Ten insights from Tashitaa Tufaa
It took 13 years for Tashitaa Tufaa to grow his business revenue to $35 million. He came to Minnesota as a young political activist from the Oromo region of Ethiopia. After securing political asylum, he earned a graduate degree from the University of Minnesota. His entrepreneurial story is a remarkable one — from cab driver to the owner of more than 300 school buses as part of his company, Metropolitan Transportation Network Inc. Here are some insights gleaned from his entrepreneurial journey:
Follow your heart — Tashitaa had a boss who wanted him to do the wrong thing. He refused. Life became hell for him. He talked with his wife about starting a business — something he always wanted to do. She told him to follow his heart. After a stint driving a taxi, he started his own company.
Adversity brings opportunity — Tashitaa found there was an opportunity to be a school bus owner and so went to a dealer to explore buying a bus. It took a $10,000 check that cleared the bank to convince the dealer he was serious. Today he owns hundreds of buses.
Change cultural attitudes toward credit — Tashitaa did not like to be in debt or use credit. He soon found out what prevented his business from growing was capital — yes, borrowing money! So he did.
To gain a banker’s trust we need more than a good credit score — Tashitaa found that bankers need to see someone who looks like them in order to build trust. He went to meet the banker with an associate from the banker’s culture.
Build strong core pillars of business —Tashitaa hired people with solid business skills to build the capacity of various functions of his business: management, payroll, human resources, logistics, etc. This structure allowed him to achieve solid growth and fulfill customer expectations.
The customer is first — The customer is always the top priority for Tashitaa and he constantly strives to “put himself in the customer’s shoes”. Since he works with children, safety is also a top priority. Because he has a severely autistic child, he focuses on children with special needs and wants to create welcoming experiences for them.
Treat employees right — Tashitaa tries hard to make his business a welcoming and comfortable place for his employees, offering competitive wages, flexible shifts and “classy” annual employee recognition events.
Learning by doing and listening — Tashitaa continues to drive one of his school buses, helping him stay connected with his drivers and customers. He is constantly asking people how he can improve operations, which he jots down on his writing pad to take up with his team in the future.
Stay humble — Tashitaa does not work out of a personal office, he works around spaces in his Fridley headquarters. He is a very humble entrepreneur and leader.
Build community – Tashitaa supports various community groups, whether it is the Oromo Chamber of Commerce, the Minnesota Black Chamber of Commerce or Little Africa. He buys local. He believes in empowering communities and deliberately chose to locate his newest location in the heart of North Minneapolis, choosing as his contractor Thor Construction, a leading minority contractor. “I am excited being in North Minneapolis, empowering the local community,” he says.
Bruce Corrie, PhD, blogs at chai.news and is a professor of economics at Concordia University - Saint Paul.