue of conversation as much as possible, but there's no avoiding it now.
“No, not really. My contact is an old, good high school friend,” I say, bending the truth a little. Michael and I were classmates and have become closer since his visit to Phuket a couple years ago, but as far as I can remember – not that my memory is anything spectacular – we didn't hangout after classes together.
Alvin is slightly disappointed, but seems hopeful that I will still be able to open doors for Kibo.
I explain that I've avoided corporate sponsors – stickers on the bike – because of the certain responsibility that come with protecting a brand's image. So the Dice Travel's project is separate from what I would be providing Kibo, though I will be repackaging the writing for trip reports on motorcycle forums, such as Adventure Riders, Horizons Unlimited and Wild Dogs.
“This is all very interesting. It's very good. I think the elephant in the room though is the servicing. The bike needs to be serviced every 2,000 and 5,000 kilometers. We're looking at expanding beyond Kenya, but right now it's limited. If something went wrong in Uganda, we'd have to send a service man and spare parts all the way out there to fix the bike,” he explains.
“How long would it take to train someone to service the bike?”
“Someone who has serviced other bikes, maybe a week.”
“Well, I don't know how you would feel about this, but I'd be willing to spend the necessary time to learn how to service the bike. This way, if there are any issues, I'll have spare parts with me and can manage the situation. It would also be better to have the knowledge when I'm showing the bike to people.”
“That would be ideal. Have you serviced other bikes before,” Alvin hopefully asks.
“No, not really,” I say, missing the chance to explain what work I can do on a bike. Though, later in the conversation, I am able to mention that the bottom third of my backpack is full of motorcycle parts and tools.
“Now I'm looking at this from a commercial perspective, how can you open up doors to NGOs for us, as they are also a large target market,” he asks, putting me on the spot.
There is a moment of silence as my mind scrambles for an answer.
“Well, I think there are two approaches,” I say, unsure if I there are two approaches, but feeling that options are a good thing.
“I could stop over at NGOs to show them the bike and maybe volunteer for a week or so, letting them use the bike. Then, we can arrange it so the drone footage shot at the NGO goes directly to you, allowing you to leverage the footage as promotional material when working with the specific client.
“Yeah, I think that would probably be the best way to do it,” I say.
As things are winding down, Alvin points out the Kibo has jackets, pants and helmets, as safety is one of their top concerns.
“Nice, I've actually got all my riding gear with me. I don't know if you guys noticed, but these riding boots I'm wearing are huge,” I say, pointing out the portion of the outfit I'm most insecure about. Last night, I'd messaged Michael to see if I should be going out to get dress shoes, a button down shirt and slacks, instead of my beige safari shirt, black cargo pants and motorcycle boots.
I'd already decided that I'd go with what I had, but I needed the confidence booster from Michael – say what you like, but looks are incredibly important when your pitching. Though it wasn't the professional look I'd developed in Phuket – I occasionally show'd up to the office in a three-piece suit for no particular reason – the outfit seemed to fit the role I'm playing on this trip.
I stand up to shake Alvin and his colleague's hand. He's going to talk to his boss in Amsterdam, ahead of a meeting with the PR group Green Space. I'm to expect a Skype call tomorrow, so I can fill in any blanks for the big guy.
“Call your Uber. While you wait, we'll get you on a bike,” Alvin says.
Down in the garage, he introduces me to the head mechanic, who's resetting the engine timer on a bike that's hit the 14,000km mark.
“I know you'll do well,” he tells the mechanic, who then starts to explain exactly what he's doing with the bike to reset the timer. It's fascinating and pretty straight forward, there's so much room to work on the bike's engine.
“I'll let you drive the bike I ride,” the mechanic says, leading me outside. “Down one for first gear, then up for neutral, second, third, fourth and fifth.”
The engine quietly hums between my legs as I shift around on the endro-style seat, which is much more narrow than what I'm use to riding on.
Down the strip of road inside the complex, I get up to fourth gear before hitting the brakes and standing up. It's lovely. Weaving between drainage grates as if they are cones, it's possible to feel how responsive the bike is.
I turn around again.
“Keep riding until your taxi gets here,” the mechanic says, watching me drive, a huge, approving smile on his face.
I feel like he sees me as an experienced motorcyclist, which I guess at this point isn't too far off the mark. I play more and more on the bike, leaning into the little curves as I carve the peaks and troughs of a sound wave into the pavement.
Back at Karen Camp, I'm hit by a wave of exhaustion.
Excited about he meeting last night, I didn't sleep much – and pitches always drain me. I use to exhausted after running the weekly editorial meetings at the Phuket Gazette – they always seemed to be a performance where I was continuously drawing the crowd into the stage with me.
At least the performance went well. Though I wasn't going to have a celebratory Tusker beer yet, I could already see the Kibo and I cruising through Africa.