Ghafla!: Turning Tragedy to Triumph

One of our biggest success stories at Nailab is Ghafla! And if you are an active member of the Kenyan tech scene, you have probably heard of them. Ghafla is the hot new startup making waves across town. For thoseof you who are not in the know, Ghafla! is a local entertainment website containing content and (soon) digital downloads from East Africa. What most of us don’t know is, how did Ghafla’s young founders get where they are today? We caught up with them as they shared with us their riveting story.

Ghafla! was founded by Mr. Majani and Lyosi Mwedekeli. Mr. Majani is the Head of Product Development, and Lyosi is the Head of Sales. Their story starts in 2009, when Majani was kicked out of JKUAT University after his lack of discipline and many distractions led him down a treacherous path. This was a serious blow to his self-esteem, not to mention the guilt he felt after wasting so much of his parents’ money on school fees. He said, “for me at that point in my life, it was all about making something of myself despite what had happened. The temptation to quit was very strong.” Not one to quit, Mr. Majani’s active mind gave birth to the idea of KenyanLyrics.com one month after his academic setback.

After one year of developing the website, tragedy also struck his close friend, Lyosi Mwedekeli. During the same time that Mr. Majani had been running KenyanLyrics, Lyosi had been running African Eden, a website selling East African tours to the UK. During the height of the world’s financial crisis, the UK government changed its policy on tour company fees, and slapped a 6 million shilling fee on all tour businesses. This exorbitant government policy drove African Eden out of business. For a few weeks, Lyosi did not tell Majani what had happened, but it was not long till Majani asked him about African Eden, and he was forced to confess the bad news.

As the saying goes, a friend in need is a friend indeed, and Mr. Majani immediately thought of a way to bring Lyosi into his company. They decided to embark on a ‘big project’ codenamed The Photorange, an event photography venture which would be sponsored by a big corporation. They approached Airtel, Orange, Jipange and others, who all showed fantastic initial interest, but eventually led them on a wild goose chase for 7 months straight. During that time, KenyanLyrics.com had been seriously neglected, and was headed towards the deadpool. Mr. Majani and Lyosi decided to drop ‘The Photorange’ and pursue KenyanLyrics full time. Eventually, they noticed that KenyanLyrics was a bit limited in terms of scope of content, and scalability, so they decided to pivot to a product named Ghafla!

One of the things that the Ghafla! team saw as key to their success was that their operational costs like rent and internet bills be subsidized. This saw them work from home for quite a bit of time, but as the team expanded, the need for an office became apparent. An office that would provide such subsidies was not available to them, until one day they paid a visit to Bishop Magua Centre, and found out about the Nailab. The Nailab turned out to be just what Team Ghafla! had been looking for all along and they immediately submitted their application for admission via the Nailab website. Unfortunately, they were not accepted. However, the boys at Ghafla! are not the type to admit defeat so easily. After finding out they had not been chosen, they met up with Sam Gichuru,the Nailab Director, and pitched their business idea . Sam saw various flaws in their business plan, but he was swayed by the passion and determination that Lyosi and Majani showed, and welcomed them to the Nailab.

Only three days after being incubated at the Nailab, Ghafla! pitched their idea to 88mph, a Danish IT investment club, and won 25, 000 euros worth of funding. Suddenly, their long pursuit of happiness had become completely worth their while.