I’ve heard it said that there’s nothing new under the sun. There’s even a book that claims there are only 36 dramatic situations; these 36 are used in different combinations to write all stories. For someone who makes a living from writing, the prospect is pretty depressing.
An article I read recently suggests that originality is not about the idea, it’s about how you present it. For example, anyone can eat an ice cream cone, but not everyone can eat it while standing on their heads. The latter would be more likely to get media coverage.
The same can be said for business. Take Tux Cybercafé on the the third floor of the most ubiquitous building in Nairobi. They provide fast internet – just like the three other cybers in that building. They play music, just like everyone else. They have a cooler, and hotdogs, and ice cream. Big deal.
Except … it really is.
I first heard about this place from my brother. I was meeting him at Kenya Cinema and he gave me an ice cream. Now ice cream addiction is in our DNA, so for him to give me vanilla was a really big deal. He offered it to me because he’d had enough. That was even stranger, since the cup was quite tiny.
A while later, my other brother told me about this cybercafé where his college buddies hang out. It sells ice cream for fifty bob and hotdogs for another fifty, so ex-cands can impress their girls on a budget of a hundred bob. Given the two independent referrals, I decided to check the place out.
I’d had a long day, so I badly needed ice cream therapy. I walked into the building, and at every cyber, asked if this was the place that had ice cream. They politely said ‘third floor’. But I was using the stairs – so I had to keep asking which floor I was on – there must have been six flights at least!
When I finally got to the cyber, the first thing I noticed was light … and loud music. The building itself is dingy and dark, but when you walk into the cyber, it feels more like you’ve walked into sunlight. The place was quite crowded – college kids – but because of the light, it felt a lot less stuffy.
The boy at the counter was very polite, all please and thank you’s. He said the ice cream would take a few minutes, so I decided to have a hotdog while I waited. They’re up to 60 bob.
The hotdog corner was next to the ice cream maker, which was next to the cooler. So as I watched him assemble the sauces, I decided to have Novida as well. My bill was now up to 150.
I sat on a chair right next to the machines to wait for my ice cream. The seat was isolated, was far from the kids, and there was no computer on the desk, so I knew I wasn’t interfering with anyone’s surfing.
But as I placed my bag on the desk, I noticed it had a see-through glass top … with a monitor beneath. The keyboard was neatly tucked on a sliding panel. Since I was sitting there, I figured I might as well check my email.
The surfing experience was so fast and so smooth that it was an hour [and a hotdog and a soda and an ice cream cup] before I realised how long I’d been there.
Did I mention the ice cream? It’s HUGE! The cup is a teeny weeny plastic thing, and I can’t quite remember what the spoon was like … but the ice cream! It was a mixed vanilla-strawberry and it spiralled up to three times the height of the cup! I had to take coffee-breaks just to finish it!
The taste was a little watered down, possibly because it was assembled in a hurry – the ice cream operator pours this yoghurt-looking liquid into the machine and then it chugs for a few minutes and produces ice cream. There were lots of orders and a long queue waiting, so I guess he got the portions wrong.
In addition to college kids trying to impress, and surfers looking for net, I noticed a few hotshot office types coming by for the ice cream. And the boy at the counter served them all with a thank you and a smile. What really amused me is that I spent over 200 shillings when I’d only planned for fifty, and had such a good time I almost tipped them for it.
There was even a comedic interlude when the frazzled ice cream operator, while mopping up the goo, accidentally unplugged my computer twice in two minutes. Luckily I was done surfing by then and just laughed off the charade.
I’d been in there for quite a while, so as I walked out, the counter boy thought I hadn’t paid my bill; he sprinted down the stairs after me and asked me so respectfully that I really couldn’t be mad at him.
This is a very effective business model – and it all relies on fifty bob worth of ice cream. Fifty bob? At that size, I’d pay a hundred. But then again, if it cost 100, I wouldn’t buy it to begin with.
It doesn’t take a lot to build your business. All it takes is a simple idea that’s spun right, and these guys are spinning it right into the bank.
Crystal Ading’ is a professional author, editor, rock lover and mother. Her work is available through www.threeceebee.com.